Adaptation of the three sisters farming system for plant protection

The mindful use of all resources is important. According to University of California Davis “the goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.”

Sustainable agriculture is about giving consideration to what we do in order to avoid unnecessary disturbance or destruction to resources. Similarly sustainable plant protection is geared towards ensuring that the measures we use to manage pest and control or prevent diseases are not so far reaching that they significantly affect future generations’ effort to manage similar or new pest and diseases.

My idea for sustainable plant protection involves the use of a modified version of an old system called the three sisters farming method that was practiced by Native Americans. The three sisters system used maize (Zea mays ssp. mays), bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), and squash (Cucurbita pepo) (Heart J., 2008) which were three crops planted together.

My idea involves the use of other locally adopted plants in a combination of two or three crops planted together of which one plant would be a medicinal or aromatic plant. This system would also integrate birds whether domesticated or wild species.  

Crops that will be selected to be used are those that have market value and a market is available for them upon harvesting or at least one will be used back in the system e.g. as forage for animals. Of the three sisters, one crop will be from the fabaceae family, one of medicinal or aromatic value and the other a choice of locally adopted plant. Plants can be either annual or perennial however I would use at least one annual crop and observe the interactions. It is expected that the fabaceae plant will conduct some amount of nitrogen fixing as well as provide some amount of income; livestock feed or be of value in some other way. The medicinal/aromatic plant will also provide income as well as act as deterrent to some harmful insects or diseases and may also have some pollinator attractant benefit. The next plant may be a high income crop with a steady market.

Where birds are used, appropriate nesting sites will be provided and only locally adopted birds will be encouraged, birds will not be introduced. Weather condition will be taken in account for domesticated birds and appropriate housing made available.

Sustainable plant protection inclusion of birds

This above idea will benefit small and medium sized farmers. It will be beneficial to those farmers who are concerned about the amount of money they spend on fertilizers and chemicals for crop protection, it will be of interest to farmers who are concerned about the amount of chemicals they are exposed to as well as those farmers that are concerned for the amount of chemicals released to the environment. Farmers who live close to rivers or protected areas and are restricted in the use of chemical and artificial fertilizers will also find this useful. Farmers who may also want to diversify their crop base or want to tap into new market such as that of aromatic and medicinal plants and those farmers who want to provide feed for animals or sell animal feed to neighbouring farms may also find this useful.

The outcomes of this may be measured in many ways such as, income generation, reduction in pest and diseases on the farm, new markets opening up, improvement in soil condition and thus improvement in productivity.

Fredrica Whyte, Jamaica


  1. Thank you for the post! This is such a wonderful investigation of how in real life we could achieve our economic, health and medicinal goals through three sister farming.


  2. Certainly a good agricultural practice to adapt. Good idea for Jamaica where there is wide variation in soil types and many farmers cultivate on marginal lands.


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