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Tunisia’s Date Industry Under Distress

Communities have survived in Bchelli for thousands of years, but the changing environment may soon make it uninhabitable. Thousands of farmers across the region say the effects of the climate crisis and water scarcity are threatening their livelihoods. Overall, temperatures here have risen by about 1C (33.8F) since 1988, according to data collected by the meteorological office in Tozeur, the capital of the region’s western district. After olive production, dates are Tunisia’s second most valuable agricultural export, generating more than $200m a year. Farmers are resorting to drilling and pumping water from aquifers. There are now about 30,000 wells across the country, some hundreds of metres deep. As many as half of these were drilled illegally, according to a 2017 report by Tunisia’s Ministry of Agriculture, and less than half of the water from wells is not renewable.