Farmers’ perceptions of water management in Jemna oasis, Southern Tunisia

Groundwater resources are a crucial driver of development. Since the 1970s, the expansion of irrigated land on the margins of the existing ‘traditional’ oases has been encouraged by the Tunisian authorities to enhance local development. As a result, oases in Southern Tunisia are currently facing sustainability concerns. This situation requires alternative water management approaches, in which local actors collaborate and contribute to the design of new rules. To understand Tunisian oasis farmers’ perceptions of water rules and public organisations, in 2021, we conducted an online survey in Jemna, an oasis in the Kebili region in Southern Tunisia.
The picture that emerged from the online survey is that farmers in extension areas have distinctive characteristics but also similarities with farmers in the traditional oasis. Both types of farmers mainly cultivate date palm (monoculture), and, like farmers in the extensions, many farmers in the traditional oasis have a private borehole.
All farmers in the Jemna oasis clearly perceive the limited availability and poor quality of the groundwater resource. However, they do not believe these problems cause conflict among farmers. They consider that, to solve possible conflicts and to ensure better water management in the oasis, collaboration among farmers is more effective than changes to rules issued by existing organisations. These preliminary results, if confirmed, can have important policy implications, as the farmers’ perceptions of water rules and organisations, as well as farmers’ willingness to collaborate, are crucial for a possible new approach to water management in the oasis.