On a hill covered with forests and Mediterranean bush, not far from Tunis (Tunisia), the Agricultural Development Group (GDA for its French acronym) Sidi Amor leads since 2006 a community development project around the valorization of the natural resources of the land: plants, stone, earth, water, and energy. Through multiple training activities, the actions for the conservation of nature by the association would act as a lever for the self growth and development of the members of the GDA – young people, men and women from surrounding urban areas, as well as local residents of the rural site.
Back in 2014, I had the chance to meet Dr. Taieb Ben Miled, a pneumologist based in the Tunisian capital, who led the community project from its origins. During my visit to the GDA site, I was able to see the diversity of activities taking place there – from eco-construction workshops with local materials such as clay or straw, to gardens of medicinal or aromatic plants, preserving native rose species. Today, almost ten years later, I am happy to learn that the GDA continues and expands its work, faithful to its spirit of contributing to an integrated sustainable local development, and always rooted in the enhancement of local resources.
From the outset, the project aimed to preserve abandoned agroforestry land on the Sidi Amor natural site, by working around the fauna and flora, a rose garden, the peri-urban forest and the enhancement of the soil. In collaboration with various local and national government bodies, the adoption of the associative form of GDA in 2010 has enabled the promoter group to benefit from a legal framework for collective work and at the same time to manage and enhance the natural resources on the entire site – including a forest area of approximately 120 hectares in the process of being the subject of a forest co-management agreement. To the original mission of preserving the territory are now added those of promoting local resources in partnership with public and private actors; training of members of civil society in good environmental and rural practices; and sustainable and integrated development through projects in different localities. In line with this vision, the GDA develops a multiplicity of actions on subjects such as wastewater treatment, urban and peri-urban agriculture (agroforestry, vegetable gardens and soilless cultivation), beekeeping, recovery of waste from quarries, as well as stone, marble cutting and traditional ironwork workshops.
Among these activities, the expertise in eco-construction developed over the almost twenty years of existence of the group should be highlighted. Formalized as a company, this branch of the GDA Sidi Amor develops alternative construction solutions using local and natural materials such as earth (adobe, compressed earth bricks, rammed earth), straw, local masonry, and cut or polished stone, at the service of public and private customers, as well as of pilot constructions of the site. It has thus created a sort of living eco-museum, offering a platform for experimentation, training, and dissemination. Active collaboration with many stakeholders, including research institutions, has indeed been central to the evolution of the GDA, which regularly hosts study and knowledge exchange visits in several fields – botany, hydrology, eco-construction , arts and crafts, etc.