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Africa’s hottest oasis threatened by drought and disease

Tunisia’s KEBILI – In an oasis notorious as the hottest place in Africa, Tunisian farmers say they are in a losing struggle with disease and drought which is causing many of them to abandon plantations where they grow some of the best dates in the world.

In the past, the date palm orchards at Kebili oasis formed lush, rich islands in a desolate landscape. However, many of the trees are currently dying, and their naked, dry, and fruitless trunks extend into the sky.

According to farmers and environmental groups, a decade-long drought in southern Tunisia has made it increasingly difficult to irrigate palm trees as costs have increased and power outages have increased.

“Rain has not fallen here since 2011. The water underground is extremely heated. Farmers are unable to use the water for irrigation when the electricity is down, and the waterwheels are damaged “farmer Mouhamed Bouaziz remarked. “Everything arrived at once.”

He serves as treasurer of the neighbourhood water association, which aids date growers in gaining access to underground aquifer irrigation.

He claimed that the government, which was struggling to pay state salaries and fund wheat imports, was ignoring the farmers’ plight.

Kebili, one of a string of oases on the outskirts of the Sahara desert, produces a large portion of the dates that Tunisia exports to dozens of countries, mostly in Europe.

Farmers have long been accustomed to extreme heat; in the 1930s, the highest temperature ever recorded in Africa, over 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit), was recorded in Kebili.

However, they claim that the effects of climate change – a lack of rainfall combined with a date mite infestation blamed on the dry weather – are making life even more difficult.

“If we continue like this with drought and draining the water layer, we will not find dates in Kebili in 20 or 30 years,” said environmental activist Moez Hamed, peeling the stumps of desiccated palm fronds from a tree.

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Other trees are infested, with bunches of dates wrapped in the webbing spun by the mites as they feed.
“It’s a new pest that we haven’t seen before, and the cause is drought,” said Bouaziz.

More than a third of farmers have stopped using the irrigation provided by his association because they can no longer afford it, according to Bouaziz, and all are considering abandoning the oases.

They, like many others who feared for their future in their own country, were willing to risk the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in search of a new life in Europe.

“Farmers, particularly the youth who will inherit and preserve these oases, have migrated by sea,” Bouaziz explained. “Those who survive, live on, and those who die too are returned in a large box.”


Source: Reuters


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