Since the end of the 19th century, urban growth has been accompanied by a process of transformation of agricultural areas both inside and outside cities. A process that from the second half of the twentieth century has both accelerated and diversified, it has altered, subsequently, the morphology as well as the socio-spatial and environmental organization of urban territories. (Bouraoui & Houman 2010)


Since the end of the 19th century, urban growth has been accompanied by a process of transformation of agricultural areas both inside and outside cities. A process that from the second half of the twentieth century has both accelerated and diversified, it has altered, subsequently, the morphology as well as the socio-spatial and environmental organization of urban territories. (Bouraoui & Houman 2010)

In Tunisia, urban sprawl is partly caused by population growth and rural exodus, it is considered the main factor that triggers competition over the use of lands. The agricultural lands are the most affected (Soussan 2016).  

At the time when the Sub-urbanization phenomenon was at its peak (1970-1980), the national development plans aimed at favoring industrial fabrics and touristic infrastructures at the expense of agricultural activity. In the 1980s, governments tried to intervene in favor of the agricultural sector, particularly through the enactment of a law on the protection of agricultural land. The desire to contain the urban expansion of major cities such as Sousse, Gabes, Hammamet, and, in particular, the capital Tunis and its surroundings has since become increasingly popular. However, in Greater Tunis, and despite the goodwill to better control the Urban sprawl phenomenon, results from research and analysis of data show that this trend that harms the socio-spatial base of the regional territory is likely to continue, with a growing deficit of agricultural areas and impoverishment of urban and suburban farmers commonly known as “fellahs”. (Bouraoui & Houman 2010).

Purpose of the Paper

This paper aims to investigate the agricultural dimension of Greater Tunis as the main Urban Hub of the country, identify the past and current trends of the agricultural sector, especially in the outskirts of the city, highlight the consequences of metropolisation on farms, and finally to review the local policies employed to address this issue.


The study consists of a literature review encapsulating essentially governmental resources given the availability and recency of research studies conducted by the urban agencies affiliated with the competent Ministries.  

A Case study will be discussed at the end of the body of the paper referring to an example of a project that succeeded substantially in alleviating suburban farming production in a particular area of the city.  

The following Chapters are structured according to the main purposes of the paper.

Types of Sub-Urban Agriculture Farms

Small–size family farms:    

A subsistence food crop facing the industrial alternative: Suburban small farms rarely exceed three hectares. These are the “technical plots” in their original form without any extension. The types of cultivation practiced are:

  • In irrigated cultivations: mixed farming and very rarely fruit arboriculture.
  • In dry cultivations: cereals and fodder in a rudimentary form.

We note that in this type of exploitation, the entire family participates in the many stages of production. The latter uses outside labor only during harvesting or gathering, and it markets its production (usually on the roadsides) or in districts of small towns if it has a commercial vehicle. Sometimes the family sells its production to intermediaries/brokers in case of urgent need of finance or when the nature of the production assures them an acceptable purchase price. We finally notice that this type of exploitation tends to disappear in the face of rising property prices and the lack of respite opportunities. Thus, if it does not modify the economic typology of the small farm, the industry deprives it of succession and the possibilities to exist by modifying the practice modes of the neo-patriarchal families, which remain very present in rural areas. (République Tunisienne 2018).   

Medium-size farms

 A complimentary family activity: average exploitation within western Greater Tunis varies between 3 and 10 hectares. It corresponds to technical groups and small heirs who, unlike the small farmers mentioned above, have succeeded in expanding their holdings (through loans) and in diversifying their production, especially since it is an agricultural sector. Almost exclusively irrigated, the types of cultivation practiced thus relate to mixed farming vegetables, fruit growing, and more recently citrus fruits. For this type of farming, the evolution of the logic of exploitation varies greatly with the context. Indeed, in the early 1990s, there was some stagnation for these farms that could not sell their products in addition to the inability of farmers to complete succession. However, the explosion of demand for market garden products resulting from the growth of the market and the establishment of the Agro-Food Industries has made the activity very lucrative. The descendants of the first farmer take turns for management and investment and it is usually one of the sons who reconverts professionally to devote himself fully to farming. (République Tunisienne 2018).   

