Tunisia: Zeuss-Koutine Watershed


Mohamed Ouessar
Zeuss-Koutine Watershed, Tunisia

Activities are being carried out in two distinct sites: Jeffara (Zeuss Koutine watershed) and Bou-Hedma Biosphere Reserve. The two sites are considered part of the arid zone observatory, itself part of the national network for monitoring and evaluation of the National Action Programme – United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The watershed of Zeuss-Koutine (including Oum Zessar watershed and the northern part of the Dahar plateau) is situated in southeastern Tunisia, northwest of the city of Médenine. The study site covers an area of 897 km2 and is characterized by steppe vegetation in an arid climate. There are some wadi beds and watercourses with a distinct species composition. It is estimated that approximately 25,000 people live on this site. Anthropogenic pressure has increased considerably since the 1960s leading to environmental degradation with reduced vegetation cover and poor eroded soils. Olive production and cereal cultivation, based mainly on water harvesting systems, represents the main agricultural activity in the area, but there is also traditional breeding of camels and small-stock, especially in the northern part of the Dahar plateau, which contributes to the livelihoods of the population. The household economy is based on a diversification of activities seen as an adaptation strategy to climate, market and risk mitigation.

Bou-Hedma National Park (34°28’ N and 9°37’ E) covers an area of approximately 5,115 ha and was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977. The park has a low arid bioclimate with an approximate mean annual rainfall of 180 mm, a mean annual temperature of 17.2°C, and minimum and maximum monthly mean temperatures of 3.8°C (December) and 36.2°C (July), respectively.

It is estimated that approximately 15,000 people live in scattered dwellings in the vicinity of the park. They practice mainly arboriculture (fruit trees) and cereals behind water harvesting structures (tabias), small scale irrigation, and livestock breeding.

Project objectives

Improving dryland agriculture

In Tunisia, drought and desertification particularly affect the arid and semi-arid regions characterized by unfavorable climatological and hydrological conditions. Low and erratic rainfall results in frequent periods of serious drought alternating with periods of floods causing major damages and soil erosion.

The major objectives of this second phase of the project are:

  • Combating desertification and improvement of dryland agriculture,
  • Development of decision making tools for land use management,
  • Promotion of alternative income generating sources for local communities.


Mohamed Ouessar
Workshop 'Fair Tourism as a Local Development Factor in Tunisia'

A number of studies were carried out in Bou Hedma and Jeffara by a multi-disciplinary team in collaboration with the University of Ghent and with additional funding provided by the Flemish Government of Belgium. In Bou Hedma, research was conducted to look at the linkages between communities and socioeconomic, cultural and biophysical dimensions using the DPSIR framework. This study concluded that the attitudes of local communities are the driving forces behind the environmental degradation, leading to high unemployment and high rates of poverty.

A second study looked at the influence of afforestation on soil properties and climate, while a third study looked at the consequences of natural resources management on livelihoods in the Zeuss-Koutine watershed. The challenge that emerged from the latter study is how to find a balance between natural resources management and providing opportunities for livelihoods in a harsh and deteriorating environment.

Activities for promoting alternative tourism in dry areas that benefit the local communities of Tunisia are carried out. The project team is in contact with a specialized tour agency based in France which markets this type of tourism and that maintains strict standards and ensures that 70-80% of revenues go back to local communities. During the national seminar, there was some demand for increased training in climate change and vulnerability. The project team also held a training workshop on ecotourism.

Back to top