The region of El Oued turned into the largest potato production area of Algeria with two harvests per 12 months. However the current potato growing practices are not sustainable and leave much to be gained in terms of farm management practices, quality of starting material and prevention of post-harvest losses.
Along the Mediterranean coast of Algeria agriculture depends on rainfall, whilst in the rest of the country, agriculture depends on scarce, or at least hard to reach, underground water. However, in the El Oued region of Algeria, an enormous sub-Saharan Aquifer comes close to the surface. Here, agriculture has developed on a substantial scale over an area of > 30.000 hectares of sand used for the cultivation of potatoes. At present farmers in El Oued continuously irrigate the potatoes. These practices are unsustainable and much can be gained in terms of water use efficiency, fertilizer and pesticides applications, CO2 footprint, field layout, the choice of appropriate varieties, the quality of the starting material and prevention of post-harvest losses.
In this project, more sustainable potato growing practices will be piloted in a real-live situation. We will set up a 5 ha demonstration farm and manage it, over 4 growing seasons. The demonstration farm will be used to test and illustrate the innovative technique of underground fertigation and how it can contribute to more sustainable water use practices. New (climate smart) varieties will be tested and a local seed potato production/multiplication will be started. In the context of climate smart agriculture this project contributes to a. sustainable water use, b. food security and c. sustainable value chain development.
The project is a combined activity of Algerian and Netherlands public, private and research parties. The preparation for the project started in the first half of 2017, and the first cycle on the 5 hectare demonstration plot was planted in February 2018. The project will run for two consecutive years (4 planting seasons). During the project period, the team of Algerian and Dutch researchers will collect data. This data from the 5 hectare demonstration farm will be compared to the data of an adjacent 1 hectare pivot-irrigated circular field that is managed according to the current practices.
A first estimate predicts water savings more than 55% by introducing the underground drip fertigation whilst producing more and better quality potatoes. The new fertigation technique and the comparison in water use and productivity between the old practice and the new technique will be shared with the farmers during field days so they can experience the new technique and its results in practice. Farm managers will also be trained in the use and maintenance of the machines.