Mohsen Boujbel, General Manager, VACPA Boudjebel: Interview

Mohsen Boujbel, General Manager, VACPA Boudjebel

Interview: Mohsen Boujbel

Given the increasing effects of climate change, which issues are most pressing for the sector?

MOHSEN BOUJBEL: The effects of climate change are already felt in certain regions of Tunisia, particularly the south. The economic impact of environmental degradation is of particular concern to small-scale farms that do not utilise modern resource management techniques to mitigate the exposure of crops to weather-related challenges. Indeed, only a small portion of the country’s agricultural area benefits from irrigation during drought and most Tunisian farmers are not sufficiently educated to cope with environmental changes. Thus, to ensure sustainability in the agriculture sector, it is essential to increase the number of training programmes and boost the resources allocated to sector modernisation and farmer protection.

The creation of a farmers’ union and agricultural cooperatives has allowed farmers to pool resources and better coordinate their efforts. The government has also legislated for a compensation fund to help farmers face the consequences of climate change. Although the fund is not yet operational, it represents an active response to the issue by the national government, as international institutions such as the World Bank have historically taken the most action on the matter by providing funds and educational materials.

In all, a well-funded national upgrade plan covering farmer education; modernisation in terms of irrigation, land protection and crop change; and expanded processing activities is needed to protect against weather hazards and boost the value of agricultural output.

How can modernising the sector contribute to the empowerment of rural populations?

BOUJBEL: Agriculture is an important sector for the Tunisian economy, especially for citizens in the interior regions. However, the low yield of crops, low value-added production and the effects of climate change have contributed to a decline in farmers’ income and a deterioration of their working conditions. Conversely, having productive and sustainable agriculture with output that is properly valued would allow for the revival of economic activity in the country’s interior. To achieve this, an agricultural policy aimed at improving the competitiveness and resilience of the sector is essential. It must be based on resource management, modernisation of operating techniques, transformation of products and greater integration with value chains.

Negotiations for the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (Accord de Libre Echange Complet et Approfondi, ALECA) have also highlighted the needs of local agriculture, and many Tunisian industry actors agree that signing an agreement under the current conditions would have negative consequences for the sector. Noting the development gaps between European and Tunisian agriculture, the authorities have committed themselves to set up support measures for farmers, equivalent to the national upgrade programme initiated in the late 1990s in Tunisia. In line with the objective to further integrate the Tunisian economy within the Euro-Mediterranean economic area, the ALECA agreement would allow Tunisian products easier access to the 500m consumers of the European market, leading to increased sales volume and income for farmers, and resulting in better living conditions.

What is the potential for packaged product exports?

BOUJBEL: Tunisia is known for the quality of its agricultural output. However, most exports are sold unprocessed, in bulk, which has low profit margins. Therefore, increasing the added value of products sold constitutes an essential element of progress for the sector. Similarly to moves to increase sales of bottled olive oil and packaged dates, players in other lines must seek to increase the added value of their production through processing and exporting consumer packaged products. This transformation has the double advantage of increasing export value and the products’ shelf life.

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The Report: Tunisia 2019

Agriculture chapter from The Report: Tunisia 2019

Cover of The Report: Tunisia 2019

The Report

This article is from the Agriculture chapter of The Report: Tunisia 2019 . Explore other chapters from this report.

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