While studying food diversity in 2011, environmental scientist Morgan Ruelle, now at Clark University, accidentally stumbled across one possible technique that could help stabilize dipping crop yields.
The once widespread practice is now only used by small farms in places like Caucasus, Greek Islands, and the Horn of Africa. Despite being incredibly simple, most of the agroecology community weren’t aware of it.
Yet farmers have been using this technique for more than 3,000 years across at least 27 countries. It may have even been what gave rise to agriculture in the first place.
The method is planting maslins – a combined mix of cereals that can include rice, millet, wheat, rye, barley and more – and harvesting them all together to be separated or used as a single product.
In Ethiopia, for example, where Ruelle discovered the existence of maslins, duragna contains multiple species and varieties of barley and wheat, all grown together. The locals consider the mix to be one crop, using it to make bread, beer and traditional savories with it.
Local farmers reported this mix ensures at least some yield under unfavorable conditions, and now researchers have the experimental trials to back up these claims. Working at Cornell University, Ruelle and colleagues conducted a review of previous work, demonstrating maslins yielded higher stability under changing conditions. By shifting species composition each season, farmers could hedge against climate impacts without the need for additional intervention.