Tunisians Win Gold at Swiss Food Competition

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As a part of the High Business School of Sfax initiative, six Tunisian olive oil producers have participated in the 5th Swiss Local Food Competition, which combines around 1,000 products and is visited by more than 15,000 people. Tunisia won three medals in the contest; a gold, silver and bronze.
This participation — the first of its kind among Tunisian olive oil producers — was a component of an ongoing project called “Promotion of Tunisian Olive Oil” between the High Business School of Sfax and Swiss High Management School of Neuchâtel.

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Olive growing in Tunisia
Tunisia is the most important olive-growing country of the southern Mediterranean region; over 30% of its cultivated land is dedicated to olive growing (1.68 million ha).
Excluding the European Union, it is the major world power in the olive oil sector. It is making great efforts to restructure and modernize its sector as well as to raise olive oil quality and expand acreage.

Socio-economic importance
Olive cultivation plays a vital role in the social and economic life of Tunisia and accounts for nearly 15% of the total value of the final agricultural production.
Olive oil international trade takes up 50% of total agricultural exports and 5.5% of aggregate exports, making it the fifth source of foreign currency earnings for the country.
The olive sector (olive growing plus the olive oil industry) provides a directly and indirectly livelihood for over 1 million people and it generates 34 million workdays a year, equivalent to over 20% of the employment in agriculture. In the year 2000 there were 236 500 agricultural holdings with olive orchards, 84% of which were under 5 ha.
Olive growing also does much to strike a regional balance because it is often the only crop feasible in less-favoured areas. This helps to keep people in rural areas which otherwise would bear the negative brunt of depopulation.

Resources and location
Tunisia’s olive resources are estimated at over 65 million olive trees, grown on 1 680 000 ha, of which 75 000 ha are for certified organic crops. It is a source of employment for 269 000 or 57% of the country’s farmers and accounts for 45% of the agricultural exports, averaging 120 000 t per year.
At world level Tunisia is ranked fourth in terms of the number of olive trees and second in terms of acreage. Mean orchard density ranges between 100 and 150 trees/ha in irrigated orchards and 40 trees/ha in rain fed orchards farmed for oil production. When intended for table olives, orchard densities vary from 200 trees/ha in irrigated conditions to 100 trees/ha under dry-farming.
As a rule, there are 100 olive trees/ha in the North, compared with 60 trees/ha in the Centre and 20 trees/ha in the South. At present, there are 2 000 ha of super-intensive orchards, which produce an average 7–8 t per ha.

Three categories of olive orchards emerge when broken down by age bracket:Young orchards: 17%
Bearing orchards: 58%
Old orchards: 25%
Olives are found in all the regions of Tunisia, from North to South, They are cultivated with other crops such as cereals in the North, citrus fruits and vine in the Cap Bon peninsula, and strictly as a monoculture in the southern areas (Sousse, Mahdia, Sfax, etc.). Close to 90% of cultivated olive acreage is located in the central and southern regions.

Production and yield
Traditionally, Tunisia produces an average 100 000 t of olive oil per year; however, during the period 2000/01–2003/04, production averaged 129 300 t and recorded a peak level of 280 000 t in 2003/04.
There are huge year-to-year swings in production (they vary by a factor of 1 to 8), depending on various factors such as the characteristic alternate bearing pattern of olive growing, rainfalls and cultural practices.
To give an example, production oscillated widely from 270 000 t in 1996/97 to 35 000 t in 2001/02 and 72 000 t in 2002/03 because of three consecutive seasons of drought.
In 2003/04, it climbed again to reach an all-time high of 280 000 t. In terms of volume, Tunisia is the world’s second producer, behind the European Union taken as a whole, and it lies fourth when the individual countries of the European Union are considered, coming after Spain, Italy and Greece.
Olives are found in all the regions of Tunisia, from North to South, They are cultivated with other crops such as cereals in the North, citrus fruits and vine in the Cap Bon peninsula, and strictly as a monoculture in the southern areas (Sousse, Mahdia, Sfax, etc.). Close to 90% of cultivated olive acreage is located in the central and southern regions.

Processing sector
The processing sector is going through a transitional stage featuring the creation and modernization of olive oil mills and the gradual move away from traditional methods.
Currently, there are 1 517 olive oil working mills in Tunisia. Crushing capacity has climbed from around 8 000 t/day in 1986 to the present level of 28 000 t/day.
Despite the clear move towards modernization, traditional mills (52%) still slightly outnumber modern processing facilities (48%). The modernization of the processing sector coupled with improved cultural practices has led to more and better product; for instance, 70% of the Tunisian production is of quality oils, compared with 25% in 1985.
The processing sector also comprises 14 refineries; however, only a small amount of their activity is dedicated to olive oil owing to the small demand for refined olive oil.
There are also 14 olive-pomace oil extraction plants, which operate at below-capacity and 35 modern packing plants, which have been consolidated in recent years and afford great potential for boosting the expansion of the sector.

Sources:
olive oil times
The 5th Swiss local food competition website
tunisia-oliveoil

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