The Conservation Agriculture for North Africa (CANA) project

  • 30th May 2019
  • by secretary
Oussama El Gharras and Mohammed El Mourid,
both involved in the CANA project,
at ICARDA’s Rabat headquarters last month.

29 May 2019. An Australian-funded project in north Africa is showing the benefits of CA apply

The Conservation Agriculture for North Africa (CANA) project operates across three north African nations, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, in three distinct climate zones, sub-humid coastal regions of Tunisia, semi-arid high plains in Algeria, with annual rainfall of around 350mm and in central Morocco in the Chaouia area in a low to medium rainfall environment with annual rainfall of 350mm.

Farm sizes can vary from 15 hectares down to just a hectare or two, meaning big machinery is not practical, but modified zero till planters designed by Australian machinery manufacturer John Shearer for the small paddocks being planted are working effectively.
equally to farmers running plots of land a fraction of the size of the average Aussie holding.

“You’ve got reduced sowing costs, lower erosion and the ability to sow in a more timely manner and better water use efficiency. Along with that, the move to no-till had allowed local North African farmers to better monitor their fertiliser and seed usage. 

Farmers in the areas covered by the CANA project historically were heavy cultivators and used a weedy fallow, where the paddock is worked, then left with the weeds that come up, which are then cut for fodder. This form of break is inefficient, inevitably to lower soil fertility and higher weed burdens when it came to be cropped once again.  

There is a historic cultural attachment to cultivation, it is something that has been done for millennia, so it has not been easy convincing farmers to go down another path.”

“We’ve come up with specific manuals for things like weed identification and mixing up chemicals that are accessible for those with limited literacy,” Mohammed El Mourid (see picture), regional co-ordinator for North Africa for ICARDA

Suitable equipment

The custom-designed minimum till planter
designed for small scale farmers in North Africa

The CANA team, together with John Shearer, came up with a solution, with Shearer designers developing a small scale zero till planter of a suitable scale for local farmers and their machinery. It has first been trialled and tested in the field and now there are local manufacturers producing the seeders.

“The idea is to mix up wheat, which is the staple crop throughout the region, with legumes. In Tunisia, which is a little wetter, that option has been faba beans, in Morocco and Algeria we’ve worked with chickpeas and lentils. Fodder mixes are also used in the rotation, to provide valuable animal feed and also to allow farmers to stop weed seed set. Having the rotations is important to get weed numbers down, to put back nitrogen into the soil and a disease break” Oussama El Gharras (see picture), of the Moroccan National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)

The CANA project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), while the University of South Australia and Rural Solutions SA are partners.