A conversation with Lydia Merrouche on pioneering organic agriculture in Africa for a better future

May 21, 2024

In this exclusive interview, Lydia Merrouche, Founder and Managing Director of Fossoul Agricole, shares her transformative journey from a legal career to spearheading organic agriculture in Algeria. With a passion for sustainable and environmentally friendly farming, Lydia has not only adapted to but also innovated within the agri-food sector. Her company, Fossoul, meaning ‘season’ in Arabic, epitomizes her commitment to producing organic fruits and vegetables while advocating for ecological responsibility.

Could you tell us about your background and what motivated you to become an entrepreneur in the agri-food sector in Africa?

My name is Lydia MERROUCHE, I’m Algerian and I’m a lawyer by training who switched to organic farming in 2016. I decided to put away my lawyer’s robes to put on my farmer’s boots and campaign for healthy, sustainable agriculture in Algeria and Africa.

I made this transition out of passion and conviction for sustainable agriculture that respects the environment. I launched my own business, FOSSOUL, which means season in Arabic, an eco-responsible company specialising in the production of seasonal organic fruit and vegetables. As an entrepreneur in the agri-food sector in Africa, I’m passionate about contributing to the continent’s economic and social development through environmentally-friendly agriculture. My aim is to introduce sustainable farming practices, promote organic farming and help transform the agri-food sector in Algeria and Africa.

Today, eating organic has become a necessity, not only to protect the planet, but also to safeguard human health. The insecticides and chemical fertilisers used in conventional agriculture can be harmful to our health. Many illnesses can be caused by exposure to these chemicals. By choosing organic farming, we can reduce our exposure to these toxic substances and promote a healthier diet. What’s more, by growing our fruit and vegetables organically, we are supporting the preservation of ecosystems and the sustainability of natural resources.



As a young entrepreneur, what specific innovations have you introduced into your farming? How do these innovations improve productivity and sustainability?

Organic farming is full of innovations that help to improve the productivity and sustainability of farming systems, and I’ve introduced several of these innovations that I’ve taken from nature.
As well as crop associations, which involve growing different plants together that will naturally repel insects that are harmful to other crops, or improving soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, there is also plant treatment, which involves using plant extracts to protect and stimulate crop growth.

Some plants have natural insecticidal, fungicidal or repellent properties, so this method respects the natural balance and promotes more sustainable agriculture. Conservation farming, which aims to reduce soil disturbance by minimising ploughing and using techniques such as permanent plant cover and crop rotation, helps to maintain high productivity while preserving natural resources. Not forgetting the use of compost and organic fertilisers, rather than chemical fertilisers, which improve soil fertility, provide essential nutrients to plants and contribute to sustainability by recycling organic waste.
The use of reproducible organic seeds and farmers’ seeds allows me to grow healthier and more productive plants, while preserving biodiversity. Agroforestry, which is also present on my farm and consists of integrating trees into farming systems, offering numerous advantages.
All these practices that I use help to preserve biodiversity, maintain soil health and produce healthy food for my customers and the community.

What are the main challenges you have faced as a young entrepreneur in agriculture, and what solutions have you found to overcome them?

As a woman entrepreneur in agriculture, I’ve had to face a number of major challenges. One of the main challenges has been access to farmland. Although our government strongly encourages farming, it encourages it in the south of the country, which was unthinkable for me as I advocate seasonal and local farming.

Finding available land suited to my needs was not easy, but I managed to rent a piece of farmland in Greater Algiers, a seven-hectare urban farm that enabled me to develop my business. Another major challenge was access to finance. Like many young entrepreneurs, I found it hard to get financial support to get my project off the ground. However, I decided to self-finance using the money I had put aside. This decision was crucial in getting my business off the ground and giving me the resources I needed to face the other challenges. Labour was another major challenge.

In an environment where women don’t always have a place in agriculture, it was difficult to recruit and manage a team of farmers. However, I persevered and established myself as a woman entrepreneur in this field. Today, I’m proud to say that I’ve succeeded in building my structure and managing a competent and dedicated team. Thanks to my determination and my will to overcome these obstacles, my company, FOSSOUL, has become a pioneer in organic farming in Algeria since its creation in 2016. I have no intention of stopping there, as I am determined to develop my business even further and continue to promote organic farming.

You will be taking part in the ‘Tomorrow is us’ round table at SIAL. What key messages do you hope to convey to your audience at this event?

First of all, I want to raise public awareness of the urgent need to rethink our agricultural and food practices. We are at a crucial moment in our history when it is essential to take action to preserve our planet and ensure a sustainable future. What’s more, my journey shows that with personal funding, unshakeable determination and the ability to assert yourself in a sometimes hostile environment, it is possible to succeed as a young entrepreneur in agriculture. I’m proud of my journey and hope I can inspire other young entrepreneurs to overcome the challenges they face and realise their dreams in this exciting field.

What is your vision for the future of your sector? What trends do you see emerging in agri-food innovation in Africa over the next few years?

I firmly believe in a promising future for the agricultural and agri-food sector in Africa. The region has enormous potential in terms of natural resources, arable land and agricultural diversity. In the coming years, we will see the emergence of several key trends that will shape agri-food innovation in Africa. Firstly, we will see a significant increase in the adoption of intelligent agricultural technologies.

The use of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics will enable African farmers to manage their crops more efficiently, monitor weather conditions, improve water management and increase productivity. These technologies will play a crucial role in transforming traditional agriculture into more efficient and sustainable precision farming. Secondly, we will see significant growth in urban agriculture and urban food production. With rapid population growth and increasing urbanisation, agricultural land is becoming increasingly limited.

Urban agriculture offers an innovative solution by enabling urban communities to grow fresh food locally, reducing transport costs and carbon emissions. Vertical gardens, roof gardens and vertical farms will become increasingly common in African cities. Another important trend will be the development of sustainable solutions for the food supply chain. Africa is facing major challenges such as post-harvest losses, food safety and product traceability. In the coming years, we will see innovations in the storage, processing and distribution of agricultural products.

Technologies such as blockchain will be used to guarantee traceability and transparency, while low-cost food preservation solutions with a small ecological footprint will be developed. Finally, I am convinced that we will see an increase in investment in the agro-industry. The growing demand for processed and value-added food products is opening up new opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. We will see innovations in the processing of agricultural products, the creation of local brands and the export of African products to other markets. These trends will help to stimulate economic growth, improve food security and promote sustainable development in the region.

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Photo Gabriel Jimenez Unsplash

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