By Omar Saadani Hassani and Pommelien da Silva Cosme
11 February 2020
Remember when we organised an evaluation of the challenges for agroecology in the rural communes of Imegdal and Aït M’hamed in June last year? This evaluation allowed us to develop a tailor-made Farmer Field School programme together with our partners DEAFAL and Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA).
On a cold winter morning in December, with a hot herbal tea in hand, our team welcomed participants in Annamer (Imegdal), who travelled from different douars (villages) to attend the two-day training. Our goal is to organise two to three Farmer Field Schools a year in Imegdal and Aït M’hamed, during which we will focus on a specific topic for each training. Our first edition focused on soil health and fertility because our soils are the basis of all agriculture and the foundation of our food systems. We began our training with an introduction of the programme, our team and regenerative agriculture experts from DEAFAL who engaged the participants in an initial discussion on soil health.
Shortly after this introduction, participants joined our team in surrounding agricultural plots to discuss the role of soil in our ecosystems and to learn about soil composition. Based on the many questions by participating farmers on how to evaluate soil quality and fertility, our team shared practical and visual evaluation techniques to easily define soil texture and quality. For example, finding worms in the soil is an indicator that the soil is healthy and rich in organic matter.
We then discussed soil irrigation, during which an expert from DEAFAL demonstrated how to evaluate water infiltration and soil density. He did so by adding water to a cylinder cup filled with soil and counting the amount of time it took for the water to filtrate the soil. When water moves through the soil quickly, it means the soil is too sandy and doesn’t retain water well. However, when it doesn’t absorb water, it indicates a compact and clay soil. Participants concluded that a healthy soil would retain and store water, making it available for root uptake, plant growth and habitat for soil organisms.
On the second day, we focused on practices to increase soil fertility. We gathered in the morning for a workshop on producing organic compost, using materials that are already available such as straw from animal stables and dead tree leaves. We also worked on the management and utilisation of animal manure as a way to increase soil quality. Our team learned that local farmers don’t prepare or use mature compost to fertilise the soil, but often use animal manure directly, while it’s still fresh and hot. Although using fresh manure nurtures the soil, it will also attract insects and plant pests that will harm crop production. In addition to these practices, participants also learned how to produce an organic liquid fertiliser by adding water to the same compost with animal manure they had prepared earlier that day.
The farmers in Bernat followed a similar programme a few days later, with different recommendations specific to the local conditions and climate.
The outputs of this first edition of our Farmer Field School are:
- Understanding soil conservation practices and techniques that are beneficial for the environment;
- Practical soil quality assessments;
- Practical and low-cost methods of organic soil fertilisation;
- Composting techniques;
- Manure management techniques;
- Production and use of organic (liquid) fertiliser on agricultural plots and terraces.
Thanks to the support of the Open Society Foundations and the MAVA Foundation, we concluded a successful first edition of our Farmer Field School programme, providing important learning opportunities and spaces for exchange amongst local Amazigh farmers. With a total of 66 participants in Annamer (27 women) and 40 participants in Bernat (20 women), we are very grateful for their enthusiasm, engagement and interest throughout the training! Participants will now experiment with the techniques they’ve learned during the training, which our team will discuss and reevaluate during our second Farmer Field School. We look forward to the next edition in April which will focus on plant health and nutrition.