21 Jul 2017
Nefzawa, Tunisia
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management

For many centuries, oases have been an essential source of livelihood and food for residents of vast deserts. Named after a semi-nomadic tribe of the Sahara, Nefzawa (also spelt, Nefzaoua) is one of the most important and oldest oases in Tunisia and North Africa. However, the Nafzawa oasis is facing some serious threats and is almost drowning in its own palm tree waste.

In order to prevent an ecological disaster and tackle the problem, Fethi Dkhil, an agri-food engineer, initiated Jinen Nefzawa (the gardens of Nefzawa in Arabic). It aims at transforming palm tree waste into compost that improves soil structure and productivity.

The problem with palm waste:

Nefzawa is located in southwest Tunisia and covers 2.208 million hectares, including 15,300 hectares of oases. And, like most of the North African oases, Nefzawa cannot properly dispose of its palm waste.

Such alarming situation is owing to the excessive waste and absence of waste disposals.  That in itself drives farmers to dispose of waste via burning. However, burning waste in an open fire releases toxic chemicals into the air as smoke, and into the soil and groundwater as ashes. It is largely contested for the health risks and negative effects the burning has on the environment.

“We try as much as we can to sell palm tree waste for cheap to other people who can benefit from their byproducts, but mostly, we really can’t help but dispose of them by burning,” says Mohamed Selmi, a resident and farmer from Kebili Governorate in the Nefzawa region. “Pollution is a huge problem around here since most waste gets burnt for we don’t have enough landfills nearby.”

Expert on the area, Dkhil seems to be the best person to concoct a solution in  Nefzawa. According to Dkhil, the main problem with palm tree waste is that they are dry and rich in cellulose, which means that their composting requires a prior grinding.

In fact, the decline in the traditional use of oases’ products has increased the volume of waste. This, in return, constitutes a refuge for insects such as flies and mosquitoes, and arachnids such as scorpions. The increased pest and disease problems associated with biodiversity loss are now affecting the survival of oases.

The initiative:

The ‘green’ venture, known as Jinen Nefzawa, was launched in February 2009. It is aimed at recycling and treating all palm tree waste in a sustainable manner. The treated waste would then be fortified to produce a fertilizing compost to be used by the farmers of Nefzawa and the surrounding oases.

According to Dkhil, the need for organic fertilizers is growing steadily. The nature of oasis soil, which is poor in organic matter, requires the use of all waste after composting for fertilization. Given the lack of manure, the compost can be used as a support or an organic fertilizer.

“After going through the composting process, the material is recycled in an organic form through the soil to the palm trees and surrounding plantations,” Dkhil said. “‘The compost will significantly lower palm diseases and enhance both the quality and productivity.”

Farmers in Nefzawa have been constantly trying to save the oases they inherited from their ancestors, and after Dkhil’s initiative, they are more likely to understand that creating compost from palm tree waste is easy, cost-effective and helps keep waste out of landfills.

“We are taking organic waste that farmers already have to turn it into fertilizers, which they need,” Dkhil states. “Composting can save them from purchasing expensive chemical fertilizers and disrupting the soil’s organic make-up,” he added.

Meanwhile, Jinen Nefzawa has been collaborating with its various national and regional corps including public gardens, municipalities, regional agricultural development stations such as Commisseriat Regionale de Dévelopement Agricole (CRDA), Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency (APIA), Technical Center for Organic Agriculture, and many others.

Dkhil said he is delighted to have been getting support to contribute to Nefzawa’s green and clean growth story. “We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made in making this project a reality and we have every confidence that we can maintain such success,” said Dkhil.


Website: www.Jinen.com.tn

Photos: Courtesy of Jinen Nefzawa


Oumeima is a writer and a translator by day, a blogger by night. Right now she is helping green and social entrepreneurs find their voices and tell their stories.Oumeima Boughanmi
A new venture is turning palm tree waste into fertilizers | The Switchers
Jinen Nefzawa Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management