Sarah ToumiHolding back the Sahara
Sarah Toumi has returned to Tunisia, her father’s homeland, and is determined to restore the land, which is suffering from desertification, and reduce poverty by introducing sustainable farming practices.
Less rainfall and more severe droughts are threatening to turn three-quarters of Tunisia’s agricultural lands into desert. As a young girl, Sarah Toumi witnessed this degradation when travelling with her father in the east of the country. She resolved to do something about it.
In 2012, she moved to Tunisia from France and set up Acacias for All, organizing farmers into cooperatives and encouraging them to plant crops more suited to the changing environment, in addition to olives and almonds. She also encouraged them to use new technologies for water treatment, along with natural products and fertilizers rather than pesticides.
Within 10 years rich farmers became worse off, and in 10 years from now they will be poor. I wanted to stop the desert in its tracks.
Central to Toumi’s programme is the tough acacia tree, whose long roots bring to the surface essential nitrogen and fresh water to revitalize the land and prevent further erosion and salinization. The gum arabic it produces – along with moringa powder from another plant – have the potential to provide an income for farmers. Toumi estimates that if they plant 20 species of trees, and vegetables and medicinal plants, on a single hectare of land, they can earn up to US$30,000 a year.
By September 2016, Toumi and her organization had helped locals plant more than 130,000 acacia trees on 20 pilot farms. She expects to increase this number tenfold in the next two years, restoring 50,000 hectares to fertility, and to extend the programme to Algeria and Morocco.
Acacia trees planted on 20 pilot farms in 2016
Acacia trees needed to protect Tunisia’s arable spaces