Climate change threatens Tunisia's lagoon farmers

Dotted among wetlands on Tunisia's coast is this patchwork of tiny man-made islands that stretch out towards the Mediterranean.

Shored up by sandbanks inside a lagoon, they are home to a centuries-old system of agriculture that climate change now threatens to wipe out.

Ali Garsi has farmed a plot in the Ghar El Melh wetlands north of Tunis for 20 years.

Relying on a layer of freshwater that feeds his plants above a saltwater base, he grows potatoes, onions and tomatoes. But with sea levels and temperatures in the area rising and rainfall below average, his yields are dropping.

"There is a shortage in the quantities of rain, and this definitely negatively affected the quantity of our product in general. That means the production is weaker, compared to years when the quantities of rain were respectable."

Invented in the 17th century, the Ramli agricultural system - Arabic for "sandy" - irrigates crops entrenched in a mix of sand and manure via their roots.

Its water-shortage resistant methods gained global attention last year when the United Nations added Ghar El Melh to its list of agricultural heritage systems of global importance.

But the system's reliance on a fragile balance of rain and sea tides means it faces unprecedented challenges.

In August, a heat spike across northern Tunisia brought temperatures to a scorching 120 degrees. Meanwhile, rainfall fell to below two thirds of its long-term average, a shortfall that climate modeling suggests could become permanent.

Globally rising sea levels as temperatures increase pose a further threat. One climate expert tells Reuters the Mediterranean will rise and seep into the areas surrounding this rich agricultural area, which could make the soil salty and ruin the crop… and take a centuries' old system with it.

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