Composting and waste recycling for organic smallholder farming in Tunisia

by Khaled Sassi, Tunisia, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.

In Tunisia, during the last years the area converted to organic agriculture has increased from 300 ha in 1997 to 403,000 ha in 2010 (DGAB, 2010), this development needed a huge quantity of organic matter in order to maintain and enhance soil fertility as required in organic regulations. Crops fresh residues cannot be incorporated directly into the soil and only animal manures from organic or extensive livestock systems can be used freshly without exceeding a quantity equivalent to 170kg of nitrogen/ha/year. Also chicken manure presents a great ecological problem; it cannot be incorporated into the soil in the fresh state because it contains pathogens and high levels of nitrogen.

The use of fresh manure can also lead to increased weed problems because it may contain seeds. Porter (2000) indicates that potential problems related to nutrient management, such as nutrient overloading, nutrient losses and high salt levels have been associated with the direct application of manure. Finally, animal manure from intensive livestock system is allowed, but only after composting.

Despite the importance of compost in organic systems, most organic smallholders do not know control composting and the development of this innovative technique of local waste recycling remains in the early stages.

Organic farming is based on a holistic viewpoint, the support of biological processes, the equilibrium of the agro-ecosystem and the enhancement of structure and soil fertility with compost. Composting is an efficient way to recycle various organic matter sources. It is an aerobic biological process, allowing the decomposition and degradation of organic material and is characterized by different parameters such as moisture, aeration, temperature, and carbon/nitrogen ratio.

It is in this context that I plan to launch research and development work. It consists to characterize several types of compost in order to provide the most efficient compost to hundreds of organic farmers. The results of this innovative work will have an impact on improving smallholder incomes, since this technique of waste recycling is very economical and improves the crop production and the management of natural resources.

At the end of this work, each smallholder farmer will be able to install his own composting project with optimal conditions of expertise in a context of sustainable environmental development. Policy makers and national programs of waste management could also be inspired by this new innovation.