Lansarin and Gaffaya Ancient Durum Wheat Varieties Tunisia
The area of the Lansarin and Gaffaya hills, situated 30 kilometers from Tunis at 500 to 800 meters above sea level, is home to two ancient varieties of durum wheat, Mahmoudi and Schili. The rolling landscape is covered in fields of wheat, legume crops and olive groves and farms also produce honey and raise cattle and goats for meat, milk and manure.
The two wheat varieties have long straw- and glassy amber-colored grains that are used to make semolina for couscous, wheat for bread and burghul (steamed crushed grains). Additionally, for centuries, the women have been passing down recipes for the production of local specialties such as hlalam (a pasta similar to Ligurian trofie) nouasr (prepared for soup) and richta (a kind of flat, eggless tagliatelle).
The Schili variety, one of the oldest wheat varieties, is cultivated today by very few farmers in small plots in the hills that are not easily reached by machinery. Compared to modern varieties, Schili has a very tall stalk. Traditionally the stalks were woven into mats used to cover the walls of pits dug into the ground for storing the grain.
The Mahmoudi variety, on the other hand, was selected at the start of the 20th century for its nutritional value and resistance to drought and black wheat rust. It is mostly grown in the hills, sometimes on flat plateaus, where machinery like threshers can be used, and sometimes on steep slopes inaccessible to machines. In these cases, the cultivation is done entirely by hand, from sowing to harvesting.
Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not used, and to avoid the soil becoming impoverished, the wheat is rotated with legumes.
The cultivation of these ancient varieties using traditional techniques allows a group of older farmers to maintain the soil’s fertility and to preserve the land from erosion. Despite this, both varieties are at risk of disappearing, threatened by the introduction of more productive hybrids.
The Presidium was founded on the recommendation of Marzouk Mejri, a Tunisian who now lives in Naples and has two passions: the music and agriculture of the Lansarin and Gaffaya hills, his homeland.
The objectives of the Presidium are to protect two ancient varieties of wheat, and the creation of a cooperative of Tunisian farmers and women who process the semolina into durum wheat couscous through a process of slow drying, and into various types of traditional pasta.
This project will hopefully revive a micro-economy, giving proper recognition to the community’s farming work and protecting biodiversity and the local environment and culture.
Lansarin and Gaffaya hills, Tebourba province, Mannouba region, northern Tunisia
Regional Agriculture Office, Tunisia
tel. +216 97546374