Tunisian lagoon farmers cling to rising sea levels


GHAR EL MELH, Tunisia, November 4 (Reuters) – Dotted with wetlands on the Tunisian coast, a mosaic of tiny man-made islands stretches out towards the Mediterranean.

Plowed in neat furrows and propped up by sandbanks inside a lagoon, they are home to an age-old system of agriculture that climate change threatens to destroy.

Ali Garsi has been farming a 0.8 hectare (two acre) plot in the Ghar El Melh wetlands for 20 years, located about 60 km (35 miles) north of Tunis. Relying on a layer of fresh water that nourishes his plants on top of a salt water base, he mainly grows potatoes, onions and tomatoes.

But with rising sea levels and temperatures in the region and below average rainfall, its yields are plummeting.

“There is a shortage of amounts of rain, and this has certainly negatively affected the amount of our product in general,” the 61-year-old retired teacher told Reuters as he walked the plots of the lagoon, collectively known as al-Qataya.

“The production is lower, compared to years when the amounts of rain were respectable.”

Invented in the 17th century by the Andalusian diaspora of North Africa, the Ramli agricultural system – which means “sandy” in Arabic – used by Garsi irrigates crops entrenched in a mixture of sand and manure via their roots.

A general view shows “Al-Qataya” of Ghar El Melh, where farmers say a unique and traditional agricultural system is threatened with extinction due to climate change, in Ghar El Melh, Tunisia, November 2, 2021. Photo taken on November 2, 2021. Photo taken with a drone. REUTERS / Zoubeir Souissi

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His water scarcity-resistant methods gained worldwide fame last year when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations added Ghar El Melh to its list of globally significant agricultural heritage systems. .

But the system’s reliance on a fragile balance of rain and tides means it faces unprecedented challenges.

“Al-Qataya has a traditional agricultural system which is now threatened with extinction due to several climatic factors,” said environmental engineer Hamdi Hached.

In August, a heat spike in northern Tunisia brought temperatures to 49 degrees Celsius, the highest since 1982, and the northern provinces, including Bizerte where Ghar El Melh is located, experienced their hottest summer. hot never recorded.

Meanwhile, precipitation has fallen below two-thirds of its long-term average, a deficit that climate modeling shows could become permanent, Hached said.

Global sea level rise as temperatures rise pose an additional threat to Ghar El Melh.

“The level of seawater in the Mediterranean Sea will rise and (…) seep into the areas surrounding Al-Qataya, which can (…) salinize the soil,” he said. declared. “It could end this unique system.”

(This story corrects the engineer name in Hamdi of Hamid)

Report by Jihed Abidellaoui, written by Nadeen Ebrahim; edited by John Stonestreet

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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