Tunisia: olive oil producers hit by “lost opportunity”

Tunisia's olive oil producers

Tunisia’s olive oil producers lose income due to their product packaging for oil exports, according to Reuters, 12th March.

Mustapha Mtiraoui, an award-winning Tunisian olive oil producer identified issues with financing, bottling plants, and bigger producers in Tunisia’s olive oil sector.

A Tunisian Agriculture Ministry official estimated that Tunisian olive oil producers, like Mtiraoui, are missing out on 30-50% more profits as the exported olive oil is shipped in bulk instead of labelled bottles and is sold to and re-exported by much larger Italian and Spanish companies.

Although Tunisia holds third place in the running of the world’s top olive oil producers and exporters and ships 220,000 unbottled tons of liquid gold per year, the country lacks adequate financing, sufficient bottling plants, and protection from major competitors.

READ: Hafed Al-Ghwell: Saied’s bid to save the Tunisian economy

Mtiraoui stated that even in the limited space at the bottling plants, the largest companies take priority – leaving small and medium-sized olive oil producers to struggle through Tunisia’s excessive bureaucracy and export complications.

“Selling bottled olive oil is more profitable but more complicated because we can’t get the preferential loans obtained by major competitors from local banks,” Mtiraoui said.

The Olive Oil Times (OOT) reported that Tunisian farmers were not earning enough money or benefiting from the global surges in olive oil prices.

The OOT revealed in an interview with Sarah Ben Romdane, founder of KAIA olive oil,  “EU buyers blend Tunisian oils with other oils and bottle it. Most consumers aren’t aware that these blends are overwhelmingly Tunisian.”

During the five-month-long season, Mtiraoui produces up to 40 tons of olive oil a day and sells each litre for 26 dinars ($8.41).

“Olive oil is an economic pillar and a wasted wealth that could save us billions of dinars annually,” Mtiraoui added.

As Tunisia’s economic crisis rumbles on, it may be worthwhile for officials to turn their attention toward what has been described as a “lost opportunity” by Houssem Saad, a member of Tunisian civil society, Alert.

Saad estimated that Tunisia’s revenue in 2023 could have reached 8 billion dinars ($2.6 billion) – which is double the annual average of $1.3 billion – had the olive oil sector been better developed.



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