Polyculture is a form of
Polyculture has traditionally been the most prevalent form of agriculture. A well-known example of historic polyculture is the intercropping of maize, bean, and squash plants in a group often referred to as "the three sisters". In this combination, the maize provides a structure for the bean to grow on, the bean provides nitrogen for all of the plants, while the squash suppresses weeds on the ground. This crop mixture can be traced back several thousand years ago to civilizations in Latin America and Africa and is representative of how species in polycultures sustain each other and minimize the need for human intervention. Integrated aquaculture, or the growing of seafood and plants together, has been common in parts of Eastern Asia for several thousand years as well. In China and Japan, for example, fish and shrimp have historically been grown in ponds with rice and seaweed. Other countries where polyculture has traditionally been a substantial part of agricultural and continues to be so today include those in the Himalayan region, Eastern Asia, South America, and Africa.
Because of the development of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, monoculture became the predominant form of agriculture in the 1950's. The prevalence of polyculture declined greatly in popularity at that time in more economically developed countries where it was deemed to produce less yield while requiring more labor. Polyculture farming has not disappeared entirely though as traditional polyculture systems continue to be an essential part of the food production system today. Around 15% to 20% of the world’s agriculture is estimated as relying on traditional polyculture systems. The majority of Latin American farmers continue to intercrop their maize, beans, and squash. Due to climate change, polyculture is returning in popularity in more developed countries as well as food producers seek to reduce their environmental and health impacts.