Tunisia, on the north coast of Africa, depends on imports for a large part of its supply of grain. The government aims to increase the level of self-sufficiency and the market is managed by the authorities, with subsidies and other technical help for farmers designed to achieve that aim.
The International Grains Council (IGC) forecasts Tunisia’s 2019-20 grains crop at 1.4 million tonnes, up from 1.1 million in the previous year.
According to the IGC’s forecast, Tunisia will import an unchanged 1.1 million tonnes of maize in 2019-20. The country’s barley imports are forecast at 500,000 tonnes, also unchanged.
In a report dated March 28, the USDA attaché forecast the country’s 2019-20 wheat crop at 1.3 million tonnes, with barley at 600,000 tonnes.
“Very favorable weather conditions from October to December encouraged farmers to seed earlier and larger areas,” the report said. “Beneficial rainfall was recorded in late March.”
The attaché forecast Tunisia’s wheat consumption in 2019-20 at 3.02 million tonnes, on the basis of trend average growth of around 1%. The figure is based, with a population of around 11.65 million people, on an average per person of 259 kilograms.
Tunisia’s barley consumption, limited by a good year for the growth of vegetation for grazing, is forecast at 965,000 tonnes. Wheat imports in 2019-20 are forecast at 1.75 million tonnes, with barley imports seen at 380,000 tonnes.
“Barley is consumed mainly in feedlots and as supplemental feed, especially when rangelands are stressed,” the attaché said.
Policy is based around a government goal to achieve self-sufficiency with an average annual production of 2.7 million tonnes of grains of which 1.5 million are durum. Government programs include guaranteeing a price of 750 dinars a tonne (which the report converts to U.S.$250) for durum, 540 dinars a tonne ($180) for common wheat and 480 dinars ($160) for barley. The government also subsidizes certified seed and pays subsidies of 50% for agricultural machinery and 40% to 50% for irrigation equipment. There is a subsidy of 32% of the cost for irrigation water, designed to encourage an increase in the area irrigated. The authorities also are offering technical assistance to farmers using irrigation.
Tunisia’s Office des Céréales (Cereal Board) has a formal monopoly on the sale of wheat and barley to the domestic market, but collection of both has been privatized. Originally founded in 1962, the organization’s main roles are to supply the country with domestic and imported grains, to organize and regulate the grain market, to supervise and monitor grain collection, and building and managing strategic grain stocks.
The attaché said that Tunisia does plan to reform its subsidy system because of its cost and failure to target the part of the population in greatest need.
“However, the reform has been continuously postponed, and Tunisia has made no changes in its subsidized flour and bread prices,” the report said.
The Tunisian Office des Céréales said there are 22 mills processing soft and hard wheat in the country, including 18 near the coast, eight in Greater Tunis, four in Sousse, three in Sfax and three in Gabès, accounting for around 80% of national capacity. There are four other mills in the rest of the country.
The eight in the greater Tunis area are Les Grands Moulins de Tunis, La Société des Industries Alimentaires et Minoteries, La Société Meunière Tunisienne, Minoterie Semoulerie de l’Avenue Sadok Bey, La Société Tunisienne de Minoterie et Semoulerie, Minoterie de La Soukra, La Compagnie Tunisienne de Semoulerie and La Société Maghrébine des Minoteries de Tunis. The final one on that list is in Manouba, part of the greater Tunis area.
In Sousse, the mills are Les Minoteries des Centre et Sahel Réunies, La Société Meunière du Centre, Unité Nouvelle de Pâtes Alimentaires and La Société des Minoteries et des Industries Diverses.
Sfax’s three mills are Les Grands Moulins du Sud, La Société de Production de Produits Alimentaires du Sud and La Société Tunisienne de Production Alimentaire.
In Gabès there are La Société Tunisienne de Minoterie et Semoulerie, Les Grands Moulins de Gabès and Les Grands Moulins duGolfe.
The other mills are Les Grands Moulins du Cap Bon in Nabeul, La Générale Industrielle Alimentaire du Nord in Beja, Dorra des Industries Maghrébines Alimentaires in Gafsa and La Société des Moulins Sidi Tlil in Kasserine.
In a report dated March 15, the attaché forecast Tunisia’s 2019-20 soybean imports at 690,000 tonnes, with imports of olive oil at 220,000 tonnes.
“Apart from olives, Tunisia’s oilseed production remains insignificant despite the Ministry of Agriculture’s continued desire to encourage farmers to grow rapeseed and sunflower crops in order to diversify oilseed production,” the report said. “Tunisia’s trade policy remains unchanged and supports importing oilseeds over meal.”
However, soymeal imports are expected to rise in 2019-20 because of higher demand, coupled with crushing capacity restraints.
“Tunisian exports of soybean meal are difficult to estimate with significant volumes going to Libya through both formal and informal channels,” the report explained. “Tunisian importers continue to show an increased willingness to pay a price premium for U.S. soybean quality.”
The report does not expect to see significant changes to consumption per person of soy oil or palm oil.
“Soybean and corn oil are the most popular cooking oils with prices subsidized by the government to ensure their affordability on the retail market,” the report noted. “Palm oil is not well perceived by consumers and generally limited to the food manufacturing sector.”
The attaché forecast olive oil production in 2018-19 at 290,000 tonnes, with exports at 220,000. The main export markets for olive oil are Spain, Italy and the United States.
“Soybean oil is far and away the most imported vegetable oil, followed by palm, corn and sunflower oils,” the report said. “However, whereas palm oil is generally imported as refined, soybean, sunflower and corn oil are imported crude, supported by an advantageous tax structure.
“The majority of refined corn oil and significant volumes of refined soybean oil are then re-exported. While Libya is a major buyer of Tunisia’s refined and price-controlled vegetable oils, exact volumes are difficult to estimate with its porous border.”
Policy is aimed at increasing average annual olive oil production to 250,000 tonnes by 2025 and includes a renewal plan for older trees.
The government levies reduced taxes on edible oils to keep prices affordable for consumers.
According to the attaché, biotechnology is free of restrictions in Tunisia, but agricultural biotech is limited to building scientific capacity and understanding.
“No genetically engineered (GE) products have been developed or commercialized for local production,” a Sept. 19, 2018 report on the subject said. “In trade, Tunisia continues to take advantage of agricultural biotechnology resources, particularly to support its development as a competitive livestock and poultry producer.”
The report noted that Tunisia is a major importer of maize products, with the Americas having 36% of its market and soy products, in which the Americas have an 84% market share.
“Imported feed ingredients are a necessity for Tunisia’s livestock and poultry production,” the report said.
“Tunisian policymakers and researchers are largely aware of biotechnology’s potential to help Tunisia alleviate national food security challenges,” the report said. “Meanwhile, most Tunisian consumers remain unaware of biotechnology, and virtually all of those that are aware feel they are not well-informed.”