Tunisian Oases: toward bolstering jobs and biodiversity

The Tunisian oases offer a healthy and ecological system where the tree produces an extremely delicious fruit and of great value.

These oases are localized in the governorates of Tozeur, Kebili, Gabes and Gafsa. According to their geographical location and bioclimatic, one distinguishes the continental oases from Djerid (Tozeur and Nefta) and from Nefzaoua (Kebili and Douz), the coastal oases of Gabes and the high oases of Gafsa.

This bioclimatic diversity allows the production of more than 150 varieties of dates over a large period, from the beginning of October until the end of December.

The most marketed varieties are: Deglet Nour, Allig, Khouat Allig and Kenta. The excellent capacity of conservation of the variety Deglet Nour in cold room allows its marketing all the year round.

In recent years, the World Bank has been working with the government of Tunisia to bring oases back from the brink.

“Development projects in Tunisian oases ecosystems have been largely focused on water use, but the degradation of soils, environmental resources and biodiversity also need to be considered,” recalls Taoufik Bennouna, Senior Natural Resources management specialist and team leader. “It’s clear that fertilizer or improving water use alone is not enough and that an integrated, cross-sectoral and participatory approach to addressing degradation and restoring oases is needed.”

Supported by a grant from the Programme on Forests (PROFOR), the Bank aided the development of the first national strategy for sustainable development of Tunisia oases, which the Tunisia government adopted in 2014.

The strategy comprises five key axes: (1) restoring ecologic and environmental functions of oasis ecosystems; (2) restoring economic and socioeconomic functions of Tunisian oases; (3) restoring socio-cultural and touristic functions of oases; (4) improving the livelihoods of oasis communities; and (5) accompanying measures.

A dedicated action plan has been developed to help the implementation of the strategy which through its axis focuses on mitigating oases issues.

The strategy addresses also unemployment among women and youth in Tunisia, which is especially high in oases areas. While the unemployment rate in the country stands at about 15 percent, the unemployment of young people is close de 30 percent.

Reinvigorating the oases’ traditions and jobs, while managing natural resources, is a major step toward solutions. For example, if local agriculture is enriched with better composting and water management, yield will be higher and production of date palm products, for example, will increase.

 “We are in the process of assisting with the development of a clear vision to enhance Tunisian oases resilience,” Bennouna said.  “The national strategy for sustainable development of Tunisian oases and its action plan are fundamental tools to build a momentum around Tunisian oases. The objective is to help Tunisian institutions and development partners to work, through a common framework, and promote activities that support the traditions and livelihoods of oases communities in supporting them to cope with desertification and changing climate.”

Adoption of the strategy occurred in tandem with the launch of the World Bank Oases Ecosystems and Livelihood,  which pilots the participatory approach for oases management that puts citizens at the heart of the decision making process.

The project includes initiatives that will be coordinated and implemented by local civil society organizations in six selected oases.

About 4,000 households will benefit from this project: the coastal oases of Zarat in Gabes governorate, with 400 farming households; 500 families in Noueil, in the continental oases of Kebili governorate; El Guettar, which has 2,700 families in the mountain oases of Gafsa governorate; and a cluster of three mountain oases (Tameghza, Chebika and Mides) in Tozeur governorate, with 500 households.

Additionally, about 30 community-driven micro-project agreements have been signed so far and their implementation is ongoing.

The micro-projects include oases cleaning, development of composts from crops and palm waste, rejuvenation of old palms. The palm, an ancient symbol of desert life, is a renewable resource that, along with other heritage plants, has become vulnerable. Its rehabilitation points to greater oasis resilience. Local communities have also requested the development of a technological package on smart natural resources management practices, and the improvement of drinking water, as well as increased production and promotion of date honey and rich date jams to help bring jobs back to the traditional oases.

MNHN (World Bank, Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries )

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