ENCOUNTER WITH PHILIPPE OUAKI DI GIORNO, INGENIOUS INVENTOR – MEKNES

Enchanted break on the road

After our encounter with Aziz and his family, we’re back on the road towards Meknes, for a meeting we’re quite excited about! Yet we stop just a few kilometres after, intrigued by a big nest in which we can clearly see a stork. They’re everywhere since we arrived in the south of Spain, but for the first time we have a view form above. The road is higher here but they usually nest on high electric poles or at the minarets’ top. We climb the hill beside us to get a better view, armed with our spotting scope and camera, and find out that the stork is actually brooding four babies, all grey and fluffy…

In awe of the scene , we observe the family trough the spotting scope when what we suppose to be the father lands at the edge of nest. It’s time for feeding, and we feel particularly privileged to be here in this moment. It’s a good time to try to set our camera up onto the spotting scope… Well that’s gonna take us some time to figure out, given the blur images we got 😉

 

Arriving in Meknes

We came here in Meknes to meet with Philippe Ouaki Di Giorno, an engineer who developed a moisture-binding polymer that could be used to grow plants even in the desert. We had discovered the man and his invention through an interview given by a French journalist (Frederic Lopez - you can watch the interview here though it’s in french) and had been seduced by his speech and determined personality.

This meeting wasn’t suppose to happen though. We were in contact with one of his collaborators, Saber, whom we initially planned to meet with in Casablanca. The offer to meet them here came from him, for he would be accompanied with Philippe to attend the SIAM, an International agricultural fair. A rare opportunity and it is thus a little intimidated that we drive along the fortified walls surrounding the medina to get to the agreed meeting point, some parking lot by the fair main entrance.

They’ll get there a few minutes after we do, accompanied with Philippe’s daughter, who’s a student in corporate communication. After the introductions, Saber goes on a mission to get their badges while we get acquainted with Philippe. He is most intrigued by our adventure and what led us to it, and he happily answer his questions before asking the one that burns our lips… What is this invention all about, and who’s the man behind it?

 

The encounter 

Philippe is an agronomist with a passion for plants and their dynamics, who developed an organic component able to retain up to 500 times (usually between 120 to 300 times) it’s volume of water, to be distributed to plant when it actually needs it. The amount of water needed is therefore drastically reduced (down by 97%), for every drop now counts. But in truth it goes way deeper!

According to Philippe (and that’s the moment I regret not recording the conversation, for we don’t know it yet, but we won’t see him again) the polymer will eventually blend with the plant’s root system and allow it to grow beyond it’s latent potential, usually never reached because of the stress induced by normal conditions (humidity, temperatures, etc). Philippe even mentions some kind of super plants (like quinoa or piment), growing up to four times quicker than usual.

An invention he took 25 years to fully develop, never letting go of his formula despite the numerous offers he got from agricultural giants. I’m not interested with money for money, he told us, what I want is to give people back confidence in their lands. He is convinced that the trend that has seen countrysides emptying at the benefice of life in cities in now reversing, and that the farmers of tomorrow are today engineers, bankers or salesmen. One the biggest challenge for the future is to feed everyone, and the agriculture, when practised wisely, can widely provide what we need.

For Philippe, the very notion of permaculture is only good sense, working with what the nature does best instead of working to destroy it. And it is through this vision that he plays his part, convinced that knowledge is a powerful tool, and that it is what we choose to do with it that matters. After all, chemistry also happens to be the very essence of life, he told us. Now is no longer the time to realise that something’s wrong. Now is the time for solutions! And those solutions are already in our hands, provided we can use them wisely…

In the end we spent more than two hours talking together, sitting in our camping chairs (as you know we’re pretty well equipped) on the parking lot. Philippe agrees for another meeting even if his schedule is largely filled already, but he won’t make it after all… We’d have had a thousand questions to ask about his product, which seems to be offering endless possibilities (food security, bioremediation, soil stabilisation, recreation of primary forests, etc), but it’s mostly his vision, definitely positive and determined, that marked us that day.

 

After this unexpected but very appreciable meeting, we enjoy loosing ourselves in the maze of Meknes’ Medina before heading to Fes, for a citadin stop before crossing the Atlas Mountains…

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