Tunisia is witnessing a bumper harvest of olives in 2014, with a production estimated at 265,000-285,000 tons — more than twice last year’s output — according to the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture.
This is good news for Tunisia as it will strengthen its position on export olive oil markets. It is also a positive development for consumers of olive oil, as Tunisia’s exports will partly compensate for the very bad harvest in some leading producing countries like Italy, where a strain of fruit fly has caused major damage to olive groves.
The EBRD and FAO organized a technical seminar on the Tunisian olive oil sector in Tunis in early November. The seminar was held in collaboration with the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture and the International Olive Oil Council (IOC), bringing together public and private stakeholders and presided over by Tunisia’s Minister of Agriculture, Mr Lassaad Lachaal.
The objective was to validate an in-depth review of the sector conducted by FAO and the IOC in 2014 and to trigger discussions between the private and public sectors on the structural issues limiting the development of this important value chain.
WATCH: Tunisia Olives
The EBRD and the FAO have joined forces to help grow Tunisia's olive sector.
Tunisia is the third largest exporter of olive oil in the world, after Spain and Italy and the sector accounts for 40% of the country’s agricultural exports. However, globally consumers are unaware of this as Tunisian olive oil is mainly sold in bulk and blended with other countries’ oil, in particular Italian and Spanish olive oils.
Much more value could be added to the sector if Tunisia could develop its image as producer of quality olive oil and sell a larger part of its production as bottled oil.
Considerable efforts would be required at the production level as olive orchards are often old and poorly maintained. Yields, which are already low and very volatile, are declining. Producers’ incomes are not very attractive.
“The olive cultivation sector in Tunisia plays a strategic role in the national economy, but to optimise production demands an improvement in agricultural practices,” said Benoit Horemans, FAO representative in Tunis.
Improving local sales is also complicated by strong competition from subsidized imported vegetable oils which most Tunisian consumers buy, despite the long tradition of olive oil cultivation in the country, dating back to the Phoenicians, and the recognised nutritive advantages of olive oil.
‘Adding value to traditional sectors -such as olive oil production- by increasing production efficiency, quality, labelling and certification will help countries like Tunisia to boost exports; and Tunisian farmers to differentiate their products on highly competitive markets,’ said Gilles Mettetal, Director of Agribusiness at the EBRD.
The seminar participants' initial reaction to more active policy dialogue in the sector was very encouraging and the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that reforms in the sector were a priority.
“The reform of the olive oil sector is one of the main pillars of the development strategy for agriculture and fisheries towards 2020. Among the major priorities for the olive oil sector, we retain the improvement of the productivity of plantations.” said Tunisia's Agriculture Minister Lassaad Lachaal at the opening of the seminar.
“Special attention will be given to quality, especially to the compliance with international standards, the production of organic olive and geographical indications,” he added.
To tackle sector issues, a stronger organisation of the value chain is key, with clearer roles assigned to both the public and the private sector. In turn, the private sector should find ways to coordinate and agree on joint actions in areas of common interest.
FAO and EBRD, under their cooperation programme, are ready to facilitate this dialogue. These joint efforts will complement EBRD’s current investment activities in the sector.
'The first EBRD investment in the corporate sector in Tunisia was dedicated to the olive oil sector via the € 15m financing of Borges Tunisia," said Marie-Alexandra Veilleux-Laborie, Head of Office, EBRD Tunisia .
"The loan helped expanding the operations of Borges in the country notably by increasing the sourcing of oil from Tunisian farmers. EBRD intends to continue to support private sector investments in the olive oil, a key sector of the Tunisian economy."