Perched on the heights of Mont el Gorrâa in Tunisia, 600 meters above sea level, the gardens of the Djebba el Olia oasis form a unique agroforestry system. The communities who live here have shaped this mountainous landscape to their advantage by integrating agriculture onto terraces created by natural geological formations.
These historic gardens ushered in an agricultural boom. The water-sharing system inherited from the Romain period clearly shows the importance attached to fruit trees at that time. In ancient orchards, fig trees were always associated with other fruit crops such as olives, apples, quince and grapes.
The small village of Djebba is unique for its large number of fig varieties. All the fig trees are cultivated by lineage according to the rules of a customary law specific to the village. The fruits are known for their sweet, honeyed flavor and soft, juicy flesh and also offer a good source of vitamins and minerals.
The Presidium covers 17 fig varieties: Bouhouli, Bouharrag, Boukhobza, Dgagli Abiadh, Dgagli Akdhar, Fawari, Garai, Khartoumi, Khenziri, Nemri, Soltani Abiadh, Soltani Ahmer, Wahchi, Wahrani, Zergui, Zidi and Zidi Artab. Most of the production (80%) is of the Bouhouli variety, with the other varieties making up the remaining 20%.
The fig trees are easily propagated by cuttings that are taken during the autumn from selected healthy trees. Soil preparation and maintenance of the fig tree plot is vital to ensuring the success of the crop. When planting, in addition to fig trees, it is important to include a few caprifig trees: These can produce the male flowers that are necessary for fig pollination and the resulting fruit production.
In winter, organic manure from livestock is applied to the ground, while legumes planted between the rows protect the soil from erosion while enriching it with nitrogen. The fig trees need to be irrigated periodically between May and mid-September to prevent fruit bursting.
The duration of the fig harvest in Djebba varies from year to year, depending on the weather conditions. It usually begins in the second half of June and lasts until mid-July for the Bither harvest (first fruiting period) and resumes in early August and continues until mid-September for the Karmous production (second fruiting period). The harvesting is done by hand, holding the fruit by its stalk with great care. The fruits are picked according to their stage of ripeness and the market for which they are destined.
The Djebba figs are a versatile fruit that can be used in a variety of dishes. They can be eaten fresh, dried or turned into jam. Only the autumn figs (Karmous) are used for drying. They are picked when fully ripe, or even overripe and wrinkled, then placed on a net in full sunlight. The figs must not be turned over, otherwise they will harden, and dry for up to eight days. Dried figs come in two forms. Chriha means the figs are cut like stars, while Gabab means the figs retain their original shape. The dried figs can also be macerated in olive oil to improve their flavor, quality and shelf life.
At the Elkarmous Festival, which takes place every year in August, the entire Djebba community, and Tunisians from around the country, celebrate the fig tree and its different varieties in many traditional ways.
Djebba el Olia oasis, Bājah region, northwestern Tunisia