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Microorganisms, mixed crops and recycled fertilizer may help date palm cultivation

Group picture with twelve people, of which two are women

International consortium of the research project at the kick-off meeting in Morocco. (Photos: FiBL, Sarah Symanczik).

Palmtrees, the fruits are wrapped up in nets.

Date plantation, aged 12 years. The nets were installed to prevent bird damage and insects.

Palmtrees with group of people, the fruits are wrapped up in nets.

Discussions with date farmers on problems during cultivation.

Dates on a palmtree

Ripening dates.

Date palm is an important crop in Morocco, Tunisia and many other dryland ecosystems. The prevailing harsh environmental condition, the spread of root diseases and other factors are threatening date palm cultivation. By establishing a bio-fertilizer technology together with partners in Morocco and Tunisia, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is looking for a sustainable solution to these problems. The project consortium met in Morocco this September.

Date palm is an important crop in Morocco, Tunisia and many other dryland ecosystems with a high agricultural, economic and cultural value. Due to their high nutritional value, dates constitute an important part of the diet of the local population. The date palm is subjected to harsh environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures, drought, a low nutrient supply of the soil, bad soil structure and salinization. Climate change and the ongoing soil degradation further worsen these conditions. Combined with the spread of root diseases, they pose a great danger for date cultivation. To counteract these issues and to secure yields, farmers regularly use high inputs of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation, which has negative impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of farmers because the use of these inputs is expensive and not sustainable.

Content and aims of the research project

To make cultivation methods more sustainable, the project aims at establishing a novel organic bio-fertilizer technology that combines the application of beneficial soil microorganisms, organic recycled fertilizer and intercropping with leguminous nitrogen-fixing crops.

Within the project, two methods should be developed for propagation and the use of bio-fertilizer: On the one hand, there are modern methods that are suitable for tissue culture laboratories and that are already in use for date palm production today. On the other hand, there are low-tech approaches suitable for smallholder farmers and application on the fields. The technology will be developed in a participatory approach, working at laboratory, on-station and on-farm scale. In order to guarantee an exchange between the various actors of the date palm industry (tissue culture laboratories, smallholder farmers and farmers’ organisations), an innovation platform will be created. Aims and problems of date palm producers are aligned with the research process. Gained knowledge on technical and methodological innovations will be disseminated to a broader circle of stakeholders including regional and national agricultural agencies in order to influence their operational procedures.

The proposed organic bio-fertilizer technology will contribute to more sustainable, resilient agriculture, safeguarding natural resources. It will help maintain and increase date palm production, and counteract the ongoing land degradation and desertification of dryland soils. Thus, the livelihood of farmers will be improved and the migration to urban areas reduced.

Scientific and social context of the research project

By involving various actors of the value chain into the project and developing the new cultivation method together, a conversion of current cultivation practices can be better implemented. The knowledge gained in this project in Morocco and Tunisia can be transferred to other areas where date palm represents a major crop and contribute to a more global optimisation of date cultivation.

Further information

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