Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Gafsa Oases, Tunisia

GIAHS since 2011


Detailed Information



Site location:  Gafsa Oasis, Tunisia

Area of GIAHS: 700 ha

Population working for this system: 2500 permanently 5000 seasonally

Topological Characteristics: scarce fertile soil resources

Climatic Classification: dry climatic conditions

Ethnic Groups/Indigenous People: Berbers, Arabs

Primary Income Sources: agriculture with specifically date palms but other products depending on the demand

Global importance

The historical oasis of Gafsa is one of the best expressions of the agriculture adaptation to arid climate in Tunisia. Covering over than 700 hectares, it has permitted to afford to the needs of the local communities. Based on the complex multi layered systems, this oasis is today threatened by the evolution of the production objectives: exportation and monoculture.

Food and livehood security

Based on the multilayered systems, the historical oasis is a land of cereals, vegetables, fruits and date palms production. These intensive production lands represent 10% of the regional production or 9 million of Tunisian dinars. Besides, it is about 2500 and 5000 persons who are working permanently and seasonally in this oasis, insuring an income for the local communities.

The most important product contributing to the income is the olive oil trees reaching 10 000 tons each year. This production is estimated to 5 850 000$ per year.

Biodiversity and Ecosystems functions

Thanks to the different layers, many varieties can be cultivated in this oasis. The species and varietal biodiversity is high with some threatened local endemic varieties of trees notably of apricot trees. There are about 98 varieties of date palms, 10 fruit trees species and 15 species of vegetables.

Besides, the oasis is a habitat for spontaneous wild plants, animals, fishes or amphibians from the region. It is also considered like a settlement for some migratory species such as Hoopoe birds. Thanks to the vegetation it allows reducing erosion risks in this windy region.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

The multilayered system includes three levels of plantation: at the soil level, the cereals and vegetables, at the middle level, the fruit trees such as olive trees, apricot trees and pomegranate trees. At the highest level, date palm shadowing the others trees and plants. This system is a high level of agroforestry practices. It also includes animals to pull traditional plows in the oasis.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

Oasis agriculture is part of the local communities’ culture: traditional wool-making methods, traditional olive oil extraction, are just some examples of a rich traditional knowledge. Gafsa weaves are famous among Tunisia for their beauty and quality. Moreover, Gafsa culture has a traditional cuisine specialities linked to the product grown in the oasis.

Moreover, traditional knowledge and cultural functions have helped to preserve the traditional water management.

Remarkable landscapes, land and water management features

The historical oasis is part of the oasis of Gafsa lying over more than 2000 hectares. From the landscape point of view, it can look like a vegetation treasure in an arid region.

It has been permitted thanks to proficiency water collection and an irrigation management in basins preserved with traditional tools such as misha and fala. The use of water has been organized through a rotating shared access depending on the consent of the community and the distance to the source.

The land management was collective until recent times; nevertheless the current use of private propriety is leading to parceling out the oasis and then leading to genetic erosion.