Tunisian Ag Minister Urges Sector to Take Advantage of Bumper Harvest

Olive oil production rebounded in the 2023/24 crop year. Abdelmonem Belati believes the sector must work together to export extra virgin olive oil quickly.
(Photo: Karim Fitouri)
By Ofeoritse Daibo
Apr. 9, 2024 16:29 UTC

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, olive oil pro­duc­tion in Tunisia reached 220,000 tons in the 2023/24 crop year.

Minister Abdelmonem Belati said pro­duc­ers over­came high tem­per­a­tures and endur­ing drought to achieve a sub­stan­tial pro­duc­tion rebound, sig­nif­i­cantly exceed­ing last year’s yield of 180,000 tons but falling slightly below the five-year aver­age.

Still, the strong crop exceeded ini­tial expec­ta­tions in October when pro­duc­ers and offi­cials esti­mated pro­duc­tion would reach 200,000 to 220,000 tons.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

Karim Fitouri, the founder of Olivko, attrib­uted the increase in pro­duc­tion to the sector’s rapid mod­ern­iza­tion.

His five-year-old olive grove stretches across 40 hectares and com­prises 146,000 olive trees planted at super-high den­sity. Fitouri believes this is the future of Tunisian pro­duc­tion.

The aim is to pro­duce more olives faster and with less expo­sure to cli­matic changes, unlike tra­di­tional meth­ods,” he said, where yields can alter­nate from 20 to 100 per­cent from one year to the next.

Fitouri also pointed to gov­ern­ment efforts to improve milling infra­struc­ture, which allows pro­duc­ers to mill olives within two hours of the har­vest, which improves qual­ity.

Production in Tunisia has become more sophis­ti­cated,” he said. It is up to date. There are more than 1,700 mills in the coun­try, most of which have the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, and tra­di­tional mills are becom­ing less preva­lent.”

Some of these mills are large enough to hold a daily capac­ity of around 1,000 tons,” Fitouri added. There’s been a huge change in the sec­tor in the past five years.”

With the har­vest com­pleted, Belati urges the rest of the sec­tor to mobi­lize to take advan­tage of high olive oil prices and export the new batches of extra vir­gin olive oil as quickly as pos­si­ble.

According to Tunisia’s National Observatory of Agriculture (Onagri), annual olive oil exports nearly dou­bled from the 12 months end­ing February 2024 com­pared to the year before. They rep­re­sented 64 per­cent of all agri­cul­tural exports.

The recorded decline in the national bud­get deficit is essen­tially the result of the increase in olive oil exports,” the report said.

Belati’s efforts are part of a broader scheme from offi­cials and pro­duc­ers to increase exports of indi­vid­u­ally pack­aged bot­tles of extra vir­gin olive oil and shift away from the pre­vail­ing par­a­digm of export­ing in bulk to the European Union.

However, Fitouri believes that the lack of recog­ni­tion from inter­na­tional con­sumers remains a sig­nif­i­cant imped­i­ment to achiev­ing this goal.

He believes pro­duc­ers must exploit the country’s role as the world’s largest organic olive oil pro­ducer to catch the imag­i­na­tion of con­sumers in the lucra­tive North American and East Asian mar­kets.

Tunisia is get­ting there,” he said. It needs to have the vision to pro­mote itself through greater invest­ment in pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing to show­case the soil, vari­ety and ancient trees.”

Improving the image and place of olive oil within Tunisia could ben­e­fit the entire coun­try, whereas export­ing oil cheaply to Europe, which then gets bot­tled and sold as a European blend,’ ben­e­fits very few peo­ple,” Fitouri con­cluded.


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