Influence of organic amendment from date palm residues on soil fertility and soil properties

1. Context / Objectives

The proposed doctoral thesis is part of the ISFERALDA project - Improving Soil FERtility in Arid and semi-arid regions using Local organic DAte palm residues - that is funded by PRIMA-MED (Partnership for research and innovation in the Mediterranean area) and start on June 1st 2021 for a three-years period. The dryland soils of North African region present low fertility and productivity due to low organic matter content. In these arid areas, oases are the main driver of economy, and date palm is the main source of income for farmers. But the harsh environment in North Africa makes these oases vulnerable to many environmental threats.

Only a minor part of date palm cultivation by-products is recovered. Their valorization as bioresources, with a potential effect on soil fertility (and thus on oases ecosystem productivity), has received little attention to date. Therefore, ISFERALDA project aims at using these agricultural residues in order to increase resilience to climate change of agroecosystems while ensuring comparable or higher incomes to local farmers in semi-arid areas.

The project especially aims at developing the use of organic amendments (OA) based on local agriculture wastes, and more specifically the date palm residues, as a key tool in land restoration. Based on traditional production (composting, pyrolysis), the project will focus on refining processes and improving products' quality and adequacy with plant needs and substrate properties. Innovative farming systems will be developed and contribute sustainable management of date production, generating income and creating employment as well as improving environmental parameters.

The objectives of the thesis will be to quantify the influence of OA from date palm residues on fertility and on the physical, chemical and microbiological properties of soils. This study will also aim to understand the influence of the diversity of bacterial fungal life in soils on the evolution of soil physical and chemical properties. The proposed research activities include a description of the characteristics of the studied OA, as well as laboratory experiments to fully describe the increase of the soil fertility using the different OA and to explain the evolution of the physical, chemical and microbiological properties of the soils.

2. Expected impacts

This study aims at improving soil quality in general. That would result in an increase of the yield and therefore an increase of the income for local farmers. The studied organic amendments aims at increasing soil water retention and fertility by increasing soil organic carbon (SOC), and at improving the microbial and fungal life of the soil to help plants to be more resistant to external aggressions.

From a scientific point of view, a significant advance in the understanding of the role of different fungal and bacterial communities in the evolution of soil properties after OA inputs is expected.

3. Collaborations

  • Hellenic Agricultural Organization - DEMETER, Greece.
  • University Mohamed Khider of Biskra, Algeria.
  • National Institute of Algerian agronomic research, Algeria.
  • Arid Regions Institute of Medenine (IRA) - University of Gabs, Tunisia.
  • University of Innsbruck, department of microbiology, Austria.

Keywords: Organic amendment, soil fertility, soil properties, date palm residues, oases ecosystem

Skills / knowledge required for the subject:

  • Master's or equivalent degree in soil science, agronomy or environmental science
  • Good communication skills
  • Fluency in the French language is not required but would be an advantage
  • Team work
  • Rigor / organization



Applications should be sent by email before March 31, 2021.

Applications in French or in English must include:

  • A cover letter stating your specific interest, motivation and qualifications for the project in question;
  • Detailed CV, including personal contact information;
  • Contact details for two referees, e.g. former or current scientific supervisors.

Interviews with selected candidates will be performed online.

The expected start of the PhD contract is June 1st, 2021 (until May 2024).

posted: 25 February 2021     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.