Gender, Poverty and Agro-Biodiversity Conservationin Rural Egypt and Tunisia

Gender, Poverty and Agro-Biodiversity Conservationin Rural Egypt and Tunisia



Cairo Papers in Social Science


This paper investigates the links between poverty, gender, and biodiversity in rural Egypt and Tunisia. Its aim is to highlight the significant role of women in biodiversity conservation, as well as the complexities that characterize the relationship between poverty and biodiversity protection. Despite natural and social diversity, Egypt and Tunisia are com­parable in terms of their present paths of economic transformation. Agriculture and rural society are comparable in both countries in terms of scarcity ofland and water, and threats to agricultural resources (urbanization, industrialization, tourism, agro-investment, etc.). In both countries, rural dwellers are increasingly resorting to non-agricultural activity, including internal and external labor migration. In both coun­tries, the liberalization of agricultural land and water markets has been a core component of economic reform and structural adjustment poli­cies. Those reforms have aggravated the problem of rural poverty, and have had adverse effects on the general welfare and status of food secu­rity of a significant number of rural households. In both countries, the over-exploitation of agricultural resources and the introduction of new modes of farming (including the increasing reliance on hybrid seeds) are posing significant threats to agricultural biodiversity and to the ecological balance in general. This problem has important implications for the welfare of rural dwellers, especially because of the implications for food security. This paper seeks to test a hypothesis supported by research evidence from other world regions: that women's increased access to secure land tenure and other agricultural resources is positively correlated with bio­diversity conservation. The paper will also test the same correlation with respect to poor farmers. The paper is primarily based on fieldwork carried out in two compa­rable regions of rural Egypt and Tunisia, namely the region ofFayoum and the Oasis of Gabes respectively. In both areas there are serious challenges to agro-biodiversity and the ecological balance in general. These include the encroachment of urbanization and industrialization, emerging modes ofland exploitation that over-exploit natural resources, and the widespread use of hybrid seed varieties to the detriment oflocal varieties. In the area under study in rural Egypt, the main challenge to agro-biodiversity is the spread of hybrid seeds, while in the Tunisian case it is the encroaching urbanization and industrialization, and an expansion of investment agriculture. The paper is divided into three main sections. The first outlines the main conceptual issues, including comparative material from agrarian societies outside of the MENA region. The second details the Egypt case, and the third the Tunisian case.

Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter

Book Title

Agrarian Transformation in the Arab World: Persistent and Emerging Challenges


Habib Ayeb, Reem Saad




American University in Cairo Press


Cairo, Egypt

First Page


Last Page



gender, poverty, urban, community, rural, agro, biodiversity, Egypt, MENA, Tunisia

Gender, Poverty and Agro-Biodiversity Conservationin Rural Egypt and Tunisia