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Tunisian Farmers Want to Commercialise their Ancient Farming Practice

In northern Tunisia, local farmers near a seaside lagoon are fighting to preserve a unique traditional irrigation system. As scarcity of water intensifies in the small fishing town of Ghar El Melh, the irrigation system has ignited renewed interest in this North African nation. Ramli is the Arabic word for “sandy”, the farms cover around 200 hectares or 500 acres and support around 300 people. They were listed last year in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) list of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. The FAO has said the ramli system was “unique not only in Tunisia but in the whole world”. But farmers regret their products lack formal certification, despite the FAO designation. “This ingenious system is dependent on certain preventive actions that must be put in place to combat the effects of climate change, including erosion that will be accelerated and the rapid rise in sea level. Of course, sea level rising does not happen overnight. It’s a relatively long rise. But after a while, if we do nothing now, these crops will be gone in maybe 100 years”, Raoudha Gafrej, an expert on water resources and climate change said. Ramli produce is said to have a particular taste, and is in high demand both locally and in Tunis.