“Small-scale agriculture must first of all be a national priority and its development should be the responsibility and duty of the State”. This development “can only take place within the framework of an overall strategy for the country and the involvement of all stakeholders”, reveals a study by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) on small farms in Tunisia.
This report – integrated in the project “Reducing inequalities in the olive oil value chain” implemented by the NGO Oxfam in partnership with AFTD (Tunisian Association of Democratic Women), AFTURD (Tunisian Women Association for Development Research), UGTT (Tunisian General Union of Labour) and FTDES – calls for the implementation of a specific and innovative mechanism and measures.
the FTDES report demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of Tunisian small farms (see table at the bottom of the article), but also the threats and opportunities. Threats include the deterioration of the overall situation; a significant economic risk in the event of a decrease in the performance of small-scale agriculture; a risk to the country’s food security; and the deterioration of the land, desertification, in the event of the development of unsustainable practices.
To counter all this, the FTDES first of all advocates recognition of small-scale agriculture through its institutionalisation. Its report calls for agricultural policies to be adapted to its specificities and encourages the grouping of small farmers to be strengthened. Other opportunities raised are the creation of markets (for example by promoting their access to public markets) and circuits adapted (short circuits) to small-scale agriculture and the sensitisation of stakeholders (industrialists and consumers) to support small farmers.
Agriculture employs around 1.5 million people (more than 80% of the workforce is family-based), i.e. 15% of the total employed population in 2019. There are 550,000 farmers (43% of whom are over sixty years old) for 10.3 million hectares (60% of Tunisia’s surface area), including some 5 million hectares of arable land. Farms of less than 5 hectares represent nearly 55% of the total and their number has doubled since the 1960s.
Agricultural land is mainly used for two main types of crops. Arboriculture (55%) with olive growing (1.8 million hectares or 1/3 of the total cultivated area in the country), phoeniculture (dates at 70% of the Deglet Nour variety), citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins, clementines and lemons) and cereals (durum wheat and barley in particular) at 30%. Only 470,000 hectares are irrigated. Hydraulics and irrigation play a major role in the annual global investments made in agriculture (1 462 million Tunisian dinars – €454m – in 2017, i.e. 8.1% of the total investment in Tunisia). They are mainly made by the Tunisian State.