Description of The Main Axes of The Strategy Adopted by The Tunisian Authorities Since The 1990s To Encourage Water Savings in Irrigated Perimeters and Their Concrete Results

Level: National
Region: MENA Region
Tags: Agriculture | Economic instrument | Institutional measure
Target audience: Agricultural authorities | Environmental authorities | Farmers | Local government/municipalities | National government | NGOs and CSOs | Regional government | Water authorities

Baseline situation

Agriculture currently consumes around 80 percent of the total water volumes allocated to different sectors in Tunisia. From 1950 to 2014, the total area of irrigated perimeters in the country rose from 50,000 hectares to 425,000 hectares, of which 55 percent have been developed through public investments and are managed mainly by agricultural development groupings (GDAs). (See table)

*Source: General directorate of water resources (MAWRF)

Of the irrigated perimeters in the north of Tunisia, 51 percent are close to major hill dams; 39 percent in central Tunisia use deep wells and surface wells; and 10 percent in the south use deep wells (down to 3,000 metres): 36 percent of perimeters in Tunisia are irrigated by surface water (dams and rivers), 32 percent by deep wells (down to 50 metres); 30 percent by surface wells; and 2 percent through reclaimed waters.The geographical distribution of irrigated perimeters is shown here, and the distribution according to water resource classification is shown here.

*Source: General directorate of water resources (MAWRF)

In May 1995, the Tunisian authorities introduced a water saving policy that contained a series of measures grouped into three categories: economic, institutional and technical.

Financial and tax incentives

Higher incentives for irrigation water savings projects by increasing financial support from 25 percent of equipment costs to 40, 50 or 60 percent, according to farm category (i.e. small, medium or large).

From 1998, the granting of a premium of 60 percent, instead of 50 percent, on water saving equipment to GDAs.

The granting of a premium of 30 percent, up from 20 percent, on the total cost of water saving equipment renewal.

Reduction of tariffs relating to water saving equipment to 10 percent, and the abolition of VAT and consumption tax on imported and locally made equipment.

The above listed incentives are granted to farmers, debts notwithstanding (Decision of the Minister of Agriculture of September 9, 1997).

Institutional measures

Institutional measures were also applied to implement the incentives. Monitoring units for the water saving projects were created within the agricultural development regional offices in charge of: determining the necessary documentation required to apply for incentives; providing agricultural and hydraulic data for the carrying out of preliminary studies of the projects; supervising project studies; monitoring the costs and the installation farm equipment; and advising farmers on entry into service and maintenance of the water saving systems.

Water system renewal and maintenance

At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture led several major projects aimed at rehabilitating the public-irrigated perimeter systems. The most recent projects have covered 52,000 hectares in the southern oases, the Lower Medjerda river basin and other perimeters in the centre and the north of the country.

Awerness campaigns and capacity building

Even before the official launch of the national water saving programme, a series of awareness raising campaigns, as well as some capacity building actions, were initiated during the period 1992–1995. These actions included: the organisation of some training cycles for the GDA office technicians and the head of monitoring units involved in the technical field of water saving and new irrigation technologies; the organisation of several “information days” (broadcasting of awareness-raising clips on water saving on TV, and dissemination of different materials on technical, financial and procedural issues); introduction of a master’s degree programme on water saving within the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences for the benefit of 20 students from 1993 to 1995; and the establishment of a National Day for Water Savings.

Results of the national program on water saving for irrigation

1. Water saving equipment

Until the end of December 2014, 380,000 hectares were equipped with water saving systems, compared to the 127,000 hectares in 1995 (see Figure 1 below). The different measures undertaken led to the equipment of 89 percent of intensively irrigated perimeters in 2014, using the following systems:

  • 172,000 hectares using localised irrigation, representing 46 percent of the perimeters;
  • 116,000 hectares using spray irrigation, representing 30 percent of the perimeters; and
  • 91,000 hectares using improved surface irrigation systems, representing 24 percent of the perimeters.

The evolution of perimeters equipped with water-saving systems (shown in yellow) out of the total irrigated area (shown in blue) can be seen (here ).

By the end of 2014, the total cost of state investment in the implementation of the water saving programme was estimated at TND 1,100 million, of which TND 553 million was allocated in the form of financial incentives to farmers: 56 percent of those incentives benefited medium and large farms, while 44 percent went to small farms. Nearly half of the investments (47 percent) were engaged during the period from 1999 to 2004.

2. Water savings

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the programme resulted in water savings of 15–20 percent, according to some perimeters’ monitoring reports. The savings are due to enhanced irrigation efficiency, reaching 76 percent in 2014, compared to 1990s rates that never exceeded 60 percent.

At the same time, 20–35 percent of water resources have been saved in the areas affected by interventions of the Ministry of Agriculture to renew and maintain water systems of irrigated perimeters, thus reducing water leakage.

The authorities have recorded other positive results, such as drain-water reduction, expansion of irrigated lands (especially for small plots) and increased agricultural productivity of the perimeters using localised irrigation.

Results obtained

  • Increased irrigation efficiency by 16 percent from 1995 to 2014
  • 20–35 percent of water resources saved in the concerned perimeters

Success factors

  • Comprehensiveness of the programme
  • Awareness campaigns
  • Allocation of a specific budget
  • Existence of monitoring units at the regional level

Indicators used

  • Water saving equipment coverage (in terms of hectares)
  • Volume of investment allocated to the water saving programme

The repeatability of this programme in similar contexts of water scarcity is feasible, subject to the implementation of the different components and the budget allocated.

Total cost

  • The total cost of the investments is estimated (in Tunisian dinars) at TND 1,100 million, of which TND 553 million were allocated in the form of financial incentives to the farmers.Case description / analysis


General Directorate for Water Resources (MAWRF)


  • General Directorate for Water Resources reports
  • Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency (APIA) website