Project to Plant Acacia Trees in Tunisia Combats Desertification

The brainchild of a 29-year-old women social entrepreneur, a project in Tunisia plants acacia trees to address water scarcity and desertification.

Jul. 25, 2017
By Isabel Putinja

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A social enter­prise project to plant aca­cia trees in Tunisia addresses water scarcity and deser­ti­fi­ca­tion caused by cli­mate change in Tunisia.

Acacias For All was launched in 2012 by Sarah Toumi, a 29-year-old Tunisian social entre­pre­neur, with the objec­tive to not only tackle deser­ti­fi­ca­tion but also sup­port local agri­cul­tural work­ers.

The aca­cia tree is being intro­duced to farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties as an alter­na­tive to olive and almond crops which do not thrive when irri­gated with the salty ground water found here.

Rainfall has been scarce in Tunisia in recent years and con­ven­tional farm­ing meth­ods tend to cause soil deple­tion, which adds fur­ther stress to the local agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

The extremely hardy aca­cia plants can be irri­gated with water con­tain­ing up to eight grams of salt per liter, and adapt well to desert con­di­tions by draw­ing water from up to 200 feet under the ground. The plant also pro­tects other crops by cre­at­ing a bar­rier from the wind and sand, and improves soil qual­ity thanks to its nitro­gen-fix­ing prop­er­ties which help to revive the soil.

Toumi first launched the project in the vil­lage of Bir-Salah, near El Hencha in the region of Sfax where she set up a demon­stra­tion cen­ter and showed local farm­ers how aca­cia trees could be planted as a sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture prac­tice.

I wanted to address the lack of access to the nec­es­sary resources for local farm­ers to adapt to cli­mate change and give them the sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal know-how to adapt to the sit­u­a­tion and mar­ket their prod­ucts,” Toumi explained on Néoplanète web radio. Not only do they have a pos­i­tive impact on the envi­ron­ment, they also increase their income.”

She found that women work­ing in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor were more recep­tive to this inno­v­a­tive idea and under­stood the ben­e­fits of plant­ing aca­cia and how its cul­ti­va­tion could be a new source of income. The women are orga­nized into coop­er­a­tives so that the farm­ing cycle can be bet­ter man­aged.

The project soon extended to 14 other regions where local ambas­sadors” have repli­cated the model. Today over 50,000 aca­cia trees have been planted so far, but the goal is to have one mil­lion trees by 2018, and to take the project to other coun­tries of North Africa.

Also called moringa or the drum­stick tree, the aca­cia plant is not native to Tunisia, but prob­a­bly orig­i­nated in the Indian sub­con­ti­nent. India has an annual pro­duc­tion of over one mil­lion tons of aca­cia. The plant also grows in Central America, the Carribbean and the north­ern coun­tries of South America.

The plan­t’s byprod­ucts are gum ara­bic, or aca­cia gum which is the hard­ened sap of the tree. This is used in the food indus­try as a sta­bi­lizer and as a binder in water­color paints and ceramic glazes, among other uses.

Moringa oil is also extracted from the seeds of the plant and is used in food and med­i­c­i­nal prod­ucts. The leaves of the plant are reduced into a vit­a­min and min­eral-rich pow­der which is used for nutri­tional sup­ple­ments, herbal tea, or is mixed with honey.

In 2013, Acacias for All was cho­sen by the French gov­ern­ment as one of the 100 inno­va­tions in Africa shap­ing the future of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, and in 2016 Toumi was iden­ti­fied by Forbes as one of 30 social entre­pre­neurs under 30 mak­ing change around the world.


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