Africa / Middle East

UN, EBRD Approve More Support for Tunisia's Olive Sector

The EBRD and FAO are set to continue their support for Tunisia's olive farmers by adding value to Tunisian oil and making cultivation of the crop more sustainable.

Feb. 14, 2019
By Isabel Putinja

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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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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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