Societal issues

NAÏLA studies the management of water resources in semi-arid rural areas. From a biophysical point of view, these environments are characterized by the spatio-temporal mismatch between water availability and water needs, which is combined with the degradation of soil resources induced by anthropogenic and climatic forcing. From a socio-economic point of view, these rural areas, comparable to agricultural territories, are characterized by the intensification of activities, by competition between actors in connection with the satisfaction of antagonistic needs, by situations of inequity leading to the weakening of farms of small and medium sizes, and by the marginalization of the upstream zones in extensive rain fed agriculture compared to the downstream zones in intensive irrigated agriculture.

According to the public policies, these agricultural territories are characterized by the ineffectiveness of collective management strategies that are disconnected from individual logics. All of these characteristics should be exacerbated by climate change, all of which is combined with the problems of food dependence and rural exodus. In this context, managers and operators are encouraged to revisit current management methods to sustain the services provided while preserving support resources. These issues are significant in the countries of the South (e.g., Near and Middle East, East Africa, South America) and the Mediterranean basin.

The international community is mobilizing to meet these challenges, through several programs led by the UN via the UNDP (integration of the SDGs into policies and development projects), the UN via the FAO (food and income, sustainable development, climate), the OECD (observations and measurement of progress, coherence of public actions), the MED ECC (policies for adapting to climate change) or the CSFD (policies for combating desertification). The scientific community is called upon to produce tools and knowledge to meet these challenges.

First, we need to assess the vulnerabilities, durability and resilience of the environments considered, in order to provide recommendations for the formulation of public policies. This involves diagnosing current and future trends, but also rethinking management methods for water resources and agricultural production.

Secondly, we need to rethink the formalization of management methods in co-construction with stakeholders, in connection with questions of feasibility and acceptability.

Third, we need to rethink the contribution of research to meeting the needs of actors, based on a critical analysis of previous work.

NAÏLA positions itself on these societal issues, as well as on the production of tools and knowledge to respond to them. Based on scientific issues, the collective conducts disciplinary and multidisciplinary research, and training and promotion activities that we present below.

Scientific issues

Proposing innovative management methods in agricultural territories is based on an integrated vision of these territories, which explains their components and their interactions. By components, we mean the different hydrological zones (e.g., upstream – downstream), the different types of agriculture (e.g., irrigated – rain fed) and the different types of actors (e.g., farmers – managers). By interactions, we mean links of a hydrological (e.g., water flow), agronomic (e.g., neighborhoods linked to agricultural plots), and socio-economic (e.g., access to land and water) nature.

In this context, and in connection with the evolution of NAILA’s scientific project, we will focus our efforts on the following five scientific issues.

• Understand the different forms that water/society relations take within the territories and the way in which they evolve, the conflicts and tensions that this arouses as well as the situations leading to the renewal of practices and relations between actors. We will consider at this level the possibility of apprehending the points of rupture and of no return.
• Study the relationships between the agro hydrological components, including the interactions between the upstream zones, which produce and consume water via mainly rain-fed agriculture, and the downstream zones, which consume water via mainly irrigated agriculture.
• Understanding water and soil resources, via the quantitative and qualitative dimensions, with a focus on agricultural contamination for the qualitative dimension.
• Explore agronomic innovations related to bio-diversification, via the functionalities offered by low-input mixed and intercropping, but also their conditions for adoption by stakeholders.
• Articulate the different possible scales of action, from the plot to the territory via the intermediate scale of the landscape (in the sense of spatial layouts), including the combination of actions relating to these scales (e.g., combining crop associations with the scale of the agricultural plot with the network of anti-erosion benches at the scale of the landscape).

Research axes

Studies the constituent elements of the territory in connection with water management. He studies them in terms of diversities (e.g., farm typologies), spatial distribution (e.g., hydrographic networks), structure (e.g., reservoir geometries, climatic forcing) and functionalities (e.g., useful soil reserve). This axis synergizes observation methods (e.g., imagery, surveys, geo statistics) to overcome the obstacles relating to the specificities of Mediterranean environments: diversity of agronomic and biophysical situations, heterogeneity and spatial discontinuities of soil / subsoil, covered plants and climate.

Studies the functioning of the territory which integrates the constituent elements, their functionalities and their interactions. The aim is to understand the choices made by farmers, and to characterize their consequences on biophysical processes (e.g., hydro sedimentary flows, dynamics of cultivated vegetation). This axis synergizes nested observations and integrated modeling platforms to overcome the obstacles relating to the specificities of Mediterranean environments: tree topologies, three-dimensional flows and couplings between processes, spatio-temporal heterogeneity that characterize the agricultural environment and atmospheric forcing, and endogenous factors. And exogenous, which drive the choices of the actors.

Axis 3 aims to describe and understand the past, current and future trajectories of agricultural territories. The trajectories are considered through territorial dimensions in connection with agricultural activities, social dynamics, management arrangements, and the physical environment. The issues addressed relate to the retrospective characterization, the identification of the determinants of evolution and the formalization of future trajectories in the form of scenarios co-constructed with the stakeholders.

The training axis aims to enrich current 2nd and 3rd cycle teaching on the theme of water resource management with research results. This axis includes (1) the conduct of thematic or methodological seminars and the conduct of field schools, (2) the production of innovative digital teaching on the management of water resources in the Mediterranean, and (3) the conduct of doctoral programs to increase exchanges between doctoral students.

The valorisation axis aims to contribute to greater interaction between the academic sphere and the stakeholders, with a view to (1) formulating research questions in line with existing needs and (2) transferring and promoting the results and achievements of the LMI. . The aim is to support stakeholders in the co-construction of innovations in order to improve the multi-performance management of agrosystems according to economic, social and environmental criteria.

Structuring of activities for NAÏLA 2, including research axis #1 on organizations, research axis #2 on functioning, research axis #3 on developments, training axis, valorization axis, and cross-cutting actions.

Changes are indicated through the strengthening of existing disciplines or the inclusion of new disciplines.

In terms of training

NAÏLA wishes to contribute to the enrichment of the actions carried out by Tunisian and French higher education establishments on the theme of water resource management. A first action focuses on the training of students with thematic, methodological and technical seminars, to enrich teaching with research results. A second action aims to produce innovative digital lessons on the management of water resources in the Mediterranean, including the creation of a West Mediterranean MOOC. The third action aims to get involved in mobility programs between the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean.

In terms of valuation

NAÏLA wants to contribute to greater interaction between research and the socio-professional world by considering several target audiences and several means of action. Seminars with the agricultural professional world and political decision-makers make it possible to specify the reasons for the success/failure of past policies, expectations for the future, and needs in terms of expertise and transfer. 

Actions aimed at ministerial technical departments relate to technological aspects (e.g. measurement systems) and to questions of the acceptability of public policies, via continuous training actions for managers of central services and regional delegations. The links with the industrial world are based on the transfer of methodological tools, involving the co-supervision of master’s level students.