Script 58.5


Program host:

Every day fertilizers cost more and more.

And have you noticed that the fertilizers you buy don’t always keep the soil fertile?

For this reason, many farmers around the world are growing cover crops — crops that cover the soil and keep it fertile.

Cover crops are fertilizer crops.

Could you grow fertilizer crops?

Yes, of course!

Today I’m going to discuss how you can do it.

MUSICAL BREAK (five seconds).

First I will talk about the experiences of farmers in Central America who plant a fertilizer crop called velvet bean(Mucuna pruriens).

A little later in the program I will also talk about the experiences of farmers in South Africa who use lablab beans (Dolichos lablab)as cover crops.

Even though these farmers live in different parts of the world, they have something in common — they plant cover crops between rows of maize.

Farmers who plant cover crops are able to harvest more maize.

How do they do it?

I’ll tell you in a moment.

MUSICAL BREAK(five seconds).

Let’s begin our program today by discussing velvet bean.

Velvet bean is one kind of cover crop.

Some farmers call velvet bean the “earth’s hat” because of the way it protects the soil.

Farmers in Central America plant velvet bean between their maize plants.

Here’s how they do it.

They plant their maize first.

Two weeks later they plant the cover crop called velvet bean between the rows of maize.

When the maize is up to their knees, farmers cut the velvet bean back close to the ground so that it doesn’t overtake the maize.

After the maize is harvested, the velvet bean grows quickly and covers the maize stalks that are left on the ground.

This makes a thick mulch — like a blanket.

This blanket protects the soil from sun and rain.

Isn’t that interesting?

Let’s go over the method one more time.

This time imagine that you are going to plant these cover crops on your own land.

  • First, sow the maize.
  • Two weeks later, plant the velvet bean beside the rows of maize.
  • When the maize is about half a metre high, cut the velvet bean back so it doesn’t overtake the maize.

Remember that when you sow velvet bean you are planting a crop that is going to protect the soil.

Even if there is no rain for weeks, moisture stays in the soil, thanks to cover of the velvet bean.

Now, let’s visit some farmer friends in southern Africa, shall we?


Program host:

In southern Africa some farmers sow another kind of cover crop with maize.

It is called the lablab bean.

Farmers plant lablab beans with their maize.

They plant the maize first.

Two to four weeks later they plant lablab beans between the maize seedlings.

Maybe you are asking yourself: How do the African farmers benefit from planting lablab beans with maize?

The answer is simple: they get a delicious bean to eat!

At the same time, they get protection for the soil, weed control, and, of course, rich organic fertilizer!

MUSICAL BREAK (two seconds).

Program host:

Dear listeners, today we have talked about the experiences and the results obtained by farmers in Central America and Africa who grow maize with velvet beans and lablab beans.

These are two of many cover crops that are becoming popular with farmers all over the world.

Cover crops are popular because of the benefits that they offer to farmers.

What are those benefits?

I’ll repeat them:

  • Cover crops are fertilizer crops.
  • They add nitrogen to the soil.
  • Cover crops protect the soil from erosion.
  • Some cover crops, such as lablab bean, produce a bean that people can eat.

MUSICAL BREAK (two seconds).

Program host:

And now I’m going to mention one more benefit of cover crops — and this one is very important.

You don’t have to transport cover crops like you do other fertilizers — they just grow where you need them!

Yes, farmer friend!

It is for these reasons that cover crops are so popular with farmers all over the world.

Today we have discussed only two of many cover crops that are available.

To learn about a cover crop that will grow well for you, ask your local extension worker or a farmer you know who is using a cover crop to fertilize and protect the soil.

Or, visit the agricultural extension office closest to you.



Contributed by: Max Lizano, Kingston, Canada.

Reviewed by: Robert Carsky, Agronomist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Information Sources

Grow your own fertilizer — plant cover crops with maize, by Harvey Harman, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, script 25-1, 1992.

“Testing solutions to problems of loss in soil fertility and reduction of woody species in South Benin,” Acacia, April 1995. AGRECOL s/c Oekozentrum CH 4438 Langenbruck, Switzerland.

“Cover crops critical to sustainable agriculture,” International Agricultural Development, Vol. 19, No. 4, July-Aug 1999, pp. 3-7. John Madeley, 19 Woodford Close, Caversham, Reading, UK, RG4 7HN.

The use of green manures by villager farmers: what we have learned to date, Technical Report No. 3, 1995. CIDICCO, Apdo. Postal 4443, Tegucigalpa MDC, Honduras.  E-mail:  (Also available in Spanish).

Further information about cover crops

The International Cover Crop Clearinghouse (CIDICCO), Apdo. 4443, Tegucigalpa, MDC, Honduras.  E-mail: (in Spanish)

Centre for Cover Crops Information and Seed in Africa (CIEPCA), IITA-Benin, BP 08-0932, Cotonou, Benin.

Cover Crops for Sustainable Agriculture.