Integrating animal health innovations into the agroecological transformation of crop-livestock systems of Tunisia

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Authors:

  • Mourad Rekik, Principal Scientist – Small Ruminant Physiology and management, ICARDA
  • Ons Tebourbi, Veterinarian, ICARDA
  • Aymen Frija, agricultural economist, co-lead Work Package 4 for the Initiative on Agroecology
  • Veronique Alary, agricultural economist, country lead for the Initiative on Agroecology

In an innovative move, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and its national partners in Tunisia are embarking on activities aimed at mainstreaming animal health practices and interventions in agroecology transition pathways in Tunisia, specifically in the agroecological living landscape (ALL) of the transect of El Kef Siliana, where the initiative is being actively implemented.

Over the past 1.5 years, ICARDA, in collaboration with national partners including INRAT, OEP, and others, has actively worked towards identifying sociotechnical packages of innovations that are crucial for agroecological transitions in three communities of the transect.  A recent workshop served as a platform to delve deeper into these innovations by exploring how they may link with animal health and welfare (Wezel et al., 2020) and how to accelerate interventions in this field so that the innovation packages fit better the needs of the farming communities.

The primary objective of the workshop was to explore how animal health specialists could contribute to the innovation packages (their co-design, testing and implementation) with a particular focus on mixed crop-livestock systems. Discussions revolved around various topics, including:

  • Recycling solutions that positively impact animal health, especially in relation to manure management and agro-industrial by-products among others.
  • Reduction of chemical inputs to address animal health challenges, such as antibiotics, anthelmintics and possible and feasible ways to replace them through naturally based and management types of interventions including precision feeding using on-farm grown feed and tapping into the biologically active compounds that native forage and pastoral species harbor.
  • Linkages between Animal Health and Soil Health, a poorly documented feature of the intersection between soils and animals in One Health. This is particularly related to the evaluation of good quality and soil relevant crop rotations (including soil fauna) from additional animal health perspectives. Ex. Animal feed resources which grow in healthy soils and are characterized by good and diversified quality nutritive values can have direct and indirect relevance for improvement of animal health.

To facilitate in-depth exploration, working groups were organized, tailoring discussions to the specific contexts of the living landscape and production systems in the three project sites/communities. This participatory approach allowed for the generation of tailored and site-specific field level interventions and research questions, which will be used by the Agroecology team to complement and enhance its systemic action research program in Tunisia.

According to Mohamed Aziz Darghouth, professor in parasitology, “climate change, exacerbated by the rising costs of international inputs, has accelerated and emphasized the unsustainable nature of existing livestock production systems in Tunisia, along with their associated health herd management practices. In this challenging context, the adoption of alternative health herd management practices, aligned with various dimensions of agroecological principles, emerges as a valuable asset. Indeed, these alternative practices could be expanded to other regions in Tunisia, constituting a pivotal element of a comprehensive initiative aimed at transitioning towards more sustainable and climate-smart agroecological production systems”.

Pr. Mohamed Aziz Darghouth facilitating discussion on entry points and research questions for animal health with an agroecological vision (Credit – ICARDA)

This workshop yielded two significant outcomes. Firstly, it laid the foundation for a conceptual framework and methodology on mainstreaming animal health into the vision-to-action methodology followed by the Agroecology initiative that guides the planning of agroecological transitions pathways across its eight target countries. Secondly, it enriched the work plan for Tunisia by incorporating complementary research and development activities in a demand-driven and systemic perspective.

The event marks the beginning of enhancing the plan of work and activities with animal health aspects, with practical implementation perspectives and opportunities in the project sites. The collaborative effort between ICARDA and its national partners in Tunisia underscores the commitment to holistic and sustainable agroecological transitions, providing a blueprint for integrating animal health into the broader vision of the initiative.

The workshop was attended by scientists from different departments of the National Veterinary School (Ecole Nationale de Médecine Vétérinaire), veterinarians, livestock professionals and active field extensionists from the 2 districts of El Kef and Siliana, forage and animal nutrition experts and the ICARDA Agroecology team.

Reference:

Wezel, A., Herren, B. G., Kerr, R. B., Barrios, E., Gonçalves, A. L. R., & Sinclair, F. (2020). Agroecological principles and elements and their implications for transitioning to sustainable food systems. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 40, 1-13.

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