نظم التراث الزراعي ذات الأهمية العالمية

Ramli agricultural system in the lagoons of Ghar El Melh, Tunisia

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Global Importance

Created in the 17th century by the Andalusian diaspora cornered on a territory that was destitute of agricultural land, the Ramli lagoon crops, ethymologically on sand, are singular gardens. Formed on the lagoon cord or on the banks of the lagoon, Ramli crops allowed farmers to cope with the physiographic constraints and scarcity of arable land combined with the scarcity of fresh water.

The site of Ghar El Melh is a wetland classified RAMSAR (2007) bordered to the north by Jbel Ennadhour and Eddmina and to the east by a cordon that separates it from the sea sheltering a rich and fragile wild fauna and flora.  Ramli agricultural developments are unique in Tunisia and in the world and respond to particular agro-environmental conditions and have allowed the maintenance of the lagoon.

Food and livelihood security

The region of Ghar El Melh has preserved over the centuries its peasant cultural heritage where fishing and agriculture are the main subsistence activities. Today, the agricultural production of vegetables is still oriented towards the needs of the local market.

The farms of Ghar El Melh are small (81% less than 5 hectares) and include various crops on ramli. The average surface area of the cultivation plots is respectively 0.275 ha for potatoes, 0.200 ha for Phaseolus vulgaris beans and 0.174 ha for Allium cepa onions. Their average yields per hectare are between 28 and 33T/ha for onions, 3.6 and 7T/Ha for beans and 22 and 30T/Ha for potatoes.

Sometimes other crops such as Capsicum annuum peppers, Vicia faba beans and Cucurbita sp. squash are grown but in small quantities for self-consumption. With regard to fishing, the specificity of Ghar El Melh is the eel which fishermen classify according to its colour.

Agro-biodiversity

The ramli crops are mainly common and sometimes local market garden species. The potato is the spearhead of local agricultural production along with tomatoes and most cultivated vegetable and fruit species: onions, garlic, melons, watermelons, zucchini and squash. Farmers are also very attached to local varieties, which they regularly exchange in small quantities in the form of seeds: these include the boutebssi squash, local varieties of melons and watermelons, white beans and some chilli pepper seeds.

Being an integral part of the Gulf of Tunis region and including the lagoon system of Ghar El Melh, the Nadhour massif and the Medjerda estuary, this area is a privileged place for the stay, reproduction and passage of a fragile migratory fauna. Indeed, the lagoon is home to both marine species and rare migratory birds.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

In addition to the undue work on the crops themselves, the particularity of ramli cropping practices consists in maintaining the soil at an exact level according to the water level: the plot must be neither too low so that the roots do not come into contact with salt water, nor too high to prevent the roots from drying out. This work of soil regulation is done by regularly adding sand and animal manure. On the coastal edges, the installation of drains will be necessary to allow the flow and channelling of excess water.

In order to reduce the effects of drying winds and sea spray, reed trays are laid out to protect crops and guarantee the microclimate necessary for plant development. Hedges of fruit trees and shrubs are planted on the lagoon barrier to protect the cultivated plots from wind and sea spray, to slow down evaporation and to fix the sand. This ingenious system makes it possible to grow crops all year round without artificial water supply, even during periods of drought.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

This site has unique characteristics in terms of history and culture as well. Indeed, Ghar El Melh has been the scene of rich cultural syncretisms whose traces go back to the Phoenician occupation. Founded at the beginning of the Phoenicians' settlement in Tunisia (1101 BC), ancient Rusucmona quickly became a trading post renowned for being the outport of Utica. The monuments present in the region are well preserved, including the port developed by the Turks, the three Ottoman forts, and the mausoleums of the marabouts.

Concerning cultural heritage, whose architectural traces are testified by mausoleums (Sidi Haj M'barek and Sidi Ali El Mekki) of famous marabouts to which many families regularly go. The buildings on the site do not clash with the ancient architecture and are in perfect harmony with the rest of the landscape. On the edge of the lagoon of reed huts, the kyb, are built and can be used at the same time as housing, shed and deposit for the products of their cultures.

Landscape and seascape features

Without the hand of Man and his ramli lagoon cultivation, the lagoon would probably have already disappeared. Regular inputs of sand and organic matter to maintain the arable plots have made it possible to maintain the barrier separating the fresh water from the Mediterranean Sea.

Because of this influence on the maintenance of the lagoon, the RAMSAR wetland has been able to continue to play its role as a habitat for a rich and particular fauna and flora.