Support for Tunisia’s olive sec­tor by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is set to con­tinue with the approval of the third stage of this multi-year project.

The FAO and EBRD have been pro­vid­ing a much needed boost to this North African coun­try’s olive oil sec­tor for the past five years with the aim to enhance its qual­ity, effi­ciency and com­pet­i­tive­ness.

The whole sec­tor has already demon­strated a will­ing­ness to work together to build a brighter future by rais­ing incomes and value added through higher qual­ity.- Lisa Paglietti, FAO project leader

The next stage of the project is due to begin dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2019 and will focus on increas­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness while rais­ing the inter­na­tional pro­file of Tunisian olive oil.

“The impor­tance of the olive oil sec­tor to the social and eco­nomic fab­ric of Tunisia is well known, with 300,000 olive grow­ers, and over a mil­lion liveli­hoods depen­dent on olive oil,” Lisa Paglietti, an econ­o­mist at the FAO who is head­ing the project, told Olive Oil Times.

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Beneficiaries of the first phases of the project have included more than 100 small and mid-sized farms pro­duc­ing olive oil. Specialized train­ing work­shops pro­vided insights into aspects related to the entire pro­duc­tion process, from the man­age­ment of olive groves, har­vest­ing, milling and stor­age, with a focus on sus­tain­able best prac­tices to pro­duce the high­est qual­ity olive oil.

“During the last five years, FAO and the EBRD have joined forces to help main­tain and fur­ther develop Tunisia’s posi­tion in the highly com­pet­i­tive global olive oil mar­ket and respond to chang­ing con­sumer demands for olive oil,” Paglietti said. “In par­tic­u­lar, spe­cial atten­tion has been devoted to increas­ing value added, rais­ing qual­ity, and ensur­ing sus­tain­abil­ity and inclu­sive­ness of the sec­tor.”

In addi­tion to train­ing, the FAO-EBRD project has also worked on pro­mot­ing pub­lic and pri­vate dia­logue as well as sup­port­ing the capac­ity of the indus­try asso­ci­a­tion. As a result of these efforts, there has been increased shar­ing of knowl­edge among the sec­tor’s dif­fer­ent actors, the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and an improve­ment in the pol­icy envi­ron­ment, which has fos­tered growth in the sec­tor.

An exam­i­na­tion of finan­cial issues revealed that access to finance is a road­block to devel­op­ment, some­thing the EBRD is address­ing by exam­in­ing how to improve options for financ­ing for small and medium-sized pro­duc­ers.

“We also con­ducted a detailed review and in-depth inter­views with the inter­na­tional pur­chasers of Tunisian olive oil, which built up a strong pic­ture of the strengths and weak­nesses of the cur­rent state of play and key issues,” Paglietti said.

“The demand analy­sis involved inter­view­ing key olive oil play­ers in both tra­di­tional and emerg­ing mar­kets for Tunisian olive oil,” she added. “This revealed that by enhanc­ing the offer of medium and high qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, Tunisia can increase its nego­ti­a­tion power with its reg­u­lar cus­tomers for bulk oil and increase the num­ber of poten­tial cus­tomers on the bulk mar­ket while bot­tling more and more extra vir­gin olive oil by its SME pro­duc­ers.”

Tunisian olive oil has expe­ri­enced an image boost in recent years with an increas­ing num­ber of pro­duc­ers turn­ing to the pro­duc­tion of high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, often using organic meth­ods. Recognition has come via sev­eral pres­ti­gious inter­na­tional awards, with more and more Tunisian pro­duc­ers win­ning prizes at com­pe­ti­tions around the globe. At the 2018 NYIOOC, olive oil pro­duc­ers from Tunisia took home a record haul of 11 awards.

With the next stage of the FAO and EBRD project focus­ing on com­pet­i­tive­ness and recog­ni­tion as its two main pil­lars, the inter­na­tional pro­file of Tunisian olive oil is set to con­tinue its ascent.

“A pilot project demon­strat­ing good agro­nomic and milling prac­tices showed a large improve­ment in qual­ity, with, for exam­ple, a 200 per­cent increase in polyphe­nols in the oil from small basic farm­ers,” Paglietti said. “Encouraging fur­ther qual­ity improve­ments along the value chain and impor­tantly con­vert­ing that into higher value added sales is cru­cial going for­ward.”

The planned activ­i­ties to be imple­mented in 2019 will be geared around pro­vid­ing sup­port to qual­ity devel­op­ment and the growth of exports. Another objec­tive is to expand to new mar­kets by devel­op­ing other com­pet­i­tive prod­ucts.

“On the demand side, Tunisian olive oil’s poten­tial is not exploited,” Paglietti said. “There’s a need to improve both oil qual­ity and its sta­bil­ity, broaden the range and char­ac­ter­is­tics of prod­ucts offered, and address buy­ers’ increas­ing demands for trace­abil­ity, cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and qual­ity assur­ance as well as cre­at­ing aware­ness of the speci­fici­ties and qual­i­ties of Tunisian olive oil. It is increas­ingly needed to demon­strate that pro­duc­tion, qual­ity, envi­ron­men­tal, ori­gin and hygiene stan­dards are being met.”

“Indeed, the whole sec­tor has already demon­strated a will­ing­ness to work together to build a brighter future by rais­ing incomes and value added through higher qual­ity, to gain inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion for Tunisian olive oil and to increase envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity,” Paglietti added, regard­ing the achieve­ments in recent years.

“But the future chal­lenge will be con­vert­ing higher qual­ity oil into increased higher value sales,” she con­tin­ued. “This is both a tech­ni­cal and cul­tural process that needs time to evolve as well as the clear set­ting of goals for the sec­tor to ensure that Tunisia’s con­sid­er­able poten­tial is real­ized.”


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