After Record Year, Tunisian Production Falters

Low levels of rainfall and poor agronomic practices have made what was expected to be a down cycle in Tunisia even worse.
Photo: Cain Burdeau for Olive Oil Times
Oct. 5, 2020
Daniel Dawson

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After record­ing a record-break­ing har­vest in 2019, Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­ers are expect­ing a much more mod­est yield in 2020.

According to Ajmi Larbi, the head sci­en­tist at the country’s Olive Institute (Instituto L’Olivier), Tunisia is expected to pro­duce between 130,000 and 140,000 tons of olive oil this year, down from the 400,000 tons recorded last year.

There is a very sig­nif­i­cant fluc­tu­a­tion from one year to another due essen­tially to the high yield of the olive trees (in the on-year), but also to the cli­matic con­di­tions that are very severe in our coun­try.- Ajmi Larbi, head sci­en­tist, Instituto L’Olivier

Larbi attrib­uted the sharp pro­duc­tion decrease to many pro­duc­ers enter­ing an off-year, a lack of rain­fall and poor farm­ing prac­tices employed by some of the country’s pro­duc­ers.

An on-year” and ample rain­fall in 2019 were cred­ited for that year’s bumper crop.

See Also: 2020 Harvest Updates

There is a very sig­nif­i­cant fluc­tu­a­tion from one year to another due essen­tially to the high yield of the olive trees [in the on-year], but also to the cli­matic con­di­tions that are very severe in our coun­try,” Larbi said at a recent con­fer­ence dis­cussing the upcom­ing 2020 har­vest.

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Larbi said most of Tunisia’s olive-grow­ing regions received 150 mil­lime­ters (5.9 inches) of rain­fall or less this year, far below aver­age annual pre­cip­i­ta­tion rates of between 250 and 300 mil­lime­ters (9.8 and 11.8 inches).

The prob­lem of too lit­tle rain­fall is also exac­er­bated in Tunisia by the fact that 95 per­cent of the country’s 1.9 mil­lion hectares (4.7 mil­lion acres) of olive groves are not irri­gated.

Larbi also attrib­uted last year’s late har­vest and poor agro­nomic prac­tices employed by farm­ers to the pre­cip­i­tous pro­duc­tion decrease.

See Also: Industry Data Dashboard

In the years where we have good har­vests, farm­ers remain har­vest­ing until April,” he said. “[As a result], the trees are very depleted when it takes so long to har­vest them.”

Larbi said bet­ter edu­ca­tion for farm­ers, includ­ing bet­ter prun­ing prac­tices and other agro­nomic tech­niques, would help alle­vi­ate this prob­lem and close the gap between on- and off-years.

He remained, how­ever, opti­mistic about the future of Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­tion.

During the last five to six years we have planted more than 100,000 hectares (nearly 250,000 acres), which is a new area that is going to come into pro­duc­tion within two to three years,” Larbi said. Soon we will have much more pro­duc­tion in the years in which there are very favor­able weather con­di­tions.”


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