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How did the medic system start?

    The medic system started in Tunisia in the early 1970s at almost exactly the same time as the Libyan development.

There is no evidence that there was any connection between the two or that either group was aware that their country was embarking on a similar program.

Lack of communication between countries in the WANA region was common then and remains so today.

CIMYYT  was the international organisation that initiated the medic program.

Their brief was the improvement of cereals and the program was aimed at providing increased soil fertility for cereals crops.

This was a neat coincidence of CIMYYT objectives, those of the Tunisian government and the perceptions of the Australian agronomists.

It also reflected nearly twenty years of discussion and research within FAO on green manure as a source of nitrogen for cereals crops.

Livestock prices were not as high as they are currently and cereals received more subsidises but even in the 1970s the economic reality on the ground did not justify this almost total priority for cereals.

The institutional model

    The Libyan development authorities were of course institutions but they were new and unusually as they had such a firm development objective and the authority to cut across all the traditional boundaries within the agricultural bureaucracy.

In Tunisia the CIMYYT medic project was much more traditional in its approach and worked within the existing bureaucratic institutions.

The objective was clearly to increase cereal yields through increased soil fertility.

Livestock were of secondary importance.

This was the priority of the Tunisian government at the time.

An agronomist, John Doolette, from South Australia was employed to launch the project and he arrived with the perception of Australian farmers that cereals were much more important than livestock.

On average the returns from cereals were three times as great as those from livestock. Australia produced mainly wool at the time not high priced meat for a local market as in Tunisia.

Australian economic conditions were not relevant to those in Tunisia but cultural attitudes are hard to change.

The medic pastures were established in the better parts of the cereal zone with an annual rainfall of 400 mm.

Some of the best examples of the medic system were around Le Kef.

The Australian agronomist worked with the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture through its cereal and livestock divisions.

These Ministry divisions worked in turn with the state farms operated by the government and the cooperative farms that were effectively under government control.

The Tunisian government purchased medic seed from Australia to establish the medic pastures.

They did not purchase any farm machinery for shallow cultivation not did they employ any Australian farmers to carry out practical demonstrations.

Tunisian technicians did not go to Australia.

Those that trained overseas went to the usual institutions in Europe and North America where they learnt about temperate or even sub-arctic agriculture.

The transfer model was fragmented.

The Australian medic system had been broken into parts and transferred separately.

Fortunately the key agronomist was from South Australia and had a grasp of the system as a whole.

The 1970s

    Success with pastures.

    There is no doubt about the stunning success of the medic pastures established in Tunisia during the 1970s.

When we inspected them in 1979 after Doolette had left Tunisia we found excellent pastures as good as the best that Australia could produce.

They were medic dominant.

They had been well fertilised and were growing vigourously

They were highly productive as green pastures and dry residues in summer.

The number of sheep grazing had been increased on most farms by a factor of 3 or more times.

The productivity of the flocks had increased also.

This enormous success must be kept in mind when discussing some of the failures.

    Cereals not so successful.

    The main objective of the project was to increase cereal yields.

This was not so successful.

The problem with cereals was due to the difficulties of weed control.

Fallow is an effective means of weed control and the new rotation required new techniques that took time to learn.

Also land that had been exhausted by years of fallow cereal takes time to recover.

Experience in Australia had shown that livestock production increased rapidly but cereal yields more gradually over a decade.

    Change from cereals to livestock

    Perhaps it was due to the relatively poor performance of medics in increasing cereal yields that the centre for medic development seemed to move within the bureaucracy from the cereals people to the livestock and pasture people.

It spite of this move things did not change a great deal on the ground.

Medic was still grown in rotation with cereals.

There was no medic development on the parcour or longer rotations on marginal cereal land.

    Problems of shallow cultivation.

    The Tunisians had not imported any Australian scarifiers.

The academic world was not aware at the time of the need for shallow cultivation with tined implement to keep the medic pods near the surface during the cereal phase.

The realisation came in Algeria with the failure of the FAO project in the mid 1970s.

When the Tunisians became aware of the problem they were reluctant to admit (and were supported in this misguided belief by the Australian agronomist) that shallow cultivation required implements designed for that task.

