TUNIS, TUNISIA —Tunisia’s agricultural season so far has been characterized by irregular, below-average but well?timed rains, according to a March 16 GIEWS Country Brief from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). From remotely?sensed information, only a small share of land sown to cereals is currently affected by localized drought in the eastern part of the country. Unlike in the neighboring countries affected by drought, winter grain prospects in Tunisia remain relatively favorable, pending normal weather developments for the rest of the season.

Normal availability of seeds and fertilizers was reported. Out of the planned 1.4 million hectares to be planted with cereals, some 1.2 million hectares materialized, with decreases in planting in less productive areas in the center and in the south. Slightly less than 650,000 hectares of wheat and about 530,000 hectares of barley were planned. About 80% of the wheat grown is durum.

In Tunisia, crop production varies markedly from year to year because of the significant rainfall variations. The irrigated wheat area represents less than 15% of the total wheat area planted.

Although favorable weather conditions prevailed for most of the 2015 season, excessively hot weather (up to 45 degrees Celsius) led to heat?related damages to late developing wheat in its early grain?filling stages. Consequently, a well below?average cereal harvest of 1.3 million tonnes was gathered in 2015. At this level, production was 44% lower than previous year’s above?average crop and 32% below the five?year average.

Tunisia relies heavily on grain imports, mainly wheat, even in good production years. Accordingly, cereal import requirements in the current 2015-16 marketing year (July/June) are put at about 3.6 million tonnes, about 20% higher than last year and 15% higher than the five?year average.

In spite of the country’s high import dependency rate, changes in international grain prices do not fully translate into changes in domestic prices, mainly due to the government subsidies on basic food items. Prices of wheat products, the main staple in the country, are relatively stable, as reflected by the very low inflation of bread and cereals (less than 3% on a yearly basis since January 2012). Overall, the food and beverage Consumer Price Index (CPI) in January 2016 recorded an increase of 1.4% on a year?on?year basis, compared to over 3% in November 2015.

The economy was slowly recovering from the 1.8% contraction in 2011, although the continuing risk of terrorist attacks and their negative impact on the economy, together with the slow recovery in the E.U. (Tunisia’s main trading partner) are affecting on the recovery. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2015 was estimated by the Ministry of Finance at 0.3%.