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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)


Developing organic soil management technologies to enhance carbon capture, climate adaptability, and sustainability of smallholder farms in Tunisia

PI: Khaled Sassi (khaledsassi1@gmail.com), National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia
U.S. Partner: Anil Somenahally, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
Dates: November 2018 - December 2022


Project Overview:

This project will address a priority area for Tunisia--natural resource management--to include water management, soil conservation, land management, biodiversity, and energy diversification, as well as general sustainable development issues and climatic adaptability. Among many constraints for sustainable agriculture production on smallholder farms in Tunisia, declining quality of soil resources is one of the central component for unsustainability and vulnerability of smallholder farms to yield loss and climate change effects. A larger goal for this project is to develop novel soil management technologies to increase carbon capture and climate adaptability on smallholder farms of Tunisia, applicable to other regions of Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Specific goals focus on identifying soil management techniques to integrate with locally relevant crop rotations to enhance soil quality, carbon capture, climate adaptability and sustainability of smallholder farms in Tunisia.

The USG partners at Texas A&M AgriLife Research will provide collaborative partnerships to strengthen capacity development, training, and education. The project outcomes will be scaled for larger implementation in the MENA region, through continued collaborations with other agencies in the area. It will also greatly improve the education programs within agriculture and soil science programs at IRESA and others and effectively transfer the latest technologies for sustainable agriculture production and climate smart agriculture. The project will also couple sustainable intensification and climate adaptability with many ongoing research efforts at agencies in Tunisia for scaling up new organic value chains for staple crops and horticultural products. A white paper will be developed based on the outcome of this project work, to be submitted to MENA regional agriculture agencies and local governments for science-based policy development on soil resource management for climate resilient and sustainable agriculture. Although there are some large farms, most Tunisian farmers have around 10 acres or less. This research will be beneficial for developing interventions for soil quality improvement on both large- and small-scale farms and increasing harvest yield and quality. It is a promising technology for farmers to reduce the environmental impacts associated with organic waste management and crop rotations. It will help build sustainable intensification models for smallholder farms in vulnerable regions of Tunisia and MENA. The project therefore aligns well in a context of sustainable development and could even be integrated to guide developing new national policy on improving organic management technologies on farms.

Summary of Recent Activities

During the first quarter of 2022, the PEER team pursued their work on the laboratory analyses of the field samples and prepared manuscripts for publication. By May 2022, they had four papers under review with various journals. On March 21-24, the team members also participated in the in 31st International Congress of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology in Tunisia to present some of their relevant experimental results. One of the main findings they presented was on the effect of date palm compost on the proteomic pattern of barley. With its high microbial diversity, high levels of regulators and plant growth hormones (such as humic acids, auxins, and gibberellins), and high amounts of macro and microelements, this compost can stimulate plant growth. Moreover, this fertilizer contains enzymes such as protease, lipase, amylase, cellulase, ligninase and chitinase, which are effective tools to promote biological degradation of soil organic matter. In order to investigate protein changes in response to use of date palm compost during the cultivation of barley plants, Dr. Sassi and his colleagues have conducted proteomic analysis using the liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) method. The details will be provided in their papers as they appear in press, but in general their results reveal a complex regulatory network triggered by compost, and they will provide new insights into the molecular mechanisms of plant responses to use of this organic fertilizer.

Another dissemination event took place on March 29, 2022, when the PEER team actively participated in the field information day “Best agriculture practices under conservation agriculture,” which was organized by the National Institute of Agronomic Research of Tunisia (INRAT) at the institute’s experimental station at Kef. This field information day was organized in the framework of the three PRIMA projects (ConserveTerra, 4CE-MED, and CAMA) funded by the European Union. About 100 participants from different stakeholder communities (scientists, extension specialists, farmers, students, policymakers, and NGO staff members) attended the event.

For their conservation agriculture field trials, the team has continued working on best agriculture practices, mainly with a focus on enhancing crop rotation and crop diversification in cereal production systems. During the first quarter of 2022, the team monitored 10 demonstration plots in northwestern Tunisia related to conservation agriculture based on no-tillage and forage mixtures based on vetch.

In the summer of 2022, the PI and his group will continue their laboratory-based analytical work, and they are also planning for several exchange visits that had to be postponed during the pandemic. Dr. Khaled Sassi, Dr. Hatem Cheikh M’hamed, and Dr. Yassine Hidri will travel to the Texas A&M University AgriLife Research for about two weeks each for project discussions and laboratory analysis work. In September, U.S. partner Dr. Anil Somenahally and his colleague Dr. Jeffrey A. Brady will come to Tunisia to monitor the progress of activities and to visit the experimental sites related to the project. In addition, the PI and his team also plan to organize two additional information days in northern and central Tunisia. The target audience will be scientists, farmers, and agricultural extension agents from the agricultural development, extension, and training agencies. The main objectives for the events will be to present the most recent last scientific findings to the researchers and to explain to the farmers the composting process and the positive effect of compost on crops, in order to motivate them to adopt the composting process in their fields.

Publication

Laribi, M.; Yahyaoui, A.H.; Abdedayem,W.; Kouki, H.; Sassi, K.; Ben M’Barek, S. Characterization of Mediterranean Durum Wheat for Resistance to Pyrenophora tritici-repentisGenes 2022, 13, 336. https://doi.org/10.3390/genes13020336



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