Tunisia is home to over 200 oases located across the country’s southern governorates. These oases account for more than 40,000 hectares of agriculturally productive land and house 10% of the country’s population. In Southern Tunisia, oases provide food security and employment for local populations. In addition, they serve as trade centers that connect remote regions. However, several challenges threaten the biodiversity of Tunisian oases and the livelihood of residents. Rapid urbanization and monoculture farming have placed tremendous pressure on water resources and resulted in land degradation. As agricultural productivity decreases, young people migrate to the cities in search of better employment opportunities. The lack of proper management has also led many areas to fall into a state of neglect.
The Oases Ecosystems and Livelihoods Project
In 2014, the World Bank implemented the Oases Ecosystems and Livelihoods Project, better known by its French acronym GDEO. It is aimed at improving sustainable natural resources management and conserving the biodiversity of selected oases in southern Tunisia. Co-funded by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility, the project’s total cost was estimated at 170.50 million USD. The initiative achieved stellar success. Various microprojects restored crucial irrigation systems, renewed water cycles and provided jobs for local residents. The number of beneficiaries totaled at 23,257, exceeding the initial target of 18,000.
Tunisian oases form a unique ecosystem ideal for the flourishing of diverse flora and fauna. This impressive biodiversity was endangered by monoculture practices on date farms. The practices used up natural water supplies and caused the loss of unique plant species and varieties. To remedy these harms, the GDEO implemented a total of 60 micro-projects that helped renovate irrigation infrastructure and protect the area against wild boars. They also helped to enforce pest management and diversify crop cultivation by introducing palm and fruit trees. Crop diversification significantly reduced land degradation, which contributed to sustaining the region’s ecosystems.
Furthermore, another key component of the plan is improving the management of oasis natural resources to protect against flooding and sand invasion. An additional component is scaling up sustainable land and water management (SLWM) practices to enhance agricultural productivity. As a result, SLWM practices transformed 900 hectares of land, exceeding the original target of 700 hectares.
Support for Farmers
The provision of training and tools to farmers has increased crop yields and sustained farmers’ livelihoods. They include introducing mechanical plows and organic fertilizers. In addition, farmers receive training on how to farm more efficiently through the implementation of “3-state agriculture.” This is a method of production that pays off with higher crop diversity and higher production within a limited space. More than 200 people participated in training programs, and 5056 farmers ended up adopting SLWM practices. Equipped with the right skills and tools, more and more young farmers now choose to stay and work in the oases. With knowledge of new farming techniques, farmers can profit more from their work while also being mindful of the ecosystem and natural resources.
Most importantly, oasis renewal and rehabilitation enables local residents to earn a living through beneficial and profitable engagement with the local region. This offers an alternative to migration to urban centers. Community-based projects support a variety of farming and non-farming activities. These activities include craftsmanship, ovine fattening activities and beekeeping as well as cultural heritage conservation and ecotourism. “Jobs have been created–about half of them for women and youth,” said Taoufiq Bennouna, World Bank Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist. In total, more than 226 micro-projects focused on SLWM, conservation, artisanship and ecotourism development have resulted in 735 direct jobs and improved income.
Overall, the World Bank’s Tunisian Oases Ecosystems and Livelihoods Project has brought new life to Tunisian oases by preserving their diverse ecosystems and helping farmers maintain their livelihoods.
– Alice Nguyen