By Roman Kulkewycz
Mariam Abouleish from Egypt was the guest speaker last Wednesday at the Bunyip Landcare Group meeting in the Bunyip Hall.
Miriam holds a Master of Agriculture Engineering degree. She spoke about sustainable farming in the desert where the annual rainfall averages only four millimetres.
Thirty-year-old Mariam was born and grew up in Egypt and completed her university degrees in Germany before travelling through many countries to gain knowledge of organic sustainability in agriculture.
She has recently completed biological farming courses with the internationally renowned microbiologist, Dr Elaine Ingham, a world renowned soil biologist from the United States.
She asked Dr Ingham if she could add to her knowledge and gain some practical experience by working with her.
However Dr Ingham recommended that she travel to Australia to work with Dr Mary Cole, the world’s leading academic and plant pathologist and nationally and internationally recognised expert in the management of the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea.
Mariam is learning from Dr Cole hands-on making of thermal aerobic compost for use in making compost tea.
She is learning microscope techniques to look quantitatively at soil biota and being able to identify the individual soil biota. Alan Cole helped with the compost making.
Agpath is just one of two laboratories in Australia that has access to the techniques of Dr Elaine Ingham through the international database of soils in the University of Oregon, Corvallis, Oregon, USA.
Mariam is grateful to Agpath in Garfield and to Dr Mary Cole for making training available to a young scientist such as herself. She will complete her fourth and last week of practical training with Agpath this week.
Mariam will take her knowledge back to the SEKEM farms to train the SEKEM staff in further biological farming techniques where they are already turning desert to productive agriculture without using chemicals.
Dr Mary Cole has been invited to deliver talks at SEKEM in the future and to act as a consultant in the biological farming techniques at SEKEM and work with Mariam in the future.
Mariam’s grandfather Dr Ibrahim Abouleish started the SEKEM initiative in 1977 on an untouched 70 hectares of Egyptian desert, 60km north-east of Cairo.
Using biodynamic agricultural methods, desert land was revitalized and a striving agricultural business developed.
Over the years SEKEM became the umbrella of a multifaceted agro-industrial group of companies and NGOs.
Today SEKEM is regarded as a leading social business worldwide, producing organic food, natural medicine and clothing – all from products cultivated in the Egyptian desert.
Mariam said that she loves Australia because of the friendliness of the people, the lovely wide countryside and the good food.
She said her best Aussie meal so far has been Alan Cole’s roast lamb.