Caring for the Planet Starts from the Ground

Thouraya add water into the mixture materials used to make the fertilizer.  ©IFAD / Alfredo D'Amato / Panos
Thouraya adds water into the mixture materials used to make the fertilizer. ©IFAD/Alfredo D'Amato/Panos

Thouraya Lahmer and Aoun Ouni are two villagers from the south of Tunisia. Although they are not policy makers or soil experts, they both contribute to feeding the world. What they do is a reflection of this year's theme of World Soil Day - Caring for the Planet Starts from the Ground.

Since 1980, IFAD's work in Tunisia has helped improve the livelihoods of individuals like Thouraya and Aou in rural communities. IFAD supported projects in the country have contributed to managing natural resources and restoring the fertility of agricultural soil.

Globally, more than 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricultural land, leading to millions of people abandoning their ancestral lands and migrating to urban areas, and permanently altering landscapes. In an effort to counteract this trend, IFAD has introduced projects to restore the productivity of agricultural lands.

Thouraya stand for a portrait inside the stock room. ©IFAD / Alfredo D'Amato / Panos
Thouraya stands for a portrait inside the stock room. ©IFAD/Alfredo D'Amato/Panos

Thouraya Lahmer, the entrepreneur of healthy soil

Thouraya is an ambitious woman living in a village that lacks any prospects for women. When she learned about the Agropastoral Development and Local Initiatives Promotion Programme in the South-East – Phase II  (PRODESUD), she seized the opportunity and applied for a loan.

"As I was seeing all my friends and neighbours planning to cultivate their abandoned land and diversify their products, I noted that all of these farmers need a healthy soil, so they all need fertilizers," says Touraya.

After her loan was approved, she started her own business providing farmers with fertilizers, helping small scale farming in the village to flourish through soil rehabilitation activities. IFAD and partners helped to guarantee a steady flow of water reserves for irrigation by fencing the arable lands with wind breakers to protects the soil from erosion and building water cisterns..

Since the establishment of her business in 2016, Thouraya  has managed to produce and sell 15 tonnes of fertilizers and her business is booming. In fact, this win-win situation is encouraging her to dream bigger: "I am planning to increase the production next year, hire more locals to help me in the production of the fertilisers as well as in the delivery to other villages".

Aun walks on the side of a water tank used to irrigate cultivated fields. © IFAD/Alfredo D'Amato/Panos
Aoun walks on the side of a water tank used to irrigate cultivated fields. © IFAD/Alfredo D'Amato/Panos

Aoun Ouni: "Adaptation is key to success"

The versatility of IFAD programmes gives rural people the opportunity to choose what they like to do, whether these activities are directly related to agriculture or just supporting the community; Aoun Ouni is a good example of resilience and adaptation to change.

Aoun has also benefited from IFAD's project PRODESUD, which teaches rural people new skills to diversify their income. He applied for a loan to diversify his crops and started by cultivating peaches, watermelon, carrots and figs on his six hectares of land.

His land was in desperate need of rehabilitation and improvement in soil quality to boost productivity.

In addition, it was clear to Aoun that if he didn't have access to IFAD's loan, training and technical knowledge to face the impacts of climate change, he wouldn't have been able to rehabilitate his land and boost its productivity. "Climate change is making our task more and more difficult," Aoun says.

The IFAD programme for rehabilitating the agricultural infrastructure, especially through water cisterns and wind blockers, stops the erosion of the soil, and encourages the community to get back to their abandoned fields. 

In addition, Aoun focused on the marketing component, and succeeded in improving his skills "as a business man".

"The access to markets course provided by IFAD and its implementation partners, inspired me to work on many fronts: expanding my cultivated land, hire more local people, especially youth and women, and expand the marketing reach." Aoun added.

Aoun now aims to increase his production of figs so he can distribute them all over Tunisia, and even approach new venues, such as the pharmaceutical industry, as figs are used in the formulas of many medicines.

IFAD's project in Tunisia continues to assist people with the technical support and assistance and clearly showcases how caring for the planet starts from the ground.