FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

FAO raises awareness on the importance of water through the Water Caravan in Tunisia

Tunis, July 2022 - Under the “Every Drop Counts” campaign, the FAO representation in Tunisia has initiated the “Water Caravan” an awareness-raising activity that aims to introduce the general public (students, school children, farmers, policy-makers, etc.) to the concepts of water sustainability and the calculation of the indirect and direct water footprint. This activity is implemented under the regional project “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for water efficiency/ productivity and water sustainability in the Near East and North Africa countries”. The Caravan was launched in the margins of the World Water Day annual celebration on the 22nd of March 2022 and have been travelling across the country’s governorates ever since, reaching different publics, promoting simple actions adapted to each audience with the aim of preserving this rare and precious resource. 

Have you thought about measuring your water footprint?

10 760 liters! It is the global average water footprint[1] of a consumer living in the Near East and North Africa region. A number that contrasts with the reality of the region suffering from water stress and where the fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world.

However, if the human capacity is to drink between 2 and 3 liters a day: how can we reach this average? The answer is that water is all around us: in the food we consume, the clothes we wear, means of transportation along with all type of electronic devices we use starting with the smartphones that never leave our sides.

The “Water Caravan” challenge is raising awareness to preserve this natural resource essential to our daily life, agriculture and food security of a global population growing exponentially. Through its different stops, it initiated a series of activities adapted to different publics: “Water class in the field” for school kids, “walk and talk” for farmers and “Meet the start-uppers” reaching college students.

Change starts with kids!

“Water class in the field” is the concept initiated by the Water Caravan and implemented through playful activities in different Tunisians governorates including Jendouba, Tozeur, Kebili and Kairouan in favor of 50 primary school students per stop. Under palm trees, olive trees and in the wheat and barley fields, the kids played and learned how to calculate the direct and indirect water footprint. They were also sensitized to the existing correlations between food waste and collective and individual water misuse, overuse, and waste.

The water footprint of a product (food or industrial products) being the amount of water that is consumed and polluted in all processing stages of its production. A product water footprint tells us how much pressure that product has put on freshwater resources.[2]

If 50 liters of water are needed to produce the one tomato my parents serve in the salad for almost all of our meals and I do not eat and ends up thrown away, this means that by wasting only my salad I can waste up to 200 liters of water a week.” Says, despondent, Rawan, an 11-years-old student from Jemna, Kebili governorate. 

Like Rawan, almost all the students that took part in the water class activities were left with a striking number in head : Jihad Alah, 10-years-old from El Kodia ( Jendouba governorate) will certainly never forget that the smartphone he got his eye on is worth 12 750 liters of water. As for the 9-years-old Islem, she will always remember that almost 1 500 liters of water are needed to plant, water, harvest, transform and transport her favorite snack CHOCOLATE. 

Following a well-honed methodology, (toolkit available in this link), each of the water class sessions were

concluded by a drawing contest. Through this activity named “draw your water”, the floor was given to the kids to express in colors their vision of the resource conservation. In participatory approach the school kids were guided to suggest adapted solutions at their personal level, theirs schools, households and family circle. 

Water productivity at the very heart of Climate Smart Agriculture 

In Tunisia, just as in the case of the NENA region, agriculture is the first consumer of water. It uses approximately 85 percent of the total available freshwater[3]. Therefore, the Water Caravan, in close collaboration with the national specialized institutes addressed Tunisian vital crops farmers and stressed the importance of water conservation. Four awareness-raising sessions, were organized in different governorates, aiming mainly to promote among the farmers good practices, adapted to each crop, boosting water productivity. 

The thematic “walk and talk” events gathered at each stop hundreds of farmers and facilitated exchange and discussions with the technical partners namely the National Institute for field crops in Tunisia during the caravan’s fist stop in El kodia (Jendouba governorate) in last May. The second stop in collaboration with the Regional Center for Research in Oasis Agriculture (CRRAO) was split in half reaching farmers in both in Dgeche region (Tozeur governorat)  on the 1st of June and Jemna region (Kebili governorate) on the 3rd on June. Finally, the caravan settled on June 13th under the olive trees reaching in partnership with the national Olive Institute (IO) almost a hundred Kairouan based olive-growers. 

Oral presentations, hands-on field demonstration along with the animated discussions helped the farmers better understand meteorological data and their correlations with the plants needs in terms of water. Presenters also focused on sustainable soil management approaches for an enhanced water productivity and introduced decision-making tools and new technologies allowing a personalized irrigation management. 

When addressing the farmers, M.Anis Bousselmi, INGC irrigation and precision agriculture expert, mainly promoted « Irey » the irrigation management mobile application developed by the institute in 2015 and continually updated since that ensures both a boosted productivity and the water resource conservation. “This app allows cereal growers to register, even through their social media accounts, for an online platform and thereby receive personalized notifications and recommendations concerning irrigation periods and the quantities required.” explains Bousselmi. 

As for M. Kamel Gargouri head of the Olive Institute (IO), he introduced the session with the present olive-growers member of the Farm field Schools of Kairouan region by pointing out the importance of a continuous awareness raising cycle for water valorization “This exchange between technicians and farmers is more than necessary. It allows the dissemination of the institute’s technical package essential to a good olive plots management.  Occasions like these also help the transfer and adoption of the scientific research results to the field ensuring that EACH DROP GOES TO THE RIGHT PLACE.” comments Gargouri. 

For Ms. Latifa Dhaouadi, CRRAO irrigation management expert, resources conservation is intrinsically linked to innovation and, moreover adopting these innovations. “The two awareness raising sessions that took place both in Kebili and Tozeur under the Water Caravan served as a further opportunity for presenting and promoting smart irrigation systems adapted to the oasis ecosystem such as bubblers : this technique if well implemented could enhance not only water productivity but also the quality of the date palm fruits.” explains the expert. “Supporting the implementation of these new techniques is also part of the State’s policies: It offers the farmers, when installing water preserving systems -fact they sometimes ignore- incentive financial mechanisms that could come up to 60 percent.” She adds. 

FAO supports young start-uppers and agricultural innovation champions 

Awareness raising? absolutely. Action? even better!  Knowing that taking action starts with the youth, the caravan set its first stop on the 29th of March in collaboration with « Smart Tunisian Technoparks » and went to meet, advise and support young start-uppers whose projects offer innovative and ambitious solutions that contribute to water resources valorization and conservation. 

Under the slogan “New technologies in the service of agriculture: water as an innovation opportunity”, the workshop included start-uppers testimonies such as Dam-Guardian that aims to manufacture a robot responsible of dams monitoring, control and maintenance. It is also capable of preventing its degradation on the long run. 

Youfeed, on another hand is a social entrepreneurship startup initiated by a group of students from Enactus IHEC Carthage that put on the market a fodder 100 percent made with local products mainly recycled date palms waste. Thanks to this valorization process Youfeed formula can substitute the pricy and polluting available fodder on the market.    

The Water Caravan peruses its course… 

After several stops in the different regions of country, the water caravan continues on its way and aspires to reach even more people under the "every dorp counts" campaign implemented under the umbrella of the FAO water scarcity regional initiative with the funding of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). 

As the country is living under an important water stress, like the rest of the NENA region where freshwater resources have decreased by 2/3 during last 40 years and are expected to fall over 50 percent by 2050, Water is more than ever LIFE. Water is FOOD. Water is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY and OURS !

This activity is implemented under the regional project “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for water efficiency/productivity and water sustainability in NENA countries” under the Water Scarcity Initiative. This project is funded by the Swedish international Development Cooperation Agency.