In the arid zones of North Africa, oases are essential for the economy. In the oases, the date palm is the main source of income for farmers. The harsh environment of the desert regions of North Africa makes these regions vulnerable to many environmental threats, especially on soils. Only a minor part of date palm cultivation by-products are recovered and recycled, including for example palm branches used for fixing sand dunes, as fences in oases. Their valorization as bioresources, with a potential effect on soil fertility (and thus on oases ecosystem productivity), has received little attention to date. Based on the few available results for the maintaining of land productivity and sustainability of the oasis system, the ISFERALDA project aims to increase resilience to climate change of agroecosystem while ensuring comparable or higher incomes to local farmers in semi-arid and arid areas. The project aims at developing the use of organic amendments based on local agriculture wastes, and more specifically the date palm residues (and optionally other vegetal or animal residues or mineral compounds), as a key tool in land restoration. Based on traditional production (composting, pyrolysis), the project will focus on refining processes and improving products’ quality and adequacy with plant needs and substrate properties. Innovative farming systems will be developed and contribute sustainable management of date production, generating income and creating employment as well as improving environmental parameters. The influence of different kinds of organic amendments on environment, yield, and socio-economic development will be assessed. ISFERALDA will therefore design a new strategy to support agricultural practices within a framework acceptable to local actors and in line with the objectives of circular economy of local resources and sustainable development. The innovation potential of the project is based on a multidisciplinary and highly integrated approach.
Overall objective: increasing the resilience of agroecosystems to climate change while ensuring comparable or higher incomes to local farmers
The ISFERALDA specific objectives (SO) to reach the breakthrough are the following ones: • SO1: based on interviews of the local farmers, identify the problems, the solution the farmers adopt to resolve these problems and to enhance soil fertility; • SO2: achieve a state of the art of recent and ancestral existing agricultural waste treatment technologies, focusing on date palm residue recycling, regarding their suitability for improving soil fertility of degraded and vulnerable Mediterranean soil types; • SO3: develop innovative OA for the most widely cultivated and nutrient demanded crops in oases of arid and semi-arid regions in Mediterranean by recycling date palm residues, which can be considered as an agricultural waste. Date palm is widely cultivated in Tunisia and Algeria. An OA based on this abundant local resource would therefore represent a durable solution that is widely adaptable to a large part of these countries. Its realization would create local employment and develop local economy. Moreover, its application would improve the quality of a large part of the soils in these regions. • SO4: optimize the management of organic and mineral amendments of the main commercial crops, aiming to maximize yields and minimize environmental impacts. The increase of yields would result from an improvement in soil fertility and agronomic properties of soils with the reduction of the use of fertilizers and the reduction of carbon footprint by recycling agricultural wastes. • SO5: increase competiveness of Mediterranean agricultural products and profits via the reduction of external inputs (irrigation water and fertilizers) and the increase of the yields. • SO6: based on cost/benefits study, disseminate the new knowledge to the agricultural main actors to upscale results from case studies to regional and national scale across Mediterranean Basin.
In this project, a socio-economic analysis, based on surveys and on the cost/benefit analyses, will familiarize the farmers with the economic interest of the production and use of the proposed organic treatments. Furthermore, an assessment of the benefits for soil quality and fertility (physical, chemical and biological properties) will be conducted. The proposed research activities include: • Detailed description of the characteristics of each amendment studied, refinement of traditional processes, • laboratory experiments to fully describe the properties of the different treatments and to explain the evolution of the physical, chemical and microbiological properties of the soils, • field experiments, in four different representative sites of arid and semi-arid zones in Algeria and Tunisia. The contacts with other stakeholders and particularly the farmers will promote, on one hand, the acceptance of these practices if they are deemed beneficial from an economic and agronomic point of view. On the other hand, it will also disseminate this new knowledge to the agricultural main actors and will upscale the results from case studies to regional and national scale across the Mediterranean Basin.
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