There were attempts to use deep ploughs at shallow depths and chisels.

These inappropriate implements produced poor weed control and compounded the growing weed problem in cereals.

    Grazing management.

    Grazing management was reasonably good but there was a tendency to under-graze.

Where medic was dominant in the pasture this was not a serious problem but where there were weeds under grazing was sometimes disastrous.

We saw medic pastures that had been destroyed but a total lack of winter grazing as they had been taken over completely by grasses.

    Seed production both private and public.

    Seed production was perceived as a problem for the medic system as it was imported from Australia.

Of course vetch seed was imported from France and many other farming inputs were imported from other countries.

These were not regards as "problems."

High seeding rates were used and the use of deep ploughing meant that pastures were frequently re-seeded.

Rather than tackle these problems the Tunisian Ministry launched a successful public and private seed production program that proved the feasibility of seed production but not its economic viability.

Private farmers produced considerable amounts of medic seed but only while they received a subsidy that made the seed more than twice as expensive as the seed imported from Australia.

The cost of the seed produced on State farms was not analysed but the yields were low due to poor seedbed preparation and the cost of the imported Australian harvesters was high.

They also proved to be very expensive to maintain. Once the subsidies were removed on private production it was abandoned.

The 1980s

    The Saouaf farm.

    This was conceived in 1979 but implemented in the 1980s.

During a visit to Tunisia as Minister of Agriculture in South Australia I suggested to the Tunisian Minister of Agriculture that South Australia establish a demonstration farm roughly modelled on the one managed by the South Australian Department of Agriculture in Libya.

He welcomed the idea and believed that he could obtain funding for the project from international Arab donors.

A mission was dispatched from South Australia to draw up the proposal.

In South Australia the government changed after an election and I was no longer Minister.

In Tunisia there was a cabinet reshuffle and a new Minister of Agriculture was appointed.

The South Australian team developed a proposal that was identical to the Libyan demonstration farm.

It was rejected by the Tunisian Ministry as the Deputy Director explained to me because it totally ignored all the work done in Tunisia over the previous six or seven years.

In Libya the demonstration farm had bee established only a year or so after the first medic pastures were established by the Australian farmers.

Work of cultivar selection and other basic information was justified. That had been done in Tunisia. There was no need to repeat it.

What was needed was more work on shallow cultivation and grazing management and greater emphasis on extension than applied research.

The new Tunisian Minister did not have such strong links with the Arab funds and the financing of the project collapsed also.

In spite of these difficulties the Tunisian Ministry through the Livestock and Pastures Organisation (OEP) decided to implement the proposal without Australian assistance on its farm at Saouaf.

The project was a frustrating mixture of success and failure that mirrored the medic work elsewhere and did not take it much further.

Saouaf is on the margin of the Cereal Zone south west of Zaghouan in a rainfall zone less than 300 mm.

The great success was pasture.

Again the number of livestock was increased by a factor of more than three times.

Cereal production improved but suffered from a lack of appropriate machinery.

Over the 20 years we have known the farm it has been equipped with inadequate tined cultivators which just carry out the task of shallow cultivation because the soils are light in texture.

It has continually surprised us how good the yields are on the farm given the poor standard of implements used.

The manager of the farm has over the years become an expert in grazing management and has developed a most productive grazing system but he has been unable to convince the bureaucracy in Tunis to change the farm to a total grazing area in spite of the much higher profitability of livestock compared to cereals in that zone.

The farm also produces medic seed in good season.

As a demonstration farm the project has totally failed.

It has had no impact on the local farmers nearby. It seems to be isolated from the extension services of the Ministry and was totally unknown to the staff of the Ministry at the nearby centre of Zaghouan when we worked there as consultants in 2002.


    Sejnane is in the north of Tunisia in the High Rainfall Zone.

The project was funded and developed by GTZ (the German foreign aid organisation) with meticulous attention to detail.

The project cleared low oak scrub  (about 1 to 2 metres) from areas of common grazing and replaced it with high quality sub clover and some medic pasture.

The project imported special scrub clearing implements from Australia.

The whole project was implemented with a high level of technical success.

Stocking rates for sheep increased from about 0.5 to 5 sheep per hectare.