Large-size family farms:

Corporate farming: large farms are generally managed by the heirs of the former Tunisian bourgeoisie, who in the meantime have turned into large families of farmers. Joined more recently by industrialists who have invested in this sector, these large exploiters have maintained the original crops such as dry cereals and olive growing. In terms of marketing, the circuits are very regular and well anchored by long-term relationships with the buyers who are themselves labor-intensive. This way of working in synergy with the industry is likely to continue, as business continuity is ensured by the presence of managers. (République Tunisienne 2018).  

Consequences of Metropolisation on farmers and the agricultural area

The mutation of the farming system

Corporate agriculture, in particular the 29 Agricultural Development Societies (SMVDA) (11 000 hectares), the 60 technician lots (3731 hectares), the lots for young farmers in several 164 hectares (1376 hectares), and the agro complex of the Office of Public Lands (OTD) (1093 hectares) and private farms (120 000 hectares) which have experienced some intensification as per the effects of metropolisation on Tunis. Indeed, one of the consequences is the establishment of numerous industries specialized in the agro-food sector (30% of the Suburban industrial fabric). The gradual establishment of these industries contributed to the modification of the local agrarian structure towards a factory-led production marking the transition from a food crop intended for the local market to intensive vegetable crops. The farming systems of the various local farmers were thus strongly modified either towards a logic of progressive adaptation or towards a logic of resistance which generally leads to abandonment of the agricultural activity. (République Tunisienne 2018).   

Illegal housing developments: a refuge sector for vulnerable farmers

In the outskirts of Greater Tunis, farmers have been experiencing the growth of urbanization for decades. This growth inexorably generates proximity and a line of confrontation between logics of agricultural exploitation and speculative and residential logic. For example, in the case of the governorate of Manouba, the urban growth phenomena are very significant, and evolved at the expense of agricultural land, noting that this governorate alone includes 57% of the total agricultural lands in Greater Tunis. The revision of the agricultural land protection map of the governorate of Manouba has shown a clear path of new extensions of urbanized land, in which there has been recorded existence of 93.5 ha of spontaneous habitat, or 28.6% of the total occupied area. According to the AUGT1AUGT = Agence d’Urbanisme du Grand Tunis, Urban Planning Agency of Greater Tunis , 71.4% corresponds to agricultural lands being sprawled by this non-regulatory habitat, i.e., nearly 234 ha. Analyzing these data, we find that 155.7 ha (66.5%) of the habitat was built-in restricted zones: the irrigated public perimeters. It has been observed that agriculture rarely resists speculative pressures, and the farmer becomes an early speculator. (République Tunisienne 2018).    

However, variations could be observed depending on the type of exploitation in the farmer’s mutation or reconversion to an illegal land developer:

  • The first case concerns the farmer who diverts the vocation of the lands obtained via the policy of privatization of public lands dating to the pre-1995 law. These are agricultural lands belonging to the private domain of the State currently rented for a lease of 30 years renewable. (République Tunisienne 2018).     
  • The second case is akin to the “illegal clandestine development”. It concerns especially land belonging to the private domain of the State, which has become adjacent to a rural core because of the growth of urbanization. The plot on the edge of the core land is rarely exploited and is abandoned because of theft, vandalism, and degradation by the breeding activities practiced by the populations residing within these nuclei. Thus, in the face of frequent conflicts and given the landlord’s inability to legally move away from his property, he becomes a clandestine developer to amortize the loss caused by the non-exploitation of this plot. (République Tunisienne 2018).    
  • The third case reported relates to “tribal grouping”. These farms have been under occupation for a long time. The settled populations, therefore, develop a historical legitimacy of occupation and use “pastoralism”. Thus, the farm develops from the first patriarchal dwelling unit to a small agglomerate constituted by the homes of the descendants. Then in a final step, lots of selling is open to populations from the same geographical origin and belonging to the same tribe. We then find formed rural nuclei marked by a common tribal membership e.g. The Z’Lass and H’mamma in Ennfaiedh (delegation of Borj El Amri), The Chaouachis / Toukabris in the south of Mornaguia. (République Tunisienne 2018).    
  • The last case of clandestine promotion of registered agricultural land comes therefore to the bursting of the fault of the exploitation. Indeed, the descendants do not ensure the succession, the latter become autonomous thanks to the capital city’s remunerated job stability they then favor the sale of the land in its original form and a sharing of the gains. If it is a collective title, we note that the sale of one of the owners’ parts to an outside buyer forces the rest of the owners to do the same, because the farm becomes non-functional.  (République Tunisienne 2018).  

