By Johan Burger
Demand for organic produce in North Africa and beyond is growing. Globally an increasing number of people are looking for organic products due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This demand is not just amongst consumers in the USA and Europe, but also among young Tunisians.
Due to this demand growth, the sector in Tunisia is blooming and organic is seen as “the future of farming.” The size of land converted to organic farming has multiplied 20 times in over 20 years. It has grown from 16,000ha in 2001 to approximately 320,000ha by 2021. According to Samia Maamer, head of organic products at the Ministry of Agriculture, the number of producers and vendors has grown at a similar pace to approximately 8,000 by November 2021.This was from a very low base of 294 in 2001, which grew to 1,911 by 2009, and from there increased to the current 8,000. Maamer believes the organic food sector has helped diversify Tunisia’s economy and now makes up 13% of food exports. Farmers are experiencing strong growth in their revenues due to the strong demand and the growth of online sales.
Challenges are on the supply side, with farmers experiencing problems such as lack of water, and organic seeds and plants. Crisp, clear Mediterranean weather means Tunisia has favourable climatic conditions for organic farming. Only 5% of the country's 2m hectares of olive groves is treated with pesticides. This means the remainder can potentially win organic certification. At 320,000ha, the north African republic has the largest agriculture area certified for organic farming in Africa.
Tunisia exports approximately 60 of the 250 categories of organic products grown in the country, which include mainly olive oil but also dates, aromatic and medicinal plants, and some vegetables and fruit. While organic farming is also growing in Morocco, this growth is behind the potential of the country. The Agriculture Ministry in Morocco is helping farmers go organic. It aims to put a total of 100,000 hectares of farmland under certified organic agriculture by 2030 and produce 900,000 tons of organic produce annually - 67% of which will be exported.
A recent study by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and its partners found that organic agriculture has the potential to substantially improve both crop yields and incomes of smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa as well. Organic agriculture in smallholder setting, however, is complex and could fail if farmers did not implement good organic management practices like crop rotations, compost making, and mixed cropping systems. Organic farming will therefore require farmers to get adequate training, in addition to input support such as seed and compost.
Anon. 2021. Organic farmers find fertile ground in North Africa. Fin 24. 7 November 2021. Available at https://www.news24.com/fin24/economy/organic-farmers-find-fertile-ground-in-north-africa-20211107. Accessed 20 November 2021.
Anon. 2021. Can organic agriculture improve yields and incomes for smallholder farmers in Africa? FiBL. 6 September 2021. Available at https://www.fibl.org/en/info-centre/news/can-organic-agriculture-improve-yields-and-incomes-for-smallholder-farmers-in-africa. Accessed 20 November 2021.