Polyculture providing useful within-field diversity: companion planting of carrots and onions. The onion smell puts off carrot root fly, while the smell of carrots puts off onion fly.[1]

Polyculture is a form of agriculture in which more than one species is grown at the same time and place in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems.[2] Polyculture is the opposite of monoculture, in which only members of one plant or animal species are cultivated together. Polyculture has traditionally been the most prevalent form of agriculture in most parts of the world and is growing in popularity today due to its environmental and health benefits. There are many types of polyculture including annual polycultures such as intercropping and cover cropping, permaculture, and integrated aquaculture. Polyculture is advantageous because of its ability to control pests, weeds, and disease without major chemical inputs. As such, polyculture is considered a sustainable form of agriculture. However, issues with crop yield and biological competition have caused many modern major industrial food producers to continue to rely on monoculture instead.

Historical and modern uses

Polyculture has traditionally been the most prevalent form of agriculture.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

Because of the development of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, monoculture became the predominant form of agriculture in the 1950's.[7] 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.[6] Around 15% to 20% of the world’s agriculture is estimated as relying on traditional polyculture systems.[3] 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.[7]

Other Languages
العربية: تربية متعددة
català: Policultura
español: Policultivo
français: Polyculture
Bahasa Indonesia: Pertanaman campuran
Latina: Polycultura
Bahasa Melayu: Polikultur
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਪੌਲੀਕਲਚਰ
polski: Polikultura
português: Policultura
中文: 混養