Aims, objectives and hypothesis

The research focuses on the combined improvement of the current date palm propagation and cultivation processes and the simultaneous enhancement of soil fertility to contribute to more sustainable, resilient agriculture, safeguarding natural resources and to improve rural livelihoods. The project aims at establishing an integrated organic bio-fertilizer (OBF) technology combining the use of customized bio-fertilizer propagation and application practices together with organic amendments and intercropping to promote sustainable date palm production and cultivation in Morocco and Tunisia. Bio-fertilizers in this project consist of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR). Novel bio-fertilizer production and application approaches and their integration during the various steps of date palm propagation and cultivation will be developed and tested jointly with researchers at laboratory and on-farm level together with smallholder farmers and tissue culture laboratories. OBF technology will include (i) modern high-tech methodologies used for vitro plant establishment and (ii) low-tech, knowledge-rich approaches used during a) greenhouse hardening of vitro plants, b) offshoot cultivation, c) field transplantation and d) fertilization of young date palm plantations.

In the proposed research we will test the following hypotheses:

  1. The early integration of bio-fertilizers during vitro plant propagation will improve the survival and establishment of vitro plants during acclimation and reduce input rates of mineral fertilizers and pesticides.
  2. The OBF technology will reduce the time needed for propagation of date palms via tissue cultures.
  3. The application of on-farm produced bio-fertilizers together with organic amendments will improve growth, nutrition, productivity and disease-resistance of vitro plants during greenhouse hardening, offshoots cultivated in the field and young date palm plantations while implying substantial economic benefits for smallholder farmers.
  4. The implementation of an integrated OBF technology will increase soil fertility leading to improved ecosystem services, conservation of natural resources and contribute to rural and sustainable development.

The overall goal of the research is to promote the sustainability of date palm production and cultivation by improved propagation and cultivation procedures. To achieve this goal the specific objectives are:

  • to elaborate customized bio-fertilizer propagation approaches jointly with tissue culture laboratories and smallholder farmers leading to the establishment of a bio-fertilizer culture collection including a wide range of native AMF and PGPR strains isolated from Moroccan and Tunisian date palm plantations,
  • to assess the efficiency of new application approaches for bio-fertilizers combined with organic amendments adopted to the different propagation and cultivation processes of date palms (micropropagation, greenhouse hardening, offshoot cultivation, fertilization of young date palm plantations) in the greenhouse and on-farm to improve resource management,
  • to assess the effect of the integrated OBF technology in order to increase soil fertility and improve ecosystem services in date palm plantations,
  • to establish an innovation platform in order to constantly evaluate and adopt OBF technology jointly with stakeholders and assure the transfer of knowledge and technological innovations across national and international scales.

Via the use of advances in microbiology to optimize bio-fertilizer application and hence, date palm production combined with knowledge-rich agricultural practices, this project will offer opportunities to improve resource management, ecosystem services  and will generate socio-economic benefits like improved farmer income, poverty alleviation and rural development. This study will be the first of its kind, since there is no literature available neither on the use of in-vitro application of bio-fertilizers during date palm propagation, nor on the combined application of bio-fertilizers and organic amendments for on-farm cultivation of date palms. The project aims at elaborating a novel and innovative approach by implementing an integrated organic bio-fertilizer technology combining modern, high-tech methods with knowledge-rich agricultural practices for date palm production and cultivation in Morocco and Tunisia. Information gained in this project will help to establish more sustainable strategies necessary to achieve rapid improvements in date palm production and cultivation and will be considered for knowledge and innovation transfer to other regions of North Africa and Middle East where date palms represent a major crop.