In an exclusive interview with Mother Channel, at COP 22 conference, Professor Mohammed Boulif, Professor and Head of the Department of Plant Protection, National School of Agriculture, Meknes, Morocco, speaks on his focus of bringing students to understand farmers’ practices to control plant diseases in order to be able to change them for the better using sound scientific knowledge and field research results and the usefulness of Farmers’ Field Schools in educating farmers, especially those with less resources, to help them increase their production and yields.
In terms of advice to farmers, we know that agriculture and the farmers are operating in very uncertain conditions due to mainly Climate Change, but also the evolution of progress – scientific and technical. My concern is not only with plant diseases but integrated production and communication skills as well in order to facilitate the use of approved farming methodologies as well as educating them on all issues and challenges that arise in their farming endeavors.
Working with various medium to large scale farmer groups in the North over last 4 years has proven them to be receptive to novel ideas and progress, and we have in fact reached a yield of 92 quantiles, i.e. 9.2 tons to the hectare – a newsworthy item in the Moroccan newspapers! Morocco went from completely organic in the past decades (20’s/30’s), to modern agriculture introduced with French colonization to local farmers after independence in the 1950’s, with the Moroccan government conducting extensive programs to enhance chemical fertilizer use at same time farmers were using organic, however, today farmers still rely heavily on chemical fertilizers and some organic for cereals, with horticultural crops in the mountains and some coastal areas still relying heavily on organic fertilisers (manure).
In terms of using spray pesticides and herbicides, the country invests less than 200 dirhams/hectare to pesticides, however, with horticultural crops (fruit and vegetables) we might find that some crops are overly treated, but not much more than is found in Europe, so I can say with confidence that our agriculture is still very healthy. In terms of monoculture, as a farmer myself, I have always believed in diversity and teach crop rotation and early planting at the Farmers Field schools, which brings many benefits to the farmers in terms of less disease, less weeds, improved soil fertility including taking advantage of early rains, less stress on existing water resources, etc. Moroccan soils are rich in potassium, however, we do supplement with nitrogen and phosphorous during seasonal planting, i.e. (30 units nitrogen) / (50-60 units phosphorous and in terms of reasoned management, this is where scientific knowledge can be very helpful to the farmers in relieving the farmers and their budgets. In terms of carbon content in the soil, with small populations in the past it was all organic, no pesticides, however, the population has increased threefold since, and we must be able to feed the increased population.
The Moroccan soils currently are poor in organic matter, due to over exploitation, which is a big problem, so I continue to urge the farmers to use whatever manure they have and also to resort to “no till” techniques which is one way of enriching the soil in terms of organic matter and to conserve water. If we continue using the appropriate tilling techniques, crop rotation and less pesticides, then the microbes can multiply at an increased rate and reconstitute the micro flora quite well in a few years.
Food shortages in the future – in terms of increased drought due to Climate Change and sustained feeding of increasing populations, the bottom line is : ‘Without Water, we cannot grow anything’! In my opinion, Global warming is not a negative thing by itself, it has more negative than positive, but it can have some positive impacts, viz; if water is available – we can change crops, also grown crops more suited to warmer climates and implement appropriate techniques that save irrigation water, i.e. drip irrigation, etc thanks to the ‘Moroccan Green Plan’ designed by the government and his majesty, King Mohammed VI, in order to increase agricultural production and make agriculture a two-fold target, e.g. high cash crops for export and social agriculture.
With small farmers being organised into co-operatives and small local groups for local produce, these have now been constituted into a group known as ‘Group of Economic Interest’, who can select to which markets, locally and internationally, their produce is distributed to and every year Morocco contributes to the “Green Week” in Germany with their local products from different parts of the country, thanx to the Green Plan.
https://plpa.cfans.umn.edu/ (University of Minnesota – Dept. of Plant Pathology)