Rangelands in Tunisia cover 4.5 million hectares, about 25% of the country’s total landmass, with majority of it encompassing arid areas. The economic value of collective pastures is estimated at 1.062 billion Tunisian dinar (434 million USD) per year. The rangelands provide vital ecosystem services. Managing rangelands sustainably presents a complex challenge for communities that depend on rangelands for their livelihoods, and for local authorities and policymakers who regulate land use.
For centuries, herders have relied on mobility and common use of rangelands as an effective adaptation strategy for coping with drought-affected areas. Considering the enormous seasonal and regional rainfall variability, the herders absolutely need to have the possibility to move towards areas where there was rainfall or where they find favorable pastoral conditions. For this reason, economically most appropriate way of managing these pastures is through a collective property rights regime.
However, current legislation has contributed to the disappearance of the traditional common rangelands governance system (comparable to the hima system of the Middle East), which has defined rangeland resting periods and access for entitled user groups in order to preserve resources. The traditional system has now been replaced by a de facto “open access situation”, where access to rangelands cannot be managed or controlled in the traditional manner, thus resulting in uncontrolled cultivation with barley and overgrazing. Rain-fed farming is not sustainable on common rangelands as it increases erosion and soil degradation. An additional concern is that olive trees are planted in rangeland areas not suitable for orchards, as a way of de facto appropriating land.
Rangeland degradation is costing the country over 32 million USD annually due to soil degradation followed by severe erosion. This may be added by the cost of transforming former pastoral land into cultivated one, bringing the loss total loss to around 100 million USD per year. The pastoral area in Tunisia has decreased from 6.1 million hectares in 2005 to 5.5 million in 2012.
Effective rangeland governance is also a critical pillar for social stability. Analyses of the relationship between unsustainable rangeland management, rangeland degradation, and conflict show that degradation can be both a cause and a result of such conflict and is preventable with sound land governance practices. The example of Algeria is evidence that deserted rangelands can contribute to the spread of terrorism in these areas.
The current Tunisian Code on Forests that applies to the common rangelands does not reflect the complexity of the land tenure status of common rangelands nor does it effectively support the needs of these dryland communities. Furthermore, Tunisia lacks a national strategy of rangeland management and a functioning coordination between large amounts of different institutions intervening on rangelands.
A new ICARDA project, Partnerships for Improving Pastoral Policies (PIPP), being implemented with the financial support of the German Federal Ministry of Economic cooperation and Development and the Research Program on Livestock lead by ILRI, is offering policy advice to the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture to update the existing Forests Code in an inclusive and participatory way, while at the same time respecting scientifically proven best practices of dryland rangeland governance.The expected development outcome of the project is a policy change related to common rangelands at ministry level.
The project will organize several discussion and negotiation rounds necessary to formulate an updated and improved Tunisian pastoral code that will be submitted to the Tunisian parliament. Facilitation, scientific advice and capacity development will be the task of ICARDA. The ICARDA team will ensure, together with their partner, the General Directorate of Forestry (DGF) of the Ministry of Agriculture, that all concerned stakeholders, especially affected user groups representing the communal rangelands, are actively participating in the discussion (women and men), negotiation and decision making process of the new pastoral code.
As the first and very important step, ICARDA is organizing on 22-23 May a two-day national workshop involving all relevant ministries (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Local Communities and Environment, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of State Property an Land Tenure, Ministry of International Cooperation and Civil Society Organizations), parliamentarians, civil society organizations, international organizations and development agencies, resource persons and representatives of herder user associations.
During this workshop, an overview of the actual situation of Tunisian pastures and the role of pastures in the actual forest code will be given. Participants will discuss ongoing activities, vision and perspectives of national and international partners, and provide statements of users of common rangelands about their view of the challenges of the common rangelands policy.
Working groups will work on legal aspects and formulations of the updated pastoral code. All relevant actors, possible synergies, and coordination requirements will be mapped, and further financing opportunities will be determined.