Tunisia

Democratization is an opportunity for this North African Mediterranean state to better exploit its agricultural potential.

 

Captial

Tunis

Official language

Arabic

Area

163,610 km2

Population

About 11 million

Population growth

1 %

Rural population 

33% of the overall population (3.67 million)

Gross domestic product

USD 43 billion

Per capita annual income

USD 3,980

Share of agriculutre in GDP

10.4 %

Severity of hunger according to Global Hunger Index

Low (Value: 5.5 / Trend: -0.7)

Share of the population suffering from malnutrition

0.4 %

Human Development Index

0.721 / Rank: 96 of 188

Share of population living on less than USD 1.25 per day

0.7 %

New beginning on the Mediterranean

With more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline, Tunisia is not only an attractive tourist destination but also offers good conditions for the cultivation of fruit, vegetables and grain. The majority of Tunisia's population of 11 million live in the coastal cities, where the economy is strong, and only around one third live in the countryside. The arid south is the most sparsely-populated region of the country. Less than one percent of Tunisians are undernourished or suffer from absolute poverty, but hundreds of thousands of young people have no work and are affected by rising food prices.

This was one of the factors that triggered the revolution of 2011, which resulted in new elections. The new government is democratically inclined, but the economic situation has yet to improve. A great deal of revenue is lost because many tourists are avoiding the country out of fear of terrorist attacks. The share of agriculture in the gross domestic product is rather low, just 10 percent. While the government subsidizes staples such as milk, bread and sugar, this is not enough to ensure a balanced diet.

 

Rich in dates, poor in grain 

Tunisia's highly diverse cuisine is shaped by influences from the Orient, Italy, France and West Africa. The dish is couscous, cooked semolina, which is eaten together with vegetables and meat. But beef and mutton are very expensive: fish and chicken are more common. Nearly all dishes are seasoned with harissa, a chili pepper paste which is characteristic of Tunisian cuisine. 

 

Small farmers in Tunisia grow different products depending on the climate and the region. For example, nearly half of the entire harvest of potatoes and citrus fruits comes from the fertile Cap Bon peninsula, just a few hundred kilometers from Sicily. But domestic crops are not always large enough to fully meet demand: Tunisians eat many grain products, about half of which are imported.

 

Tunisia is the world's largest exporter of dates. 

 

Tunisia is the world's largest exporter of dates, with a 20 percent share of the world market. 104,500 tons of dates were exported in 2015, above all to Western Europe, and more than a tenth of them in organic quality. The date plantations are located in the oases, although many of the small farmers use traditional terrace farming methods, with the dates growing on top, fruit trees and vegetables beneath them and root vegetables underground. Many of these fruits are only available in local markets. Another important export is olive oil, which comprises around one third of Tunisia's agricultural exports, and is shipped to Italy and Spain.

 

Great diversity, low productivity

Tunisian agriculture is not very productive for various reasons. Despite the growth in date and olive oil exports, many small farmers still lack the certifications they need to sell their goods at higher prices in Europe. Moreover, crops are planted, tended and harvested by hand, which requires a great deal of labor and results in low crop yields. Cultivation has to be modernized. Upstream and downstream segments are fragmented and characterized by small family businesses. They have yet to be professionalized or subjected to a high degree of organization, e.g. in the form of mergers. Many small farmers are still suffering from the impact of agricultural policy under the Ben-Ali regime. After all, before the revolution, the government was mainly concerned with meeting the needs of consumers, rather than strengthening local producers. 

 

Another problem is the water supply. Due to the declining water table, the oases are gradually drying out and now require irrigation, like the southernmost areas of the country. Around 80 percent of water is used for agricultural purposes, and much of it lost due to inefficient irrigation techniques. The rising price of water is cutting into farmers' profits. In addition, there is a high degree of pollution in rural areas: in the absence of a sanitation system, waste is simply left lying on fields and plantations.

 

RAMADAN, THE MONTH OF FASTIN Islam is the national religion in Tunisia, and 98 percent of the population is Muslim. Like most Muslims, Tunisians observe the fast of Ramadan. They refrain from eating and drinking during the day, breaking their fast with a sumptuous evening feast after sundown.

Tunisia's goal: a stronger economy, less poverty

Tunisia has obtained a loan from the International Monetary Fund in order to fund public sector reforms. Under the terms of this loan, the country agrees e.g. to cut subsidies and reform the supply of water and energy. It is not yet evident how these changes will affect the agricultural sector.

Tunisia is working together with numerous national and international development organizations. Among the key focuses of these activities are fighting poverty, promoting democracy and business development, water management and environmental protection. A stronger agricultural sector will contribute to a more stable economy. It will create jobs, e.g. through the processing of agricultural products, and will cause poverty to subside.

 

 

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