A Tasteful Answer to Climate Change

The Hazoua Oasis counts on biodynamic date production and ecotourism


According to climate prognostics, the Oases of Tunisia will suffer an increase in temperature of almost 2 Degrees by 2030, and a 9 percent decline in precipitation. Moreover, heat waves with temperatures above 50°C shall happen more frequently. The Oases however count as agro/ecosystems with the richest biodiversity: Many different fruit trees are planted in the traditional way of “combined layers”; as the green lungs of the desert, oases are also home to countless plant and animal species; Around the oases are natural pastures that are traditionally used by the population for the grazing of goats, sheep and camels. These pastures are themselves home to a large number of endemic plants.

Agriculture in the oasis is highly dependent on groundwater reserves, and these are overused by the massive expansion of the oases and inefficient irrigation of monocultures. The ground water level drops, and salt water from the salt lakes threatens to reach the aquifer. Climate change is exacerbating the problem. In addition, for economic reasons, the cultivation of the Date "Deglet Nour” was driven to monoculture in recent years, which led to a loss of biodiversity. In the town of Gabès 16 indigenous plant and 13 animal species (birds, reptiles and amphibians) are therefore already threatened. Monocultures are more vulnerable to heat waves than traditional farming systems with a greater biodiversity.

This makes agriculture in the oasis increasingly difficult and fragile. In addition, the quality of dates decreases steadily in neglected monocultures. This consequently affects sales and export opportunities in local and European markets.
The natural pastures suffer from severe overgrazing and are partly degraded by the uncontrolled disposal of drainage water which increases their level of salt.

The Approach

Given this precarious situation, the German development cooperation started in 2003 a pilot project in Hazoua. It runs today as part of the climate project, which is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). To ensure the livelihood of the population, it was important as a first step to bring their main source of income, namely the production of date, on a more sustainable basis. For this purpose, all operations for the growing, packing and exporting of dates were examined. Together with local farmers a professional quality management system has been developed and implemented. In addition, trainings were offered to farmers for a more sustainable cultivation, processing and marketing of dates. At the end of the process the biodynamic date production was 'Demeter' certified, focusing on diversity rather than monoculture.

To boost but also stabilize exports to Europe, the German experts brought the local company in Hazoua in contact with a Swiss importer. Through a Public Private Partnership (PPP), stable trade relations were insured.
In Parallel, the consultants also researched how to improve the use of scarce water. The solution: The use of drainage water. The used water is now pumped to the outskirts of the oasis and spread in a way that it contributes to the regeneration of the pastures. Thus, soil erosion and desertification are prevented and the plants can be used as feed for more intensive and environmentally sustainable farming.

Finally, the experts recommended a more ecological and economic diversification. In addition to dates, vegetables and herbs are grown again today.
Also in the field of eco-tourism, the residents of Hazoua play a growing active role. For groups of visitors from abroad, they offer accommodation, catering and services. The farmers' cooperative is just finishing the construction of a hotel using the traditional clay technique. This ensures a comfortable living environment even without air conditioning in hot seasons. In addition, new warehouses are built with custom cooling technology and solar energy to reduce energy consumption.

The Impacts

Structure and processes of the date production in Hazoua have changed for good. The quality of dates has increased, as well as the quality consciousness of the producers. Farmers have knowledge in bio-dynamic farming, and the products are now certified under the seal of Demeter, which core element is ecological diversity. The date production has increased since 2002 from 66 tons to 160 tons per year. Exports to Europe have also increased. Water is used more efficiently and peripheral areas of the oasis are again available for grazing. A sustainable cycle for bio-dynamic date production is introduced and operated by independent local farmers. Hazoua is a good example of an integrated approach to development: that adaptation to climate change, protection of biodiversity and prevention of desertification can happen simultaneously.