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Agroecology in North African irrigated plains? Mapping promising practices and characterizing farmers’ underlying logics

Abstract : In the irrigated plains of North Africa, the sustainability of productive resources is subject to multiple threats linked to the prevailing productivist model of irrigated agriculture. These threats, such as soil degradation and unequal access to resources, markets, and information, prompt farmers to mobilize depleting natural resources, including soil and water, in an often environmentally unsustainable way. In order to sustain their farming systems and consequent incomes, farmers sometimes update their strategies by setting-up alternative farming practices. This study aims at mapping and analyzing such existing local farming practices with agroecological potentials. Our approach is based on direct observations combined with 150 interviews of farmers in three major irrigated plains in North Africa, namely, the Merguellil, Upper Cheliff, and Saiss plains, respectively, in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. This study shows that a wide range of alternative practices with agroecological potential are emerging (or exist) locally, against the flow of the dominant agricultural model which is rather in favor of intensive practices. The most common practices are developed to improve soil fertility management (production of manure tea, integration of legumes in crop successions), increase per surface agricultural production (relay intercropping, intercropping, agroforestry), or provide multiple ecosystem services (diversification, livestock integration). These practices are jointly used, mostly to (i) increase land-use efficiency, and hence face land fragmentation; (ii) diversify their cropping strategy, and spread out market-related risks; and (iii) reduce expensive production costs related to irrigation and chemical fertilization. The gradient of adoption observed according to national contexts suggests a strong influence of contrasting socio-political and historical factors at the regional to national levels. The analysis of logics in implementing such practices by farmers indicates that economic reasons take precedence over environmental concerns. As such, these practices can be seen as (i) an access to low-cost strategies for small farmers or (ii) a pathway to international markets for agribusiness farmers. Taming the extensive local knowledge related to ecological intensification strategies, as identified in this study, can help to pave the way for a more sustainable agriculture, in this intensively cultivated region of the world.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 4:57:04 PM
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Fatah Ameur, Hichem Amichi, Crystèle Léauthaud. Agroecology in North African irrigated plains? Mapping promising practices and characterizing farmers’ underlying logics. Regional Environmental Change, Springer Verlag, 2020, 20 (4), ⟨10.1007/s10113-020-01719-1⟩. ⟨hal-03087327⟩



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