Application of organic bio-fertilizer technology to improve the sustainability of date palm production and cultivation


The use of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation have a strong impact on livelihoods and the environment. The project aims to develop a novel organic bio-fertilizer technology which will contribute to a more sustainable and resilient agriculture.

About the project


Date palm is an important crop in Morocco, Tunisia, and in many other drylands of the world with a high agricultural, economic and cultural value. The harsh environmental conditions of those areas, which are further accelerated by climate change and the spread of root diseases, are threatening date palm propagation and cultivation. As a consequence, two thirds of all date palms were destroyed in Morocco during the last decades, causing substantial economic and ecological damages. To overcome the growth limitations, current date palm production and cultivation regularly involves high inputs of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. However, these high external inputs strongly impact the environment and livelihoods, 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, knowledge-rich approaches for smallholder farmers. The technology, integrating the use of organic amendments and leguminous intercrops, 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 to maintain and increase date palm production, and to counteract the on-going land degradation and desertification of dryland soils. Thus, rural livelihoods will be improved, and poverty-driven migration to urban centres will decrease. 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.

Geographic scope

  • Tunisia
  • Morocco
  • Arid and semi-arid regions of Northern Africa and the Middle East

Research consortium


  • Dr. Paul Mäder, Head of Department of Soil Sciences, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, Switzerland
  • Dr. Lotfi Fki, Director of the Laboratory of Plant Biotechnology, Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences of Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia
  • Prof. Mohamed Hafidi, Laboratory of Plant and Environmental Ecology, Faculty of Sciences Semlalia, University Cadi Ayyad, Marrakesh, Morocco


  • Dr. Sarah Symanczik, Department of Soil Sciences, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, Switzerland

Project link to P3

  • Link to project on SNSF research database P3




Further information on this content


Dr. Paul Mäder Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Ackerstrasse 113 CH-5070 Frick +41 62 865 72 72