The 1983 Act was enacted to preserve agricultural land as a resource and to direct urbanization to less fertile and less productive soils.

Law 83/87 has enacted a set of mechanisms to protect agricultural lands with a general definition of the lands concerned by this law, to restrict their use only to the agricultural sector and its related activities. It also deals with the aspects of vocation change and finally the control modalities. (République Tunisienne 2018).  

Definition of agricultural lands

Article 1 of Law 83/87 defines agricultural land as follows: “all land with a biophysical potential or that may be the support of agricultural, forestry or pastoral production, including those which are classified as such by the duly approved development plans, in urban, tourist or industrial areas “. The main contribution of this definition was to assert the imperative of protecting agricultural land within the same areas covered by Urban Development Plans (PAU) and therefore in the areas supposedly concerned by urbanization. (République Tunisienne 2018).    

By law, agricultural uses can be grouped into the following categories: field crops, market gardening, arboriculture, olive trees, soil and water conservation, seed and seed production, forest production, pastures and grazing, breeding, etc. Concerning related activities, the law describes them as primary processing activities of agricultural production and the services related to these activities. The primary processing activities were categorized as follows: fresh milk production, fruit, and vegetable conservation, drying or refrigeration of agricultural production, and processing of forest production. As far as the related services are concerned, they are intended to promote products such as sowing, agricultural or veterinary laboratory services, the collection of milk, the collection and storage of cereals and seeds, and their marketing., help with land preparation, harvesting, seedling protection, transporting fresh milk, and refrigerated transport of meat. This list remains to be completed given the promulgation of the new investment code (Law No. 2016/71 of 30 September 2016). However, the law allows the construction of personal and family housing or housing for workers on farms after authorization of the President of the Commune for the farms located within the perimeters of his jurisdiction and that of the Governor for the holdings outside those perimeters. These authorizations are issued on the advice of the Regional Commissioner for Agricultural Development with territorial jurisdiction. The built surface must not exceed 1500 m² with the addition of 50 m² for each worker. (République Tunisienne 2018).

The subordination of the sectors to the imperatives of the protection of agricultural lands

When drawing up or modifying master planning plans, urban development plans, and retail development plans, the institution or extension of the pre-emption schemes of the Industrial Land Agencies, Tourist habitat Offices, or when creating industrial or tourist urban subdivisions, will be considering the particularities of each zone, and its needs for agricultural land, to develop an agricultural production while organizing its coexistence with non-agricultural activities. So is the case with the extension of communal perimeters or the creation of new communes. In this context, any new extension should be situated on the less fertile lands. (République Tunisienne 2018).

Law 83/87 has classified agricultural land into three levels of protection:

  • Prohibited zones that group public irrigated perimeters, forests that belong to the State Forest Estate, and lands subject to the regulation of the forest regime except for rangelands. (République Tunisienne 2018). 
  • Safeguarding areas that group together; fertile, irrigated, and planted lands, mainly oases, olive groves, arboreal and market garden areas, forests not subject to the forest regime, developed rangelands, and all areas that have been the subject of public investment to develop it. Safeguard zones are established for each governorate by a decree issued on the behalf of the Minister of Agriculture and after consultation with the Regional Technical Consultative Commission for Agricultural Land, which is responsible in particular for proposing new safeguard zones. (République Tunisienne 2018).  
  • Authorized areas that include agricultural lands, that do not belong to the first two categories and that are abandoned or whose productivity is limited. (République Tunisienne 2018).  

