Initiative Result:

What’s behind Tunisia’s rapid agroecology transition?

The country is an example of how to tailor systemic agroecology solutions to local conditions with environmental and economic benefits.

Tunisia has embarked on an agroecology transition to enhance climate resilience, with major benefits for rural people. The CGIAR Research Initiative on Agroecology has facilitated new public‑private partnerships that are boosting production and sale of forage seed and enhancing soil health. Other new technologies, like small machinery for seed cleaning, have been co-designed and are being piloted with farmers. A novel business model that shifts from traditional to organically labeled olive oil promises important environmental and economic gains.

After four years of drought, Tunisia finds itself on the front lines of a global struggle to cope with climate change impacts. Drought and water shortages have aggravated land degradation, caused mainly by some inappropriate agronomic practices.

Drawing on diverse systemic interventions and relying on a multi‑stakeholder approach in the crop-livestock and olive oil sector, the CGIAR Initiative on Agroecology has stimulated and co-designed these interventions, which range from better practices and business models to innovative   organizational arrangements, policies, and insights on behavioral change that generate environmental and economic benefits.

Since 2022, the Initiative’s work in the northwest of Tunisia has centered on an ALL identified through a participatory process in the El Kef-Siliana transect. In 2023, collaborative work in the ALL began to serve as a catalyst for positive change, reinforcing the efforts of rural communities and decision-makers to adopt agroecology principles, such as soil health improvement, enhanced synergies between farming systems components, and economic diversification. Data gathered since 2022 from about 700 rural households in the ALL marks the beginning of a thorough analysis of the Initiative’s impacts.

The Initiative builds on nearly a decade of country experience and fruitful partnerships with sustainable agriculture that is close to agroecology principles. The multi-country ProSol project of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), for example, has helped spread innovative methods for translating agroecology research results into development practice. The Initiative works with various national partners and six farmer organizations, with a total of more than 1,000 beneficiaries (40 percent of them women), who have begun adopting innovative practices that help achieve an agroecology transition. To further enhance the sustainability of small-scale crop‑livestock systems, 13 technologies are now being tested in the ALL in 40 on-farm experiments.

In this context, the Initiative is increasing the supply of forage mixtures, which not only increase small-ruminant productivity but also improve soil fertility and enhance resilience. Partners have already established 362 participatory experimental plots with 276 beneficiaries to produce forages using biofertilizer technology. The plots have helped boost demand for the new forages and prompted seed companies to expand the market. As a result, dynamic public-private partnerships have been forged and facilitated by the Initiative, particularly between the private seed society COTUGRAIN and the National Agricultural Research Institute of Tunisia (INRAT).

These partnerships have helped close major gaps in forage seed supplies, ensuring wider availability to farmers. Moreover, an increasingly dynamic forage seed chain has created new opportunities for farmers to diversify their income. For example, some have embarked on contracts with the private sector to produce high-quality forage seed on a total area of 300 hectares over the next three years. To create further momentum behind these changes, the Agroecology Initiative, in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Initiative on Livestock and Climate, has participated in national policy dialogues and co-developed a national roadmap for enhancing livestock feed resources over the next decade, with the aim of reducing dependence on imported feeds.

Olive oil has been identified as a second promising agricultural value chain, resulting in a new business model to produce the oil with appropriate labelling and a specific focus on involving women farmers. Tunisia is a global leader in olive oil production, but plantations are generally grown in the traditional manner, with most of the products exported in bulk. Building on traditional ecological practices, value-added production has enormous potential to achieve more efficient input use, better soil erosion control, and higher revenues. Growers are undergoing training that will enable them to improve olive oil extraction for greater environmental and economic benefits and achieve their vision of improving the marketing for their local products.

In Tunisia, a changing climate is making livestock fodder scarcer. Given the importance of livestock in this country, two partners in the Agroecology Initiative, OEP and INRAT, welcome its support in disseminating a technical package for production of fodder legumes in mixed crop-livestock  systems.

Mr. Anis Zaiem, General Engineer at the forage resources department at OEP (Office de l’Elevage et des Pâturages de Tunisie)

Header photo: Forage mixtures cultivated between lines of olive and almond trees. Z. Idoudi/ICARDA