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SALMA KHALIFA: AGRICULTURE AND FOOD IN TUNISIA

Tunisian olive oil has won numerous awards according to Olive Oil Times. In 2018 alone, Tunisian olive oil producers won more than 70 awards, including 20 gold at international competitions in Los Angeles, Athens, Italy, London, New York and Japan.

What makes Tunisian olive oil special?

Tunisia has been producing olives since the 8th century BC, almost a third of its land planted with olives, and is therefore called “green oils”. Tunisia is the third largest exporter of olive oil in the world after Spain and Italy. Although Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, Tunisia produces 3 times as much organic olive oil as Spain.

Due to recent global interest in organic food, interest in the Tunisian olive oil has increased. In fact, olive oil in Tunisia is produced organically thanks to the hot climate and scarcity of pests, and the non-use of pesticides. Thus, the traditional method of manufacturing makes it the purest oil globally.

The olive oil trade accounts for about 50% of total agricultural exports and 5.5% of total exports, making it the fifth largest source of foreign currency income of the country.

In addition to olive oil, Tunisia exports many other agricultural products, including dates and citrus fruits, and significant quantities of marine products as well.

What is the status of other foodstuffs, especially basic, reflecting the food security situation of Tunisians?

Tunisia imports more than 50% of its food needs, according to a study on food security carried out by the Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies in cooperation with the World Food Program. Such data indicate serious threats to food security in Tunisia.

In a country whose food depends mainly on the dough, the volume of cereals imported per year was estimated at 40% of its requirements for solid wheat, 85% for soft wheat and 50% for barley, according to the Bureau of Cereals.

Actually, food imports increased by 23.9% between 2013 and 2017. The development of imports mainly included basic agricultural products such as solid wheat by 15%, soft wheat by 27% and milk derivatives by 70%, coinciding with a decline in the production of milk products nationwide by 15% in 2017 compared to 2014.

Reliance on supply to provide food reveals serious problems in the agricultural sector in the country…

Tunisia is caracterised by climate diversity and a large agricultural land, estimated at 65% of the country, including pastures and forests. That is, Tunisia has great potential, but many problems are putting the agriculture sector in trouble.

One of the most important problems in the agricultural sector is dependence on seed supply from abroad, while the peasant seeds is only 5 percent now. This puts Tunisia under the domination of global seed companies such as Monsanto, Who markets hybrid and destructive seeds, unlike original seeds that do not need pesticides and adapt to climate change.

Furthermore, agricultural illiteracy is around 46%, which is a major obstacle for farmers to face modern technologies in the sector. The sector also suffers from the dilemma of the pyramid and the reluctance of young people to engage in agricultural activities, where farmers over 60 represent 43%.

Therefore, a thorough assessment of the situation of agriculture based on the radical renewal and treatment of structural problems that hinder the development of the agricultural sector and even threaten the security of Tunisians in terms of food, which is no less than security and political issues!

SALMA KHALIFA

TUNISIAN JOURNALIST

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About İsmail Uğural

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