Derogatory approaches and agricultural land protection

The weak contribution of land use planning to the protection of agricultural land:

Planning tools relating to urban sprawl management have almost all been initiated at the central level. Land use planning in Tunisia stems from a process that is both simplistic and overly structured. Management is indeed very “marginalized” in the absence of legal mechanisms allowing a cross-sectoral approach at the institutional level. Each organization or institution prepares its development strategy, rarely considering the imperatives of the coherence of a global approach. Thus, the management of rural and agricultural areas is shared between two state institutions, namely the DGAT2 DGAT : Direction générale de l’aménagement du territoire, General Directorate of Spatial Planning and the CRDA3 CRDA : Commissariat régional au développement agricole, Regional Commissariat for Agricultural Development.. The first emphasizes socio-economic aspects and urban sprawl while the second defines its priorities according to the risks of a high unemployment rate, the under-integration of rural areas, and the political risk of social tension. . However, the development projects try somehow to fit in between the orientations issued by these two institutions, which certainly complement each other, but this complementarity does not yet exist at the institutional level.

In the absence of any authorities’ awareness of the inter-sectoral (Transversal) nature of spatial planning, cooperation between the two previously cited institutions remains rare and comes from personal initiatives at the central level and very rarely at a regional/local level. The exclusion of decentralized bodies (municipalities) responsible for the management of cities from these decision-making processes must be emphasized. The coordination of municipalities, external services, and the governorate was usually limited to meetings regarding building permits or subdivision commissions. Municipalities are sometimes invited to attend committees dealing with housing issues but are excluded from commissions related to major economic and infrastructure projects. The municipalities surveyed stated that they have no formal coordination with the regional departments responsible for economic planning. (République Tunisienne 2018).  

Implication of derogatory and spontaneous logic on spatial planning

In Tunisia, urban development plans (PAU) represent the main threat to suburban agricultural land. They are a means for cities to regulate habitat typologies, the distribution of functions, and the delimitation of the public space by fixing in particular the rules and easements of land use (article 12 of the CATU4 CATU : Code de l’Aménagement du Territoire et de l’Urbanisme, Code of territorial planning and urbanism. ). They define at the same time the fields of intervention of the municipality on its territory and sometimes beyond. As such, Paus is much more akin to documents defining land-use rules than to urban planning documents because of their excessive focus on zoning/planning regulations and neglecting the development vision of the city. These plans also suffer, within small towns, from the lack of structures and monitoring mechanisms. Thus, delays in elaboration and approval are too long in a way that the pages are already exceeded during their implementation in the communal space. In communes like that of Oued Ellil, we witness a scattering of vocations within the commune, each vocation being tailor-made to a non-regulatory establishment regarding the map designed for the protection of agricultural land and the PAU. Despite the political aspects of the matter and the regulation compliances, the PAU remains a very rigid document whose provisions are binding. It may therefore happen that the regional power, through derogation mechanisms, facilitates in certain cases the circumvention of the urban planning by-law to seize local development opportunities. However, in municipalities that do not have a strong urbanization dynamic, the agricultural area tends to consolidate within the municipality and be preserved as an example in Borj El Amri. The current reform of local authorities resulting from the new constitution will give the municipal authority prerogatives over a much larger territory than the urbanized area since it is expected that the entire Tunisian territory will be communalized. In this perspective, the overlapping of the prerogatives of the bodies in charge of territorial governance will most certainly lead to a revision of the texts and practices regarding the protection of agricultural land. (République Tunisienne 2018).   

Case Study of Soukra: Paving the way towards a regeneration of agriculture in Urban Tunis

La Soukra is a city in the North suburban area, located 6 kilometers away from the capital Tunis. It is considered one of the most populated communes of Greater Tunis.


