in memoriam - Tahar Gallali (1947-2022)
Professor Tahar Gallali (1947-2022) passed away on Thursday, August 25, 2022, after a long and debilitating illness.
Tahar Gallali was an excellent soil scientist and an outstanding professor of Tunisian higher educational system. Professor Gallali was also recognized as a great personality of science outside the soil and geological disciplines and as an activist for societal causes.
Tahar Gallali did all his higher education in Nancy (France) with an engineering degree in Agronomic School at ENSAIA1 (1968-1971), a postgraduate diploma (French “diplôme d'études approfondies” or DEA) in pedology (1971), then a doctorate on “Aminopolysaccharids in soils”2(1972) and finally a doctorate in Natural Sciences from the University (highest level for a doctorate in France) on the "Pedo-biological study of salsodic soils"3 (1980). Back in Tunisia his research focused on the management of soils as valuable natural resources and on water supply techniques, in arid areas. He published numerous papers and books on soils especially those with calcareous and saline accumulations as well as on the distribution of trace elements, the dynamics of organic matter and the recovery of solid waste. In the 2010s, he worked on soils, in relation to global warming, in partnership with the French Research Institution for Development (IRD) and the joint research unit UMR Eco&Sols (Montpellier). He developed studies theme on soil carbon sequestration in Tunisian no-till systems (French Development Agency, Project PAMPA: Multi-country Action Program in Agroecology). He contributed to the establishment of CaSA, the francophone network on soil carbon for sustainable agriculture in Africa. He also participated as principal contributor and editorial board member in the Soil Atlas of Africa. For the period 2005-2016 alone, about 25 papers and book chapters have been published internationally. During his long scientific career, he has supervised not less than 15 “thesis” and 50 postgraduate students (DEA or Master), including as a visiting professor at the University Abdou Moumi in Niamey (Niger), since 1984.
He has also acted as an expert in these fields as a consultant in many foreign countries, with UNESCO (for various commissions), ALECSO, UNEP, UNDP, IFAD, OSS, AUPELF-AUF4, etc.
Tahar Gallali's teaching activity has been a remarkable epic since 1980, when he established pedology as a new scientific discipline taught at the University of Tunis and included at all levels in the cursus of several masters of the Faculty of Sciences of Tunis: Natural Sciences, Sciences and Earth Techniques.
He created the first doctoral program in Environmental Sciences, including the “DEA” (master equivalent) entitled "Soil, Water and Environment" in which many French researchers and teachers (often from IRD, or the former Orstom) participated.
In 2004, he introduced a new teaching program in the University of Tunis on Soil, Environment and Natural Hazards, while developing of a "virtual" program with online educational resources.
This teaching activity went hand-in-hand with the publication of several educational books on: Éléments de géodynamique externe (External geodynamics) (1988), Clés des sols (Keys to soils) (2004), 2 volumes entitled of Pédologie I et II (Pedology I and II) (2005, 2006), Gestion des risques naturels (Natural risk management) (2007).
He has also participated in Panels for 23 thesis juries and 29 teacher-researcher recruitment juries and has been an expert for the National Foundation for Scientific Research (FNRS), advisor to the Ministry of Equipment and Housing for environmental issues, member of the High Council for the Reform of the Education System.
Science for the general public
First, he founded (1992) and directed (until 2002) the “Cité des Sciences à Tunis” (Tunis Sciences City). It is one of the most important scientific projects in the Mediterranean (60,000 m2, 50 million US$ in 2002). In addition to the permanent collections, the “Cité” organized many cycles of conferences or international festivals (such as "Science in the Sahara") with Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, well-known science writers, etc., sets up interactive exhibitions for the general public on modern science, and publishes books and multimedia supports for the dissemination of scientific culture.
Tahar Gallali directed the magazine Er-rif published from 1987 to 1992 by a rural development NGO. Then he created and directed (1994-2002) "Cité Editions" (City Editions) (a publisher attached to La cité des Sciences) with its main magazine “El-Madar” for the dissemination of scientific culture with publication of works on different subject such as the following titles: Je Mesure l'Univers (I Measure the Universe); Je Viens d'Où? (From where I Come?); Hymne à la Tolérance (Hymn To Tolerance); Le Petit Guide Bleu du Ciel (The Small Blue Guide of the Sky).
All his activity and engagements have been recognized in 2017 with the attribution of the international prize "Eureka" ("I found", word attributed to Archimedes) which honors outstanding contributions in the promotion of teaching and popularization of science in the Mediterranean region. This Prize is awarded by the MED21 program in the framework of the celebration of the International Day of Science for Peace and Development proclaimed by the United Nations.
In the associative field
- Founding member and first president of the ASAF, the first association of Arab-French friendship in Nancy in 1971.
- Member of the steering committee since 1987 of ASDEAR (Association for the development and rural animation), a pioneer NGO in rural development.
- Member of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Arid Regions (1988-1994).
- Administrator at the company of oil activities ETAP (Tunisian company of oil activities).
- Associate member of the ECSITE conference of European Science Cities, since 1994.
- Member of the scientific committee of the Euro-Mediterranean University of Cargese (Corsica, France) since October 2001.
Beyond Soil Science, global issues
Beyond Earth Sciences, Tahar Gallali is also a writer on some major contemporary global issues.
In 2011, he published a superb reflection on environmental and climate change issues with his book: L'Homme et la Terre, une liaison dangereuse (Man and the Earth: a dangerous relationship). In October 2017, (while Tahar is very much affected by his serious illness), he edited a new essay, in the political field of North-South confrontations; entitled La seule révolution qui vaille (The only revolution that is worthwhile). According to the author, the only revolution that is worthwhile on our Earth is the scientific one. He develops this idea through a historical, economic and socio-cultural analysis of the current and past conflicts between the Occidental and the Arab world in the context of Christianity and Islam.
Finally, in 2020, he published: el Mektoub, ou penser le risque (el Mektoub or thinking in terms of risk) which concerns the need to review the entire Tunisian system (operational and legal) for environmental risks.
Finally, Tahar Gallali was holder of the Merit of Education and Commander of the Order of the Republic (Tunisia).
Tunisia can be proud to have had, in the person of Professor Gallali, a great scientist and professor, but also an acting activist for great causes, an important defender of human rights and the builder of the exceptional project of the City of Sciences in Tunis. This country owes a lot to Tahar Gallali who has continuously, with young and old, students and others, defended and displayed the scientific culture as the only way to fight against the dogmatic spirit, a fight he led all his life.
There is no doubt that Tunisia has just lost an exceptional personality.
Christian FELLER (IRD, France),
Habib BELAYOUNI (Faculty of Sciences, Univ. Tunis, Tunisia),
Martial BERNOUX (IRD, France and FAO, Italy)
1 ENSAIA École Nationale Supérieure d'Agronomie & des Industries alimentaires
2 Gallali, T., 1972. Étude statistique et dynamique des polysaccharides et des amino-polysaccharides au cours de l'humification. Thèse Doct. Spéc., Univ. Nancy I, 193 p.
3 Gallali T., 1980. Contribution à l'étude pédo-biologique des sols salsodiques formés sur matériaux sédimentaires : transfert sels-matière organique en zones arides méditerranéennes. Thèse Doct. Etat. INPL, Nancy, 202 p.
4 ALECSO Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization; UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; UNEP United Nations Environment Programme; UNDP United Nations Development Programme; IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development; OSS Sahara and Sahel Observatory; AUPELF-AUF Association des universités entièrement ou partiellement de langue française (AUPELF) - Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF).