Rim Ben Soud lives in Baddar village in Cap Bon, North East Tunisia. It’s a community that is mostly dependent on farming and agricultural activities. A farmer herself, Rim has become well known for founding a local women’s group for agriculture development (GDAF), and recently started her own eco-tourism project.
Since childhood, Rim has worked with her family as a farmer. Their farm is known for its fertile soil from which they and others can earn a living growing a variety of crops.
We’re at the front-lines of the battle against climate change, social injustice and a patriarchal society.
Water scarcity and governmental measures
However, Tunisia is among the 33 countries most affected by water scarcity. The current water stock is 30% lower than its usual level, so severe measures are being taken to manage supply and demand.
The majority of local farms are rain-fed and therefore have few defenses against drought. This makes them extremely vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change. At the same time, intensive exploitation of water resources and aquifers for agriculture in Cap Bon has seriously depleted groundwater in quantity and quality.
After almost five years of drought, the Tunisian authorities have taken strict measures to address the water crisis and have prioritized essential (high-income) crops. In the North East, for example, many varieties of crops are not allowed, including vegetables, which require large amounts of water.
On the other hand, water entities are focused on supplying vital sectors and ensuring equal access to water for consumers. This is because water is considered a commodity in Tunisia’s constitution. But water is a fundamental right, and all communities should have equal access to it.
Women farmers facing multiple challenges
Rim Ben Soud sees first-hand how women farmers in Baddar village are confronted with multiple challenges: economic, social and environmental. “We’re at the front-lines of the battle against climate change, social injustice and a patriarchal society. Water shortage is a big threat to our livelihoods and incomes because farming is all we’ve ever done since we were kids,” she says. The ongoing drought and strict measures by the authorities limit women farmers’ livelihoods and make it impossible for them to supply the market.
In addition, women farmers in Baddar village have minimal access to land ownership and loans. The fact that only 5% of women farmers in the country own land is worrying. This seriously limits their ability to deal with climate change and their livelihood needs as they see fit. Women farmers are also burdened with housekeeping in addition to the daily chores of farming, which adds to their workload and stress.
Another problem they face is little access to training programs related to climate issues and water management. Women farmers are often unaware of how to adapt their farming methods to improve resilience and maintain their incomes.
Local initiatives provide some answers
Rim saw early on the importance of gathering the women farmers in her community and forming a group to share solutions for water scarcity and building climate resilience.
Rim started the women farmers’ group in 2016. Its initial sixteen members have now grown to two hundred women farmers. Over the years, other farmers have also benefited from the group’s work. The group supports them with technical know-how and other training, and helps them promote their products. In addition, the group helps women farmers diversify their products to meet water challenges, participate in national exhibitions, and expand their networks.
As a farmer, Rim has always tried to find the best ways of dealing with water scarcity and climate. She is fully aware of how environmental degradation impacts her farming. Rim is a good example of what can be achieved with local knowledge and soft skills acquired by setting up the women’s farming group, likewise a local initiative. Rim has since started a small agri-tourism business that promotes local food, natural heritage and traditional farming practices.
But more action is needed
Yet despite all the support and progress made so far, Rim sees that many women farmers are still not fully aware of what they need to do to meet the challenges. “More action is needed to support women in Baddar, such as providing more technical skills, knowledge about local climate solutions and resilient farming techniques, and offering them access to land rights and loans,” she says. “And promoting gender equality and addressing patriarchal attitudes will also help women farmers take more control over their own businesses and decision-making,” she adds.
Voices for Climate Action
We work with Rim Ben Soud through our Voices for Just Climate Action program, which aims to ensure that local civil society and underrepresented groups take on a central role as creators, facilitators and advocates of innovative climate solutions. We help them organize and campaign effectively and provide a network in which they can reinforce each other. The program also works to create widespread societal support for locally-shaped climate solutions.