Tunisia Has a Plan to Boost Its Olive Oil Industry

The strategy aims to increase annual production of extra virgin olive oil while growing packaged exports and domestic consumption.
By Daniel Dawson
Aug. 14, 2023 15:19 UTC

Tunisia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries will announce a new strat­egy to pro­mote olive grow­ing and olive oil pro­duc­tion over the com­ing decade, accord­ing to Agence Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), which obtained a copy of the plan.

The goal is for Tunisia to pro­duce 250,000 tons of extra vir­gin olive oil each year, export 200,000 tons of olive oil annu­ally and raise domes­tic con­sump­tion to 50,000 tons annu­ally by 2035.

According to data from the International Olive Council, Tunisia pro­duced an aver­age of 228,000 tons of olive oil each year over the past half-decade, includ­ing a record-high 440,000 tons in the 2019/20 crop year. 

See Also:Italy Becomes Largest Market for Tunisia’s Organic Olive Oil Exports

IOC data also indi­cates that aver­age annual exports were 216,000 tons over that period, although exports reached a six-year low in the cur­rent crop year. Meanwhile, con­sump­tion has remained rel­a­tively low at an annual aver­age of 33,600 tons. 

According to TAP, the min­istry plans to improve pro­duc­tion by renew­ing 1,000 hectares of old olive groves each year, plant­ing new vari­eties and con­vert­ing 10,000 hectares of rain­fed groves to super-high-den­sity plan­ta­tions annu­ally. About 93 per­cent of Tunisia’s olive groves are rain­fed.

Amid a dis­ap­point­ing har­vest in 2020/21, Ajmi Larbi, the head sci­en­tist at the country’s Olive Institute, said the lack of irri­ga­tion and poor farm­ing prac­tices were inhibit­ing pro­duc­ers from con­sis­tently achiev­ing higher yields. 

He added that bet­ter prun­ing prac­tices and other agro­nomic tech­niques would vastly improve yields and min­i­mize the sig­nif­i­cant gap between on-years’ and off-years’ in the North African coun­try.

On and off years

In the con­text of olive oil pro­duc­tion, the term off-year” refers to a year in which olive trees pro­duce a lower yield of olives. Olive trees have a nat­ural cycle of alter­nat­ing high and low pro­duc­tion years, known as on-years” and off-years,” respec­tively. During an on-year, the olive trees bear a greater quan­tity of fruit, result­ing in increased olive oil pro­duc­tion. This is influ­enced by var­i­ous fac­tors, includ­ing weather con­di­tions, such as rain­fall and tem­per­a­ture, as well as the tree’s age and over­all health. Conversely, an off-year, also known as a light year” or low pro­duc­tion year,” is char­ac­ter­ized by a reduced yield of olives. This can occur due to fac­tors like stress from the pre­vi­ous on year, unfa­vor­able weather con­di­tions or nat­ural fluc­tu­a­tions in the tree’s pro­duc­tiv­ity. Olive oil pro­duc­ers often mon­i­tor these cycles to antic­i­pate and plan for vari­a­tions in pro­duc­tion. On-years are gen­er­ally pre­ferred as they pro­vide higher quan­ti­ties of olives for har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing, lead­ing to increased olive oil out­put.

The ministry’s strat­egy also includes restruc­tur­ing how the sec­tor is gov­erned, invest­ing in mills to improve qual­ity, more funds to improve sci­en­tific research pro­grams and part­ner­ships with the pri­vate sec­tor to develop an ana­lyt­i­cal data­base.

According to Tunisia’s National Olive Oil Office (ONH), invest­ing in qual­ity is the best way to improve the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion of grow­ers and make the sec­tor sus­tain­able in the long run.

The orga­ni­za­tion believes this focus on qual­ity will facil­i­tate the increased export of indi­vid­u­ally pack­aged olive oil exports, which are far more prof­itable for pro­duc­ers than the tra­di­tional bulk exports with which the coun­try is asso­ci­ated.

In its strat­egy, the min­istry also plans to expand Tunisian olive oil exports. About 95 per­cent of all Tunisian olive oil exports are des­tined for Europe and the United States. However, the min­istry is now look­ing east to develop closer ties with Japan, China, India and African coun­tries. 

Ongoing efforts from offi­cials, the gov­ern­ment and pro­duc­ers have already started to bear fruit. Last month, Tunisian trade offi­cials announced that the coun­try would increase its exports to South Korea, which is the world’s twelfth-largest olive oil importer.

According to Tunisia’s National Observatory of Agriculture (Onagri), the coun­try is also well-poised to tap into the grow­ing organic olive oil mar­ket, with the amount of organic exports ris­ing to roughly half of the country’s annual pro­duc­tion totals.

Notably absent from the strat­egy is how Tunisian grow­ers will con­tend with the impacts of cli­mate change in the increas­ingly hot, dry and wild­fire-prone coun­try. 

A report pub­lished by Onagri esti­mated that olive oil pro­duc­tion could fall to an aver­age of 61,000 tons annu­ally, cit­ing warmer win­ters pre­vent­ing trees from receiv­ing nec­es­sary chill hours, higher spring­time tem­per­a­tures inter­fer­ing with blos­som­ing and longer peri­ods of drought. 


Related Articles