REDD+ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Addressing forestland encroachment in Tunisia


While Tunisia’s forest cover is relatively low (approx. 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 has become a major challenge.  Over time, boundaries preserved on maps dating from the time of the French protectorate (i.e. 1881 - 1956) have diverged from the reality on the ground where population and demand for agricultural land have increased.  Native Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) forests are gradually being replaced with olive groves, wheat fields, and settlements. A comprehensive 2016 assessment of the tenure regime, supported by the UN-REDD Programme, estimated that more than 500,000 hectares, or about half of the forest estate, are threatened. The assessment also recommended taking concrete action to address tenure issues on the ground. 

In harmony with Tunisia’s goal to develop its national REDD+ program, the Directorate-General for Forestry (DGF) was determined to follow a more sustainable path in balancing 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 whereby it has pledged to increase its carbon reserves in forest and pastoral environments (GoT, 2015).

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), an internationally endorsed set of principles and provisions, provide a foundation towards finding mutually agreeable solutions to address, among others, the issue of encroachment. The VGGT promote principles of consultation and participation, equity and justice, gender equality, and rule of law. The VGGT also provide specific provisions on recognition of informal tenure rights.  DGF officers were introduced to the VGGT during the assessment and again during a national workshop held in December 2016. They put the VGGT principles into practice in designing a pilot activity to map forest boundaries and record overlapping land claims.

The pilot started in mid October in Siliana Governorate and will continue until the end of 2017.  Siliana, located 130 kilometres southwest of Tunis, was chosen because of the existence of clear coordinates for state forest boundaries as well as the diversity of land tenure situations.  The objective was to map the boundaries of state forest land and identify the overlapping claims as a first step towards resolving these claims and preventing further forest conversion.

Following consultations with regional government departments and local land claimants, forest boundaries were accurately marked on the ground using a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) while FAO’s tablet-based tool Open Tenure was used to survey and map land claims along state forest boundaries.  The Open Tenure tool provides an easy platform to compile all the essential information - including a map, details of the claimant, and basic history and use of the land – used to request the recognition of informal claims. 

While land claimants were initially sceptical and concerned about the loss of access and use rights, the DGF officers allayed their worries by explaining that people would be able to continue to farm their land. The DGF will formally recommend regularisation of land claims as long as farmers agree not to expand cultivation into the forest estate.  With this assurance, the fieldwork continued smoothly with land claimants eager to have their existing claims documented. 

At the time of writing, over 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. 

View the slideshow below to learn how Tunisia addressed the issue of encroachment in Siliana governorate.

Tunisia Addresses Forestland Encroachment

For more information, contact Amanda Bradley, REDD+ Tenure Specialist, FAO, at e-mail: amanda.bradley@fao.org


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