Soukra was described as the green belt of the city of Tunis until the end of the sixties; agriculture covered 75% of the total area of ​​the plain of Soukra. Several cultures were practiced: soft wheat, barley, fodder, market gardening, and arboriculture. This activity was facilitated by the use of treated wastewater from a treatment plant (Cherguia) in addition to the waters of the aquifer. But the regulations concerning crop diversity have become hardened, and many farmers have stopped farming. If this reconversion has allowed some to move towards livestock, for others the abandonment of small farms, and cultivated land has been dramatic for cultivation, seeing their surface pass from 440ha in 1982 to 260ha today. (Bouraoui & Houman 2010).

530 ha of agricultural lands are waste grounds, in particular, due to the vulnerability to flooding related to the rise of the water table level, and the presence of an artificial barrier preventing the flow of surface water. Waterlogging and salinization of both the land and the groundwater are the main constraints that led to the abandonment of agricultural activity in recent years. Since the 1990s the arable area has decreased by 30%, and climate change, water stress and floods have weakened the area making it almost unusable. It is in this context of abandonment of agriculture that Moez Bouraoui and his team have decided to intervene under a research-action project in 2011. (Soussan 2016).

The Project

The UNESCO-ALESCO5 UNESCO-ALESCO : The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Club for Knowledge and Sustainable Development of Tunis CUASDD6 CUASDD : Club UNESCO-ALESCO pour le savoir et le développement durable. received funding from the Canadian CRDI7 CRDI : Centre de recherches pour le développement International in 2011. To carry out this project, a diagnosis has been developed, allowing a review of the situation of the city ​​of Soukra in various aspects (socio-economic-environmental). Then, a pilot project was conducted on an experimental area before being transposed to the territory. This is to contribute to the federation of actors in a process of local participative governance for the implementation of a viable and sustainable territorial project. The diagnosis showed that agricultural land occupies 57% of the territory, and a third is fallow. In addition, a socio-economic profile of farmers was drawn up, concluding with the disadvantaged situation of small farmers. Thus, the project has enabled the establishment of greenhouses in an intensive system, through collaboration with experts from different fields to help increase productivity and diversify crops. As a result, farmers have moved from subsistence farming to a diverse and lucrative crop system merchandised in neighboring markets. In addition, a structure (a mutual agricultural service society) has been created enabling farmers to defend their interests with policymakers and obtain services for the development of their business. (Soussan 2016).


In light of the findings of the previous section, we can denote the will of the local stakeholders and decision-makers in mitigating the damages caused by urban sprawl in the city’s agricultural sector.

However, further actions are to be undertaken, aligning with that we can conclude with a few plausible recommendations as they were drafted by the Promotion Program for Urban and Suburban Agriculture, and which include: 

  • Setting up a list of precarious farm families who can claim assistance and encouragement.
  • Providing farmers of small farms with stands in municipal markets.
  • Rehabilitating and strengthening Territorial Extension Cells to promote family farming.
  • Creating marketing campaigns with retailers located in urban areas to raise awareness of the importance of Suburban agriculture.
  • Promoting market gardening to increase farmers’ incomes to stabilize the prices of agricultural production in the capital markets. (République Tunisienne 2018a).


Bouraoui, M., Houman, B. (2010). Réflexions et actions sur l’avenir de l’agriculture urbaine : entre enjeux environnementaux et aménités sociale l’exemple de la ville de Soukra dans le grand Tunis. ISDA .1-14. Retrieved from

République Tunisienne, Ministère de l’équipement de l’habitat et de l’aménagement du territoire, Agence d’Urbanisme du Grand Tunis. (2018). Livre blanc de l’aménagement territorial et urbain du Grand Tunis, Phase 1 Bilan-diagnostic et évaluation de la situation actuelle. 69-86. Retrieved from .

République Tunisienne, Ministère de l’équipement de l’habitat et de l’aménagement du territoire, Agence d’Urbanisme du Grand Tunis. (2018 a). Etude du livre blanc de l’aménagement territorial et urbain du Grand Tunis Phase 2 Propositions de solutions d’amélioration.71-73. Retrieved from

Soussan, C. (2015). Reconnaissance de l’agriculture urbaine et périurbaine dans les métropoles méditerranéennes. Études de cas : Marseille, Barcelone, Tunis. Sciences de l’Homme et Société.57-62. Retrieved from

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