Tunisian Officials See Bright Future for Local Olive Oil Industry

While producers face plenty of challenges, especially from climate change, Tunisian olive oil exports continue to gain ground in international markets.

Photo: Bulla Reggia
By Paolo DeAndreis
Mar. 28, 2023 19:11 UTC
Photo: Bulla Reggia

The ongo­ing efforts to expand Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­tion have led the coun­try to sig­nif­i­cantly increase the num­ber of olive groves in the last decades, boost­ing exports.

Tunisia’s National Olive Oil Office (ONH) said the olive grove sur­face area has expanded from 1,743,000 hectares in 2011 to 1,960,000 in 2022.

Our main goal is how to add value to the exports. That is also why we are focused on the growth of bot­tled olive oil and organic olive exports. This is how it will develop.- Hamed Daly Hassen, CEO, National Olive Oil Office

We expect fur­ther rel­e­vant increases in the over­all sur­face in the next three years,” Hamed Daly Hassen, the chief exec­u­tive of the ONH, told Olive Oil Times.

According to ONH, Tunisia pro­duced an annual aver­age of 205,000 tons of olive oil over the past decade, approx­i­mately seven per­cent of all global pro­duc­tion. From 2001 to 2010, annual aver­age yields were about 137,000 tons.

See Also:Rising Prices Expose Untapped Potential for Tunisian Exports

One of the rel­e­vant dri­vers of Tunisian pro­duc­tion growth is the plant­ing of new olive groves,” Hassen said. The other key is cli­mate change and how it affects tra­di­tional olive grow­ing in the coun­try.”

Hassen said approx­i­mately 93 per­cent of Tunisian olive groves are rain­fed. This means that they are highly affected by the drought,” he said. In the last three years, the phe­nom­e­non has been affect­ing the crops in areas such as Sfax, where most Tunisian olive pro­duc­tion is located.”

Additionally, a large per­cent­age of rain­fed olive trees in the coun­try are at least 100 years old. Their yield is not com­pa­ra­ble to younger trees’ pro­duc­tion poten­tial.

The reju­ve­na­tion of olive crops is one of the prob­lems pro­duc­ers face,” Fahd Ben Ameur, the mar­ket­ing man­ager of the Tunisian olive oil exporter Bulla Regia, told Olive Oil Times.

He indi­cated that water scarcity has exac­er­bated the effects of the olive trees’ nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle.

It is easy to notice,” Ben Ameur said. In low years, when rain­fall is scarce, almost 40 per­cent of pro­duc­tion comes from the few irri­gated groves in the coun­try. In a plen­ti­ful sea­son, their con­tri­bu­tion is reduced to less than 10 per­cent.”

According to the ONH, Tunisian olive oil con­sump­tion remains well below its poten­tial, lim­ited to 30,000 to 35,000 tons per annum. ONH offi­cials said this is mostly due to the price of olive oil and the com­pe­ti­tion from cheaper oils avail­able on the mar­ket.

Increasing con­sumer aware­ness about olive oil’s health ben­e­fits is the goal of cur­rent ONH efforts to pro­mote the prod­uct, along with adding value to the ris­ing pro­file of Tunisian olive oil on inter­na­tional mar­kets.

As a result of low domes­tic con­sump­tion, the coun­try exports the vast major­ity of its pro­duc­tion. On aver­age, Tunisia exported 175,000 tons annu­ally in the last 10 years, mak­ing it one of the most rel­e­vant global olive oil exporters.

One of the keys to the country’s export growth is the invest­ment in olive oil qual­ity over the last 30 years. The ONH said only 30 per­cent of the olive oil pro­duced in the coun­try was at extra vir­gin grade in 1990. Now, this fig­ure exceeds 70 per­cent.

Since the export sec­tor expanded to pri­vate-owned com­pa­nies in 1996, for­eign ship­ments have grown.

One of the rel­e­vant trends we are notic­ing in the last decade is the expo­nen­tial growth of branded bot­tled olive oil, whereas the tra­di­tional Tunisian exports still hap­pen in bulk,” Ben Ameur said. Many believe the future of Tunisian olive oil is in the bot­tled prod­uct.”


ONH and local orga­ni­za­tions have long pushed for growth in branded and bot­tled olive oil exports, as this con­tributes to a higher value for the prod­uct on the inter­na­tional mar­ket.

Annual growth for bot­tled olive oil pro­duc­tion in the coun­try in the last decade is around 10 per­cent,” Hassen said.

Organic olive oil exports are also on the rise. Organic pro­duc­tion in 2021 exceeded 105,000 tons, and it rep­re­sented 44 per­cent of the country’s pro­duc­tion,” Hassen said. It was 10 per­cent back in 2012, Hassen said. In 2021, 28 per­cent of olive oil exports were organic.”

The ONH said in the cur­rent crop year, about 30,000 tons of pack­aged olive oil was exported from an esti­mated 190,000 tons of pro­duc­tion. That shows that the efforts of both pub­lic insti­tu­tions and pri­vate com­pa­nies are pay­ing out,” the ONH said.

Our main goal is how to add value to the exports,” Hassen added. That is also why we are focused on the growth of bot­tled olive oil and organic olive exports. This is how it will develop.”

Hassen noted how the efforts to expand pack­aged olive oil and increase its per­cent­age of exports started in 2007.

The efforts went ahead despite sev­eral dif­fi­cul­ties, mainly related to the high volatil­ity of olive oil prices in the inter­na­tional mar­kets and the increase in national pro­duc­tion costs,” Hassen said.

While the United States and Canada remain two of the most rel­e­vant des­ti­na­tions for Tunisian olive oil exports, a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion crossed the Mediterranean to the European Union. The key is the duty-free agree­ment, which cov­ers up to 56,700 tons of Tunisian exports.

That quota was com­pletely used in the last few years as demand grew from European importers, mostly Spanish and Italian,” Hassen noted.

According to the ONH, the agree­ment with the European Union should be revised, given Tunisian olive oil qual­ity.

In 2016, the European Parliament adopted a reg­u­la­tion that replaced monthly quo­tas with an annual quota,” Hassen said.

This deci­sion increased flex­i­bil­ity for European oper­a­tors to max­i­mize their duty-free olive oil imports from Tunisia, but it does not facil­i­tate the devel­op­ment of added value Tunisian olive oil,” he con­cluded.

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