‘Hanging garden’ clings on despite harsher drought

Tunisia’s innovative irrigation system sustains crop production

September 19, 2022

DJEBBA, Tunisia (AFP) — High in the hills of northwestern Tunisia, farmers are tending thousands of fig trees with a unique system of terracing they hope will protect them from ever-harsher droughts.

But the “hanging gardens” of Djebba El Olia have been put to the test this year as the North African country sweltered through its hottest July since the 1950s.

That has exacerbated a long drought that has left Tunisia’s reservoirs at just a third of their capacity.

The gardens are supplied with water from two springs high in the mountains.

The water is fed into the orchards by a network of canals that are opened and shut at set times, according to the size of the orchard.

Crucially, a wide variety of crops provides resilience and in-built pest control, unlike the monocultures that dominate modern agriculture and require huge inputs of pesticides to survive.

“We grow figs but also other trees like quinces, olives and pomegranates, and beneath them we plant a wide range of greens and legumes,” activist Farida Djebbi said as insects buzzed between thyme, mint and rosemary flowers.

Djebbi pointed out some of the channels, which irrigate the area’s 300 hectares of steeply sloping orchards.

In 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization recognized the system as an example of “innovative and resilient agroforestry,” adding it to an elite list of just 67 “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems.”

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