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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 (, National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia
U.S. Partner: Anil Somenahally, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
Dates: November 2018 - October 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

In this reporting period , the smallholder farmers and PEER project team worked together to monitor the established field experiments. Based on the new knowledge that they have from previous training sessions and workshops, farmers were able to monitor their own farm units and follow the composting process. The project engineers assisted the farmers through different information and communication technologies, for example, phone calls, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

The PI reports that in the last quarter, they substituted the wheat trial of Sidi-Bouzid with another one based on pepper cultivation in Sousse Governorate. The objective of this new trial is to evaluate the impact of spreading compost on pepper cultivation using solid compost and/or tea compost. The trial was set-up in the technical Center of Organic agriculture (CTAB) to be monitored by the resident PEER staff there. Same raw materials (cattle and sheep manure, olive pomace, pruning waste of olive trees) used previously in Sidi-Bouzid were collected and layered on pyramidal windrows with the same ratios composition in the composting unit of CTAB. The compost was ready to be applied within three months and it was sprayed on pepper cultivation. A Master’s student gradually measured parameters of plant development yield and production according to the different stages of pepper growth,.

Despite the difficult constraints they have faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project team has managed to find ways to keep the activities going. Disseminating information via training sessions and workshops were fruitful, as farmers were able to check their trials with very little help from their PEER engineers. In the next quarter of the project, they intend to analyze physicochemical parameters of the soil for all the trials.

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