Date palm is an important crop in Morocco and Tunisia. The prevailing harsh environmental conditions and the spread of root diseases, are threatening date palm cultivation. 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.
To make cultivation methods more sustainable, the project aims at establishing a novel organic bio-fertilizer technology that combines the application of symbiotic soil microorganisms, organic recycled fertilizer and intercropping. As bio-fertilizers, mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobacteria are in focus. The result should be a selection of bio-fertilizers that promote growth, nutrient acquisition and pathogen suppression of the date palm. Customized propagation and application techniques of bio-fertilizers will be developed and evaluated in a participatory approach with farmers and in laboratories. An innovation platform will ensure the exchange between all the actors involved in the date palm industry, and will disseminate new technological knowledge.
Date palm is an important crop in Morocco, Tunisia and many other dryland ecosystems with a high agricultural, economic and cultural value. The prevailing harsh environmental conditions, which are further accelerated by climate change and the spread of root diseases, are threatening date palm propagation and cultivation. To overcome growth limitations, current date palm cultivation regularly involves high inputs of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. However, these external inputs strongly impact the environment and the livelihoods of farmers, are cost-intensive, not resilient and thus not sustainable.
The project aims at establishing a novel organic bio-fertilizer technology, combining the application of native beneficial soil microorganisms during tissue culture and field propagation of date palms, together with adapted agricultural management practices using organic amendments and intercropping with leguminous nitrogen-fixing crops. As bio-fertilizers, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) are in focus. A culture collection of native AMF and PGPR, isolated from date palm roots and rhizosphere, will be established, and strains selected for date palm growth promotion, nutrient acquisition and pathogen suppression will subsequently be used as bio-fertilizers. Customized propagation and application techniques of bio-fertilizers will be elaborated such as modern in-vitro methods suitable for tissue culture laboratories and low-tech approaches for smallholder farmers. The technology will be developed in a participatory approach, working at laboratory, on-station and on-farm scale. As part of an innovation platform, aims and problems of date palm producers (tissue culture laboratories, smallholder farmers and farmers’ organisations) will be targeted in order to align them 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. It is anticipated that the knowledge gained in this project in Morocco and Tunisia can be transferred to other areas where date palm represents a major crop.
Swiss Programme for Research on global Issues for Development, a partnership of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Project coordination, Molekularbiologische Analysen