Little is known about productivity of smallholder maize–pigeonpea intercropping systems in sub-Saharan Africa. We conducted a survey of 277 farm households in Northern Tanzania to assess socio-economic factors, field management characteristics, and their association with productivity of maize–pigeonpea intercrops. On each farm, crop assessments were focused on a field that the farmer identified as most important for food supply. Variables associated with yields were evaluated using linear regression and regression classification. Biomass production ranged between 1.0 and 16.6 for maize, and between 0.2 and 11.9 t ha−1 for pigeonpea (at maize harvest). The corresponding grain yields ranged between 0.1 and 9.5 for maize, and between 0.1 and 2.1 t ha−1 for pigeonpea. Plant density at harvest, number of years the field had been cultivated, slope, weeding, soil fertility class, fertiliser and manure use were significantly associated with variation in maize grain yield, with interactions among the factors. Fields on flat and gentle slopes with plant density above 24,000 ha−1 had 28% extra yields when fertiliser was applied, while less than 24,000 plants ha−1 yielded 16% extra yield when manure was applied. Plant density at harvest was the key factor associated with pigeonpea yield; fields with densities above 24,000 plants ha−1 yielded an average of 1.4 t ha−1, while less than 24,000 plants ha−1 yielded 0.5 t ha−1. We conclude that performance of intercrops can be enhanced through application of organic and inorganic nutrient sources, and agronomic interventions including weeding, implementing soil conservation measures on steep slopes and optimising plant density.