While Tunisia’s forest cover is relatively low, at approximately 6.6 per cent, this remaining forest is critically important to the Mediterranean ecosystem and plays an important role in climate mitigation. As in many countries, Tunisia’s state forest boundaries are unclear and encroachment, particularly from agriculture, has become a major challenge. Native Aleppo pine forests are gradually being replaced with olive groves, wheat fields and settlements. A comprehensive assessment supported by the UN-REDD Programme estimated that more than 500,000 hectares, or about half of the remaining forest, is threatened.
As a result, a pilot project involving the Tunisian Directorate-General for Forestry (DGF) began in 2017 to map forest boundaries and record overlapping land claims in order to move forward on a more sustainable path in balancing the protection of the country’s valuable forests with the needs of the local population. Addressing tenure issues is also consistent with Tunisia’s nationally determined contribution to mitigate climate change. A national level awareness raising workshop on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure informed the field activities by establishing an internationally-recognized standard of best practice for implementation.
The project involved talking to land claimants to allay their concerns about tenure rights and to collect data and map boundaries of land claimants and forests using the latest technology, including the Global Navigation System GNSS and FAO’s tablet-based tool Open Tenure tool. The pilot project took place in Siliana,130 kilometres southwest of Tunis and was a first step towards resolving overlapping claims and preventing further forest conversion.
While land claimants were initially skeptical and concerned about the loss of access and land use rights, they turned around once DGF officers explained they would be able to continue to farm as long as they did not expand cultivation into the forest. Land claimants then became eager to have their existing claims documented. Mr. Airi Romdhan is a 70 year old father of six who farms olives and has expanded his claim, about 2 hectares, into the forest. He believes he has a right to farm because of the effort and sacrifices he has made to cultivate over the area since the 80s. But he hopes the pilot project will give him a resolution and recognition of his investment.
During the pilot, more than 70 forest boundary locations were marked and 30 claimant surveys were registered for review and eventual recognition of tenure rights. The experience in Tunisia suggests that resolving land tenure claims and clarifying forest boundaries need not be divisive and that mutually agreeable solutions are possible with a consultative and responsible approach.