In the face of climate change and the abundant use of hybrid seeds for the benefit of farmers’ seeds the Association of Safeguarding the Oasis of Chenini-Gabès (ASOC, a focal point for the Oases Associations Network, known as RADDO, in Tunisia) is aiming to support seed sellers and increase their number. The initiative consists of forming groups of 40 farmers, both men and women, who produce seeds and to promote the oasis seed trade in order to reintroduce local species. It also involves preserving the ancestral knowledge and skills in terms of production, selection and preservation of seeds answering to the needs of the local oases. The first phase on the farmers’ seeds was developed in the framework of the Program of Concerted Action on Oases (PACO 1) in 2008. Above all, it involves raising awareness among farmers about the Oasis of Cheini, the risks incurred by hybrid seeds and to teach them to preserve the genetic heritage of this 165 hector oasis.
Today, this new program, co-financed by the French Institute of Tunisia (IFT), aims to go further. Indeed, conscious that existing expertise on the Chenini Oasis territory is not emphasized or passed on, the RADDO team in Tunisia decided to encourage farmers to improve their seed production in order to add to its value. This is achieved by improving the farmers’ capabilities, especially on botany, the organization of agricultural space and the implementation of fixed procedure surrounding seed production.
After the project’s launch, around 20 people signed up to be trained, and among them three Chenini Oasis farmers, who dedicated a part of their land to the production of seeds supervised by the RADDO team and by volunteering agricultural engineers. The advantage of this kind of management is that the farmers help each other and follow clear guidelines for seed production. Therefore, the problem of genetic contamination that affects the oasis is reduced, thanks to precautions such as insect-proof netting or having a variety of seeds that will not undergo unwanted pollination (field survey). Today these three farmers harvest their cucumber, okra, tomato, courgette, lettuce, chilli, aubergine and pepper seeds.
An experienced Chenini farmer took charge of teaching a group of 30 farmers about South Tunisian land/ Douz Ksar el Hallouf and Tozeur. Chenini Gabes is becoming better and better known for seed preservation and especially as this small oasis still has farmers producing seeds from a wide variety of crops. To annually encourage seed farmers to continue their efforts to become teachers and those who give the guidelines surrounding seed production, a celebration of seeds from Oases is planned for October 2016 and will be an annual event. These farmers will be able to sell their seeds and speak about their experience of the land, including round tables, conferences and a screening of a film about their journey. In the next few months, the farmers, the RADDO team, as well as the agricultural researchers, will work on developing guidelines for rural seed production. Above all, it will involve the farmers who want to sell their seeds with an affiliation to the project’s name, undergoing training with experienced farmers. Next, they will have to adopt the production steps, the selection and conservation of the farmers’ seeds according to the guidelines. The experienced farmers will be responsible for monitoring the new arrivals (supported by the RADDO team).
Benefits of the project: the organization of the farmers
They have realized that in banding together they will be more powerful and have more visibility but also that adopting fixed guidelines on seed production is vital for the Oasis’ image. The traditional methods in regards to seed production and conservation are being brought back, for example in order to avoid the use of chemical products for the preservation of seeds. The farmers are aware of the resilience of local oasis seeds to climate change. A desire to unite in the form of a seed community is starting to emerge among farmers.
This project could be reproduced in other regions, as it is formed by a simple idea. Taking experienced farmers, reinforcing their skills and especially teaching them about botany so they can popularize it and be the guardians of fixed guidelines in regards to the production, selection and the conservation of seeds. Moreover, many Tunisian oases have lost their traditions. In some of them there are no seed farmers left! The continuation of this project should focus on the development of guidelines and to progressively help farmers further improve the quality of their crop. Efforts to increase visibility should also be made, such as the selling of seed and national agricultural shows. If a group of farmers insured the production of seeds in every region of Tunisia, exchanges could be created, thereby guaranteeing food autonomy of Oasian land. Therefore, further value could be added to the expertise of the Chenini Oasis farmers.
ASOC is accustomed to working with raising the publics’ awareness about the environment. Every year ASOC organizes a large event about dates, which involves distributing them for a week to schools in Chenini and other neighboring villages. This tasting is with local dates and milk. The goal is to raise awareness among young people about the necessity of a healthy diet and about the healthy properties of dates. In the framework of the RADDO projects, represented by ASOC in Tunisia, many events were held for the education to sustainable development such as: activities around the game “save the oases” for an audience of all ages, the participation to the organization of national events where every time there is a stand to discuss the action taken to preserve oases. Many youth projects were launched/held: a Tunisian-Caledonian solidarity project was held for three weeks in January 2015. Twelve young people from New Caledonia, as well as 15 young people from the Chenini Gabes Oasis worked together to clean up an oasis, they planted over 700 aromatic and medicinal plants on a site which was being rehabilitated by ASOC. They also cleaned up the village’s communal areas.
Another youth exchange was held in October 2015. Ten French youths came to meet ten Tunisian youths to work together on an environmental project: a cleaning station of biological agricultural plots and a setup of a vegetable garden for a Chenini school. These youth initiatives have the effect of raising awareness. Indeed, the youth of the Chenini Oasis saw young strangers working on the preservation of their land and this encouraged a few to get involved with oases volunteer work.
The group effect is notable with every exchange or youth initiative, public dissemination of work carried out was made to allow inhabitants to be up to date with completed projects.
Mme Noura BELMSAGUEM
Association de Sauvegarde de l'Oasis de Chenini-Gabès
Rue du Ksar, BP 02 6041 Chenini Gabès,