The overall impact within the farming community generally has been slight.

The use of sub clover and medic on high rainfall parcour has not spread.

The World Bank in its attempts to pasture the catchments of nearby dams that are rapidly silting totally ignored the Sejnane work.

IFAD project at Le Kef - Siliana.

    In the mid 1980s IFAD launched a project in the Le Kef - Siliana area to bring medic pasture in rotation with cereals to small farmers.

The IFAD management in Rome were aware of the difficulties and insisted that and Australian agronomist was employed.

Unfortunately it was also decided that he or she must speak French.

This was an impossible combination and the agronomist appointed was a Belgian agronomist with some years of experience selling herbicides to Australian medic farmers.

His expertise reinforced what was already know in Tunisia and did not fill the gaps.

Good medic pastures were established.

Weed control in the cereal crops was good but this was due to the use of herbicides rather than shallow cultivation.

Regeneration almost always failed due to deep ploughing.

Under-grazing proved a problem through a lack of awareness and lack of sheep.

The project had not been planned (as recommended on this site) with an area of medic pasture suitable for the sheep flock.

Instead areas of medic had been planted on farms some without any sheep. The sheep were to be provided later. Due to bureaucratic delays they often arrived in late spring or summer by which time the medic pasture had been over run with weeds and the original medic shaded out.

After a couple of years the Rome manager realised that in spite of the Australian experienced agronomist the project was still not working at an optimal level.

We were employed to give advice.

We realised that a major failing was the lack of a clear extension message to the farmers.

The project had been drawn up with bureaucratic and political objectives which convinced the Board of IFAD to approve the loan to the Tunisian government but no one had developed an extension message to farmers.

The extension staff lacked motivation because the farmers felt that medic was another one of those ideas being imposed from above.

We developed with the help of the extension staff a simple budget to show farmers that they would make more money from their sheep once the had medic.

The extension staff received a positive feedback from the farmers and they became enthusiastic about the medic which in turn became a positive feedback loop with the farmers.

On the technical side we carried out training in grazing management and tried to arrange for the purchase of shallow cultivation equipment.

Unfortunately we could not overcome the belief that it was just a ruse to sell Australian equipment and the scarifiers were never purchased.

IFAD's internal appraisal of the project reported unfavourably on the medic.

Just as the agronomists had launch out on the technical introduction of medic without any economic justification the economic appraisal team carried out the economic without any understanding of the technology.

They noticed the medic pastures that failed due to under-grazing without understanding that it was a failure of planning and organisation.

They came to the conclusion that the returns were poor.

If they had understood the grazing management they would have realised that these problems were simple to overcome and that medic which was grazed properly was highly productive and profitable.

In Rome the management of the project changed.

The project had completed its five years.

The new managed was not interested in renewing the project.

The medic collapsed.

The 1990s

        There were great changes in Tunisia during the 1990s as the cooperative and state farms were converted to private holdings.

The medic pastures simply disappeared.

This seems strange because the new owners were much more profit oriented and sheep made considerable profits but it must be remembered that the excellent medic pastures in the cooperative farms were based on a high level of reseeding due to the use of deep ploughing.

The new private farmers came in with their deep ploughs and cashed in on the accumulated fertility of the medic pasture.

They did not have the skill or training to establish medic pasture.

The skills were there in the OEP but having lost its role with the cooperative farms it found it difficult to convert itself into an extension organisation for the new farmers.

The new developments with medic in the 1990s which formed the basis of the Zaghouan 4 rotation were not understood in Tunisia.

The 2000s

    By the 2000s Tunisia had a wealth of experience with medic.

There had been excellent medic pastures on the cooperative farms.

There were a few state farms such as Saouaf that had been retained by OEP where medic pastures were still grown.

There was the experience with the IFAD project at Le Kef - Siliania.

There were many excellent staff within the OEP with experience  in medic farming but the organisation was constantly being reinforced with new recruits with no training in medic.

IFAD at Zaghouan

    IFAD established a project at Zaghouan for rural development including a component relating to medic.

We were employed as consultants in 2002 and advised them to adopt the rotation which became know as the Zaghouan 4.

We have not been able to return and report on its success or failure.