When I came in Tunisia for the first time, I was a nine years old girl living in France and visiting for the first time the village of my father, Bir Salah in the governorate of Sfax. I discovered a new way of living where disruption and innovation with local resources was an asset for women. Indeed, they had to deal with many constraints: no water or phone or internet connection or local transportation in the 1990’s.
But people were living peacefully and agriculture was offering them every year the luxury of abundance. Even with a small piece of land, a farmer could feed and provide decent resources to its family for the whole year. Unfortunately, climate change gave an end to this period of prosperity.
Tunisia is ranked in the top33 water stressed countries, the desertification is covering 75% of its lands, while 95% of arable spaces are being degraded. The lack of rain nudged farmers to dig wells, pumping drinkable water in a way they now have to dig up to 200m to find underground water in non-renewable sources.
In the same time, while Tunisia is well known for its advance in women rights regarding the other countries of the area, rural women still suffer of discriminations and lack of opportunities. In the south of the country, 78% of women are unemployed.
As a perpetual optimist, I always saw challenges as opportunities and I had the chance to be a bridge between two cultures: Europe and North Africa. This is why I started Acacias for all in 2012, a social enterprise to fight desertification, poverty and gender inequalities.
My first struggle was to convince my family, and farmers of my community in Bir Salah to start planting trees adapted to the semi-arid climate, mainly acacias and moringas, among their olive trees. I was 25 years old with no experience in farming, men of my family where the first one wanting to stop me. They never believed I could overcome obstacles and did everything to convince me to go back in France get a traditional job.
Hopefully, women were more open to change and I gathered around 500 women of the cooperative of Bir Salah to try this idea. We had no engineer or specialist with us, and together we tested the best practices for plantation and its impact on soils. It took us 4 years to get good results and people from around the country started to ask to join the movement. Now Acacias for all is in 14 governorates represented by local ambassadors and supporting the program #1MillionTrees4Tunisia to gather Tunisian citizens in tree planting activities and re-green the country.
Then, how to transform a movement changing habits and greening the country, while developing a sustainable economic model? I decided to develop sustainable fair value chains with the communities of farmers and youth in villages nearby. Starting in Bir Salah, Acacias for all gathered 42 women to plant olive, almond, moringa, acacias and aromatic plants with efficient irrigation systems, and develop a production units of olive oil, dry almonds and moringa tea. The challenge 2017 is to replicate this model to 6 new villages in the field of dates, honey, olive oil, moringa, dried fruits.