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Technical Cooperation Programme

Sustainable forest-based microenterprises in Tunisia


12/09/2016

One-tenth of Tunisia's roughly 10 million people live in the country's forest areas, in locations where access to health and education services is limited. At 30 percent, the unemployment rate in these areas is twice as high as the national average.  

Most people in these areas live off of the forest's resources. But population pressure and overuse threaten forest cover and biodiversity. 

The Government of Tunisia, eager to strike a balance between sustainably managing its silvopastoral resources and enabling communities to secure a living from them, sought the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

A two-year Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project helped Tunisia's General Directorate of Forestry explore the potential of non-wood forest products to create jobs, improve living conditions and contribute to the national economy − all without depleting or degrading the resource base.

Rich biological diversity

The Mediterranean forest ecoregion, which covers about 8 percent of Tunisia, prevents soil erosion, conserves water resources and habitats and provides building materials, fuel, food, medicines and other products.  

Many forest households earn income from harvesting or extracting cork, Aleppo pine nuts, resins, aromatic plants, honey and wild mushrooms. 

But while there is an export market for cork and essential oils, the non-wood forest sector is largely informal. This is due in part to regulatory constraints, lack of organization, scant information for policy-makers on the products' economic potential and insufficient managing, processing and marketing capacity. 

Training 

Working with local forest communities and in support of the General Directorate of Forestry, the project allowed the study of non-wood forest product sectors, examining such things as legal access to natural resources, local know-how and income-generating activities.  

It developed regulations on the sustainable management and use of four species, namely myrtle, pine nuts, mastic and wild mushrooms, producing a manual in both Arabic and French for microentrepreneurs.

The TCP helped train forest administrators and other key actors on the analysis and market development approach − a participatory approach developed by FAO to help forest dwellers set up economically viable and environmentally sustainable microenterprises.  

Adapted to the Tunisian context, the training ranged from identifying products, markets and marketing means to preparing a development plan and launching a business. 

Six microenterprises developed such business plans, and some have already received funding, said Youssef Saadani, Director-General of Forestry under Tunisia's Ministry of Agriculture. 

"Since the TCP, we have also set up other microenterprises with the support of the World Bank, the African Development Bank and other organizations," he said.  

Building on local know-how

Mabrouka Athimmi is president of a women's group in Tbainia that makes natural soaps with essential oils extracted from aromatic plants. In addition to training in bookkeeping and market analysis, the group learned how to better manage and protect the plants and trees. 

"Before we used to work haphazardly," she said in one of the promotional films produced during the TCP. "But now we know how to properly prune trees, measure their size and let them grow for use later on." 

"Now when I see people cut down trees or savagely uproot plants, it makes me sick," she said. 

With TCP support, the country has adjusted its regulations on access to and use of non-wood forest products. Local agricultural development groups will be responsible for co-managing and conserving the forest resources, and micro-entrepreneurs, who are members of these agricultural development groups, will be able to access them. 

Moving forward

Thanks in part to the TCP and the Government's commitment, what was once an undervalued sector is now gaining traction in Tunisia. 

The General Directorate of Forestry has a network of partners, including the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund, keen to build on these efforts. The latter is working with the Government to promote a green economy in and around protected forest zones. 

The Government has included an updated action plan to promote non-wood forest products in its new ten-year strategy on the sustainable management of forests and rangelands. And the country is now participating in the Mediterranean Network for Innovation − a platform that encourages scientific and technological collaboration on forestry issues in the Mediterranean. 

Microentrepreneurs like Athimmi have participated in trade shows and exhibition fairs, including one event attended by the Secretary of State for Agriculture and the Head of the Ministry of Agriculture. 

Five forestry technicians from the General Directorate of Forestry were able to exchange knowledge on promoting non-wood forest product businesses with counterparts during a study tour to Burkina Faso, a top producer of shea butter. 

While the TCP helped lay the groundwork, easier access to financing and more technical support to produce and market high-quality products could go a long way to strengthening these microenterprises and transforming Tunisia's forest communities. 

FAO's TCP projects are targeted, short-term catalytic projects that leverage FAO's technical expertise to address specific problems in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural livelihoods among FAO Member countries, producing tangible and immediate results in a cost-effective manner.