In Northwest Tunisia, the co-creation of agroecological innovations and capacity building in soil conservation are leading to improved agricultural systems

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Authors of this blog: Zied Idoudi, Aymen Frija, Véronique Alary, Mourad Rekik  (ICRADA)

Soil is the foundation of all successful and resilient agri-food systems. But current agricultural practices are not always oriented towards preserving and improving this important resource. In the dry vulnerable area of Kef-Siliana in Northwest Tunisia where the prevailing agriculture is dominated by cereals (barley, wheat, oat), trees (such as olive or fig trees) and small ruminant farming, soils suffer from declining fertility and are prone to deep and intensive erosion processes. Climate change directly increases water scarcity and results in depletion of underground water reserves, hence decreasing the soil’s ability to remain productive. This is very often exacerbated by unsustainable farming practices like overgrazing, excessive plowing, and monocropping.

The CGIAR Initiative on Agroecology has developed a so-called Agroecological Living Landscape (ALL) in the Kef-Siliana region, where a learning process with local stakeholders is being developed to achieve the adoption and sustainability of agroecological practices.  Integrated packages of agroecological innovation in soil conservation have been carefully co-designed with stakeholders over a longer period now to fit their needs and interests at the landscape level and to improve soil condition thus contributing to farms being more productive but also more resilient to changes in climate. Diverse activities support this process, such as action research about conflict resolution, knowledge exchanges between local communities and permanent interaction with researchers, associations and cooperatives.

After the first step of engagement to consolidate local social capital and build strong pillars for innovation in the Living Landscape, on-farm participatory experimentation, knowledge exchanges, and capacity strengthening activities are then all woven together on-site in six communities across semi-arid Tunisia.

“Before this project began, we were a group of individual neighbors farming separately from each other. Now, after the creation of our farmers association, we became a solid group which is well known in our region (Siliana), and well connected to key local actors, including regional representations of the government. Our ambition is now to work together, as a group, to modernize our farming systems and become more innovative and productive” (Mr. Rzig Rahali, Rhahla, one of the initiative participants from Gaafour, Siliana).

The first set of innovations co-designed and implemented by local stakeholders and farmers include:

  • Crop rotations with food and forage legumes (vetch, locally proven forage mixtures, sulla), and forage cultivation for soil consolidation and conservation.
  • Planting hardy, indigenous crop varieties and trees such as carob or other melliferous plants which are resilient to climate change, on collective and private marginal landscape.
  • Introduction of smart agricultural practices such as mulching, conservation agriculture, simplified soil preparation, and mechanization that minimize soil disturbance in wheat-based systems.
  • Use of adapted small machinery for improving access to legume seeds and good quality animal feed.

ICARDA and its national and international partners are now embarking on a second wave of piloting and experimentation with local actors who prioritized the most relevant agroecological practices.

This second phase of collaboration has been marked by the 2022-2023 severe and long drought with crop failure and lack of access to seeds. Farmers had even to sell some of their livestock heads. Therefore, the initiative team plans further with communities to build resilience to climate shocks and enhance farming systems while working to promote agroecological transformation in arid and semi-arid conditions.


Photo credit of featured image: ICARDA

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