Tunisia has announced that it expects to harvest two million tons of grains this year, besting 2018 by fifty percent, as well as bettering the last decade’s harvest by forty percent. This is on the back of a spate of fires suspected to be the work of disgruntled state enemies or wheat importers, which had reportedly reduced nearly 700 hectares of farmland to rubble.

Farmers have credited the improved frequency and distribution of rainfall in the main cereal growing regions, as well as increased access to fertilizer and seed. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, 700,000 hectares of wheat were harvested this year, compared to 620,000 last year. 620,000 hectares of barley were harvested, compared to 525,000 last year, despite repeated fatal fires.

Regarding the unabated fires, Agriculture Minister, Samir Taieb said, “We cannot say for now whether the fires were criminal acts. We are waiting to know more about that from the Interior Ministry. There are committees working on that in the country’s cereal-growing regions and we will study their findings.”

Taieb met last week with the Interior Minister and other high-ranking government officials to discuss measures to deal with the fires. They resolved to respond to disasters faster, initiate swift legal action against any spotted arsonists, as well as deploying drones to track and secure a harvest.

Agriculture is clearly important to the Tunisian government and economy. Experts say the explosion in domestic cereal harvest will trim Tunisia’s imports by twenty percent, improving the import-export balance of a nation with a precarious economy. Tunisia produces wheat mostly to achieve self-sufficiency and as an ingredient for the products it exports.

In 2015, Tunisia spent $616 million on wheat importation. After then, it set a goal of increasing annual harvest to 2.7 million tons, seeming a hard ask at the time. But the government took steps. It increased acreage for irrigated wheat by 40,000 hectares. Then it stabilized price subsidies for cereal seeds. Subsidies of twenty-five percent and more than forty-five percent were introduced for the purchase of agricultural machines and irrigation equipment respectively. All of which culminated in greater access to credit for smallholder farmers, who contribute sixty-two percent of Tunisia’s cereal production.

All of this happened in the course of implementing the country’s national Agric. policy plan, evaluated and restarted every five years. This jump-started its rise in the global market of food products. As one reward, the Netherlands pledged $50 million to upgrade infrastructure in Agric. production process in Tunisia. Another far more tangible reward, the country is now closer than ever to reaching its 2.7 million tons goal. By the time 2019 closes and the sector reforms are fully realized, Tunisians might just be feeling very good about their food sufficiency and export potential.

Tunisia’s cereal harvest season kicked off Thursday in Zaghouan.

Meanwhile, from tomorrow until Wednesday, 750 local products from across Tunisia will be on display at the national contest of local products, organized by the Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency at the Tunis Science City. According to APIA, the competition is intended to expose the products to foreign and local markets. Switzerland will attend, as will Tunisia’s north African neighbours Egypt, and Morocco, as well as South Africa, Ghana, Georgia, Ukraine, and Serbia. Cereal and vegetables are two of the products to display.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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