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Tunisia - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Tunisia is endowed with a high diversity of landscapes and natural environments. Forests cover 12.86% of the country’s territory, agricultural areas comprise up to 4.9 million ha, plains and mountainous relief extend in the north while the south is made up of deserts. Thirty-three percent of the land is arid, to varying degrees, and up to 70% of the total surface area is arid or semi-arid. Tunisia also has 254 humid zones, comprising 3.6% of the country’s territory, more than 300 plant species and 140 migratory bird species, and a coastline that extends over 1,300 km. According to the 1998 National Study, there are 3,682 continental species and 2,137 species in humid and marine areas. While 12% of the 2,924 terrestrial floral species require considerable conservation efforts, endemic and rare species are particularly in need of conservation. Tunisia has 2,181 species of fauna (78 types of mammals, 362 types of birds, 336 types of fish, 1,434 invertebrates) that are especially abundant in marine areas. The country’s sea grass biotic community (Posidonia oceanica, Cymodosa nodosa, Caulerpa prolifera) is among the most important in the world, notably in the Gulf of Gabes, on the eastern coast. Fifty-seven faunal species require attention, particularly bird, fish and reptile species. The ongoing process of updating the National Study, launched in 2008, has highlighted the extent to which much of the country’s biodiversity remains unknown, as well as confirmed the existence of an additional 706 taxons since studies were conducted 10 years earlier, bringing the total number of taxons to 2,868.

According to the World Bank (2004), the costs associated with environmental degradation in Tunisia account for no more than 2.1% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is among the lowest figures in the southern Mediterranean. Benefits derived from biodiversity are particularly visible in forested areas, with the forestry sector being vital to socioeconomic development and, by extension, to poverty reduction. Forestry generates significant employment (i.e. 36,000 primary jobs, and up to 39,500 jobs if supplemental employment is considered) and contributes 3% to the GDP. Notably, 10% of the population, which is increasing at a relatively rapid rate, is completely dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. Forests provide wood and assorted products (e.g. essential oils extracted from medicinal and aromatic plants), while also serving as areas for livestock breeding and apiculture, among other services.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Threats to Tunisian biodiversity include desertification, land erosion (51.9% of the land is prone to water-induced erosion and 47% affected by wind erosion), overgrazing, urbanization and related human activities, invasive species (mostly from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal), climate change (affecting coastal zones and marine ecosystems due to accelerated sea level rise, production of cereals, etc.) and the potential side effects related to the development of biotechnologies (e.g. GMOs). These threats are accentuated by a growing population and agricultural intensification. For instance, according to 1998 figures, the population living around forests has grown to 1 million, placing further pressure on forest resources. Additionally, the extension of the agricultural frontier and use of modern production methods and irrigation have resulted in salinization, causing forest and vegetative cover to degrade in spite of efforts taken to the contrary.

Climate change also constitutes a considerable threat to biodiversity. Sea level rise is a major concern for many species, in addition to 69% of the Tunisian population living in coastal areas, and also threatens infrastructure associated with the agriculture and tourism sectors causing loss of production potential. As a result, around 2% of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product and around 35,000 jobs (or 1% of the active population) could be lost. Furthermore, climate change is expected to impair the cultivation of new and high-yielding varieties of cereals. Olive production is forecasted to fall by 50%, the surface allotted to rain-fed orchards is expected to decline by 50% and livestock production is likely to decline by 80% in the central and southern parts of the country, and by 20% in the north.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Tunisia’s NBSAP was developed in 1998. The strategy sets four objectives regarding the conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity: (i) improve knowledge in biological diversity; (ii) assure better planning of sustainable management of ecosystems; (iii) improve education and promote awareness-raising; and (iv) elaborate and implement action plans in priority intervention fields, notably for endangered species and ecosystems.

Tunisia is now updating the NBSAP in light of what has been learned since 1998, with the aim to also consider the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in this process. The National Biodiversity Study is also being updated.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

At present, 1.2% of Tunisia’s GDP is invested in environmental protection programs. Tunisia has a network of 24 protected areas covering 3.5% of the country’s territory and representing a number of ecosystems. This network is projected to grow to 6% in the coming years with the addition of 20 protected areas. Moreover, 19 new sites were registered on the RAMSAR list in 2008, which now comprise 726,541 ha.

The fight against coastal erosion has been carried out through beach restoration and with the engagement of the private sector. The National Rehabilitation and Valuation Program has been put in place by the Agency for Coastal Protection and Management that has particular interest in sebkhas. The Agency has clarified land tenure situations and begun clearing material from the shores. Integrated management plans have been prepared for 17 sensitive coastal areas and various conservation projects are currently being undertaken, notably in the Gulf of Gabes, to protect sea grass.

Important investments and efforts have also been made in regard to sanitation, solid and industrial waste treatment, water supply and conservation (demand for irrigation water has stabilized since 2000), and the use of treated waters (30% of treated waters in urban, tourism and agricultural domains is re-used at present). Soil protection and desertification prevention are important areas of work which have given impetus to the creation of mountain lakes and groundwater replenishment units, and the rehabilitation of land for cereal production. Pilot regional and local action plans for combating desertification have shown positive outcomes, including improved vegetative cover, which increased from 6.7% in 1987 to 12.86% at present, and is projected to reach 16% of the country’s territory by 2011. Also, the country’s reforestation policy has reversed the deforestation trend, with silvopastoral vegetative cover having increased from 12.86% to 35% over the last 20 years. Sectoral strategies for climate change adaptation have been elaborated, notably in relation to agriculture, coastal regions and health.

Implementation of the CBD has also led to improvements regarding the equal distribution of benefits derived from ecosystems. Community development plans, forest user associations and other initiatives have been introduced to associate populations with ecosystem protection. The country is becoming more involved in ecotourism and integrating actions into regional sustainable development policies, with the aim to better use and distribute the benefits derived from biodiversity. Particular attention is also being given to the development of agricultural biodiversity and conserving and rationally exploiting national genetic resources. Surfaces of organic agriculture for export more than doubled between 2004 and 2009. Botanical gardens and gene banks have been created, with 1,600 cereal accessions having been repatriated and 10,000 collected from the country’s interior.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Tunisia has taken considerable efforts to mainstream biodiversity in sectoral policies and enhance collaboration and capacity-building among state agencies. Various ministries are involved in biodiversity issues to varying degrees. The Ministry of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources, hosting key Directorates (forests, water resources, fishery and aquaculture, animal production, plant production, research and training), is the most committed to implementing NBSAP programs. However, other ministries, such as the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Equipment and Housing, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Technology, Ministry of the Interior and Local Development, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Economic Development and International Cooperation, also perform key roles in supporting biodiversity conservation policies. Mainstreaming is further reinforced through the creation of specialized institutions within the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, including the National Sustainable Development Commission, which is a high-level consultative structure presided over by the Prime Minister and which assembles all ministries.

In terms of financial support, Tunisia has established financial mechanisms with state funds and has also benefited from bilateral and multilateral financing, particularly from the GEF.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

In regard to monitoring and review of NBSAP implementation, the National Biodiversity Study is being updated and a national registry of wild species of particular conservation interest (REGNES) has been prepared with the involvement of various sectors, ministries, and NGOs. Furthermore, criteria and indicators have been developed, notably to monitor actions for ensuring sustainable forest management.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme