Tapping income from the Nefza Forest

April 21, 2016
Eman El-Rashidy and Bruce Currie-Alder

​Latifa hails from an impoverished family in the Nefza region in northwest Tunisia. Like many women in the area, she struggles to make ends meet. Yet outside her home is a resource that can help lift her family out of poverty.

Pressing the fruits of the mastic shrub (Pistacia Lentiscus) produces an oil used in cooking, as well as in medicine to treat wounds, skin diseases, and gastric disorders. With support from IDRC, researchers improved extraction techniques, encouraging Latifa and her neighbours to increase their income through the extraction and sale of mastic oil to local pharmacies and other buyers. 

This was just one of the results from efforts to assist local communities in benefiting more from forests across the Atlas Mountains. Researchers from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco worked together to identify practical opportunities to use non-timber resources to increase income while protecting the forest. 

Young researchers, such as Faten Mezni, worked with local women to study 20 plant species, assessing their chemical and genetic properties, to find ways of improving the quality of oils and other by-products. This work resulted in new techniques to get more value from stone pine nuts, mastic oil, myrtle fruits, and the diss plant. 

More than 80 households increased their income by 20% as they tested these innovative techniques. The production of mastic oil continues to grow, as does demand, which drove up prices three-fold from 20 to 60 Tunisian dinars a litre. It also changed mindsets, as women appreciatedgaining a livelihood from what grows outside their door. "Now I earn money and I believe in it," says Mongia, another Nefza resident.

Read more about Tunisia’s mastic oil boom in Mille et une Tunisie

Faten Mezni’s profile on ResearchGate