Poverty in Tunisia is concentrated in a few pockets where rates are much higher than national average. The poverty levels in the Northwest are mainly due to a concentration of rural population in mountainous areas with adverse agro-ecological conditions, coupled with weak public infrastructure and support services. High population density, agricultural practices not suitable to local conditions, livestock feeding pressures, poor soil often located on steep slopes and heavy winter precipitations compound the problems of Northwest soil erosion and degradation. There was (and still is) an urgent need to break the vicious circle of low agricultural productivity, overexploitation of natural resources and rural poverty.
Drawing upon the expertise of the Northwest Sylvo-Pastoral Development Agency (Odesypano) in conducting participatory rural development initiatives, the project sought to promote a more active involvement of local populations in the formulation and implementation of rural investments.
The project focused on improving and diversifying revenues, improving access to basic infrastructure, and enhancing natural resource management in mountainous and forested areas of the Northwest. It helped achieve several key outcomes:
- Average household agricultural income increased by 85 percent, from Tunisia Dinars TD 2,050 in 2003 to TD 3,784 in 2009 ;
- Access to roads increased from 56 percent to 81 percent of communities in targeted areas, with almost 272 km of rural roads constructed and 599 km rehabilitated ;
- Access to potable water increased from 69 percent to 81 percent of households (representing 4,980 additional households), with a total of 906 individual tanks constructed and six potable water connections installed ;
- Vegetation and forest cover within project areas grew from 32 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in 2009, with a total of 22,251 hectares treated with soil and water conservation works to reduce erosion and to increase protection against water runoff ;
- Cultivated areas significantly increased from 17 percent to 23 percent for fodder crops and from 0.8 percent to 2 percent for market gardening ;
- Crop yields almost doubled for olives and increased by 40 percent for wheat.
In addition, some community members received training in technical and organizational matters as well as small amounts of equipment and materials. As a result, 101 development committees (essentially informal grassroots organizations), and three cooperatives were created. Additionally, 101 five-year Community Development Programs PDCs were prepared and validated.
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The Bank shared lessons of experience from its wide expertise in community-based and community-driven participatory approaches, and helped apply these to the local circumstances in Northwest Tunisia. The Bank also provided financial support in the amount of a US$30.0 million IBRD loan. This project served as the basis for the preparation of a new operation approved in late 2010, which is expected to become effective in early 2011.
The project was able to develop effective partnerships with regional and sub-regional public administrations in the five targeted governorates as well as with various governmental and non-governmental organizations. Forty-eight partnership agreements were signed with regional and local councils, Regional Commissariats of Agricultural Development of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, regional departments of the Ministry of Equipment, the Agricultural Land Agency, and the Tunisian Bank for Solidarity. As a result, these partners contributed 29 million Tunisia dinars, representing an average 35 percent of the total costs of the 101 PDCs.
Toward the Future
Building upon and expanding this project’s achievements, the government will continue to support community-based rural development in the Northwest region of Tunisia. The government asked the Bank to prepare a follow-up project, which was approved in late 2010.
The project reached a primary target group consisted of 60,000 inhabitants across 52,000 households in the rural communities, including farmers and small landholders with marginal and fragile lands on steep slopes.