At age nine Sarah Toumi decided her profession for life: “I’ll be a superhero”. The decision came after the young girl, raised in France, went on vacations in her father’s homeland, Bir Salah in Tunisia. Granddaughter of farmers, Sarah could live with rural producers and, during that holiday, she could also organize homework clubs with the local children. From this experience she could also manage a donation of 300 thousand books from France to the rural communities in Tunisia.
From there Sarah grew up looking at North Africa. Not only at its cultural beauty, but also at its droughts and desertification that destroyed the rural areas where her father and grandparents came from. “I saw farmers losing their lands and the desert growing non-stop. In 10 years Tunisian farmers went from rich to poor and have been poorer every year”.
In recent years, the average rainfall in Tunisia dropped dramatically, and the droughts increased. This made the country lost 75% of its agricultural areas, now considered desert. But Sarah doesn’t look to the extreme climate effects that happen in Tunisia as a disaster. She sees them as opportunities. “Climate change requires changes in agricultural practice. Fewer areas can still bring good financial returns if the farmers know how to adapt. For example, planting more sustainable crops, using technology to treat water, and focusing on natural products and fertilizers instead of pesticides.”
Knowing all this, it was in 2012 that life has given the push Sarah needed to start getting practical. “My father died and I realized that I had to choose between my fears and my expectations. I decided to become the superhero I’ve always wanted to be and dedicate my life to the life of others”. So, Sarah packed her bags and moved definitely to Tunisia where she created the NGO “Acacias for All”. Sarah helps women farmers from Arab Maghreb sub-region to organize themselves into cooperatives and to adopt sustainable farming techniques.
To convince the farmers of that region to change the way they planted, Sarah began working with a rural community of women. “Women represent a strong entry point in the agricultural sector, as they are more receptive to changes”. At “Acacias for All” Sarah provides acacia plants to farmers. “The Acacia is a three characterized by very long roots that extend up to 100 meters underground, providing the soil with nitrogen and bringing fresh water to the surface”, she explains. With the Acacia trees Sarah can help the women farmers to make irrigation with the water from the threes at the same time that she helps them to introduce natural and sustainable farming techniques. Until today 483 women in Tunisia have been impacted by Sarah’s project. Also the NGO provides training on permaculture and entrepreneurship in partnership with university students in the region.
For the future Sarah wants to expand the projects of “Acacias for All” to Morocco and Algeria, as those are countries that experience similar challenges of Tunisia. “My goal is to involve 10 million farmers in 100,000 cooperatives”. In addition, Sarah also predicts to enable online her work model and techniques to make information and knowledge open to everyone.
“If I had not move to Tunisia and had not fulfilled my dream, who would do it?”, asks Sarah, who wants to show young people from rural areas that is OK to stay where they are, and that they can create opportunities for themselves. “No one is better to understand the impacts of desertification and climate change than the people who are living without access to water”.
Sarah’s father taught her to always follow her dreams and to never give them up. And that is what she seeks. Helping rural communities, and exercising the profession she chose since the first time she set foot in Tunisia: being a superhero.