Henchir Jemna is an oasis in the south of Kebili, now a symbol of resistance to Tunisian state policies. The date farm was first exploited by French settler colonialists, then by the state-owned STIL (Tunisian Society for Dairy Industries). At the start of the 2011 Tunisian revolution, the oasis was a state-owned public property leased to private investors since 2002 .
Local residents claim that this process lacked transparency and the businessmen who benefited from the land had close ties with the former regime, (one of the operators was the brother of a captain from the Ministry of the Interior), which enabled the renting of the land at incredibly low prices (80 dinars ($34) per hectare per year) [1, 2]. On January 12, 2011, the occupation of the land by Jemna’s inhabitants began and the Association for the Protection of Jemna's Oases took over the date farm following a sit-in led by the residents . They decided to reclaim ‘the land of the ancestors’ and to reject the tutelage of the state and to manage the land collectively. Within a year, the Association managing the oasis under cooperative ownership by the workers doubled the date harvest, employing 140 agricultural workers year-round, in a region faced with some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country (26 percent) .
Many local residents feel that in five years, the Association was able to do what the state couldn't do in 60 years, investing the revenues collected from dates into maintaining the palm trees, paying workers’ salaries, and undertaking development projects in the region with the revenues (eg. new classrooms, a fitness room in local high school, a covered souk, a centre for children with special needs and an ambulance which operates throughout the region). The case is considered a successful experiment of cooperative economy in Tunisia. During harvest season, dates are sold to vendors and intermediaries through a call for tenders.
In early September 2016, the Ministry of State Properties and Land Affairs, which leased the land to private operators before 2011, issued a statement threatening to cancel the call for tenders set for September 18th. Then on September 15, a tribunal ruled in favour of the state's ownership claim.
After negotiations were initiated, several proposals have been made, including a proposal from Mabrouk Korchid (Secretary of State at the Ministry of State Property and Land Affairs), and Samir Bettaieb (Minister of Agriculture), who suggested a compromise where some of the money would go to association towards wages and infrastructures, and the rest would go to the state .
Eventually the Association opted to auction this year's date crops for the sum of 1.7 million dinars ($760,000) without state approval.
Eventually the state seized the 2016 harvest.
The occupation of State-owned farms by farmers is not limited to Jemna, and has been repeated in dozens of other agricultural areas across the country since the Revolution .
That land was grabbed from the farmers by foreign occupants during colonization. Their recovery was one of the main demands of the national liberation movement. Yet, the state has failed to deliver and give the land back to the people. In that way, the fight for the exploitation of the date farm in Jemna, is a fight against coloniality.