Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui

Exciting Fertilizer Master’s Programs and Pioneering Research from a New African Agriculture School

IFA: You are currently the Director of the Agricultural School at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University – can you tell us about the university and agricultural department?
Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui
: The university was inaugurated in January 2017 and is located in Benguerir, near Marrakesh in Morocco. It was founded by (IFA Member) OCP and set up as a not-for-profit research and innovation institution to help meet the needs and solve the problems of African agriculture.

The university has an agriculture department that includes a new school of agriculture, fertilizers and environment sciences (ESAFE), focused on both education and research, alongside an experimental farm featuring a 110-hectare living lab in Benguerir with nurseries and greenhouses. In order to create tailor-made solutions adapted to the diversity of all African soils, we are also creating an experimental farm in Yamoussoukro in the Ivory Coast and are exploring similar centers in different areas in the continent.

The goal of ESAFE is to train students and professionals in agriculture who will contribute to food security by advancing research and improving fertilizers, crop products, water and soil management.

The agricultural school will initially offer two accredited agricultural Master of Science programs. The first is in the area of fertilizers and will offer an in-depth course covering all aspects of the science and technology of soil health as well as the production and application of plant nutrients. The second will focus on biotechnology. A common track will provide students with a grounding in biology. They can then choose to specialize in genetics, plant extraction or molecular biology.

IFA: You will soon also be launching an Executive Master’s Program in Fertilizer Science and Technology – what will the course be about?
Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui
: The Executive Master’s Program in Fertilizer Science and Technology has been developed in collaboration with the International Fertilizer development Centre, alongside contributions from the International Plant Nutrition Institute, the University of Georgia and OCP.

The aim is to give employees a thorough understanding of all aspects of the fertilizer industry. Students will learn everything from how fertilizers are mixed and formulated, the principals of agriculture and relevant environmental issues to the economics of Phosphates, communications strategies and fertilizer statistics.

Created for professionals in the fertilizer industry, the eight-week program features four weeks of courses at the university combined with four weeks learning tools, conducting site visits and participating in interactive workshops. Site visits include a fertilizer mine, a fertilizer plant, experimental and actual farms.

The course has already been successfully run with OCP employees and will be a great way to quickly and effectively get a thorough insight into all aspects of the fertilizer industry, from mining to marketing.

IFA: Can you tell use more about the agricultural research being conducted at the university?
Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui
: The main focus is to conduct research in the area of crop productivity to help contribute to food security. This research is principally focusing on three areas: The first is on the soil itself and the microorganisms that contribute to plant nutrition. The second focuses on the plants at a genetic and an agronomic level (for example selective breeding or using biostimulants). The third will look at developing high value products that could be added to the soil or used as biocontrol agents with plants.

For example, we have a soil project that will look at bacteria that can absorb phosphates. These could potentially improve crop productivity by increasing plant phosphate uptake as well as protect the environment by reducing phosphate losses.

With regards to plants, the university is in an arid area with very little rain and sometimes high saline water. We have selected quinoa as an alternative crop to wheat and barley as it can be adapted to both arid and saline conditions and is a high value crop. We are also exploring using quinoa soap extract as a biocontrol agent.

Another project we have planned is to revitalize used phosphate production land for agroforestry which can both capture carbon and bring additional value by producing sought-after timbre or feed for animals.

An important final pillar of the university’s agricultural research is an ongoing project to analyze and map soils in countries throughout Africa to better understand their needs and help make more appropriate fertilizers for them.

IFA: As a leading plant physiology scientist what more do you think farmers (and the fertilizer industry) can do to mitigate climate change, drought and extreme weather when growing crops?
Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui
: Climate change is affecting farmers, fertilizers and plants. With extreme weather patterns we will have both more and less rain and heat, but it’s possible to counteract this at different levels.

Precision agriculture is one key approach. For example, sensors can help regulate and reduce water use in drought areas. Similarly, for fertilizers, precision ag will allow us to give plants only what they need through as little as one or two applications. Today, companies are creating plants that are better adapted to drought and insects. By using these better adapted crops farmers can help mitigate climate change.

The fertilizer industry can also help plants adapt by developing soil biostimulants. For example, microorganisms can not only improve nutrition but also mitigate stress. They can also potentially produce products that will help crops, such as growth regulators.

About Dr. Faouzi Bekkaoui

Faouzi Bekkaoui is the Director of the Agriculture School and the coordinator of the AgroBioSciences Research program at the University Mohammed 6 Polytechnic (UM6P) in Benguerir, Morocco. Prior to joining UM6P, he was the Executive Director of the Wheat Improvement Flagship Program at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada from 2012 to 2017. In 2006, Faouzi rejoined NRC-PBI as Program Manager of Seed Systems. In subsequent roles, he served as Acting Research Director, the leader of the “Biorenewable Oils for Food and Fuel” Program and Associate Director of the Plant Biotechnology Institute, NRC prior to becoming the Executive Director.

About ESAFE’s Agricultural Masters’ and Executive Fertilizer Master’s Programs:

Further information about ESAFE and its Master of Science programs can be found here. If you would like to find out more about the Executive Fertilizer Master’s Program or are interested in attending the inaugural session, you can register your interest here.