As the month of November ends, date production in Tunisia peaks at 60 tonnes. We are far from the forecast estimated at 000 tonnes this season. Tunisian farmers face many concerns.
The end of the date harvest season in Tunisia is fast approaching. And it is already the disappointment. If the North African country is the tenth largest date producer in the world and the fourth in Africa, this year could be one of the worst in terms of revenue. Tunisia relies heavily on date exports: it sends more than 40 tonnes each year to its buyers. And while Deglet Nour, produced in the oases of southern Tunisia, is renowned for its resistance and flavor, the European market is likely to see few of these fruits on its stalls.
The hopes of Tunisian farmers for a good end to the season are dwindling day by day. Because this year, the 5,5 million date palms in the country produced only 60 tonnes of fruit, including 000 of the Deglet Nour variety. We are far from the forecasts: the agricultural authorities of the country had indeed forecast 45 tons of harvested fruits, which would have made Tunisia climb to the seventh largest date producer in the world. How could the Ministry of Agriculture have been so wrong, when Tunisia has not even reached the harvest threshold of last season?
All the conditions for failure
The drop in date production owes a lot to climatic conditions. “We're having a bad season because of drought and climate change,” says one producer. The dates were not able to develop fully and the quality of the product deteriorated ”. Another explanation: the presence of a parasite that affects date palms and damages plantations, called "the dust spider".
Consequence: producers are on the verge of bankruptcy. Arif en-Naci, president of the Union of Local Farmers of Tozeur, deplores the drop in the price of dates. "The crisis in the production and sale of dates has worsened since 2016, then more over the past two years with the pandemic," he says.
The Tunisian region of Tozeur, which is home to half of the country's date palms, has been hit hard for years by a new phenomenon: the abandonment of harvests. Purchase prices from regular wholesalers, whether local or foreign, keep plummeting. Faced with a less profitable market, farmers can no longer invest in seasonal labor.
A political crisis that is shaking up the sector
Tunisian farmers complain about the inaction of the public authorities since the beginning of last summer. “We have received the promise of certain projects aimed at facilitating the sale of dates by farmers in the region, but political instability has also affected us. Unfortunately, the project which will allow the sale of dates produced here could not be completed, ”indicates activist Salim Matouk, who deplores the fact that“ the sale of dates produced in Tozeur is still controlled from Tunis ”.
A lack of political will, therefore, but also a market law that is increasingly disadvantageous for producers, who claim to be victims of the “date marigolds”. The latter are the companies that monopolize the purchase and resale of dates, most of which are foreign, and seek to minimize their expenses. And although several local players have recently sought to modernize the date processing sector, their efforts seem insufficient to cover all production.
Tunisia, which exports more than 50% of its dates to 85 countries around the world, sees this sector threatened. Resigned, Tunisian farmers are gradually abandoning their profession, because of increasingly low incomes. And the social crisis in the regions of southern Tunisia, which depend mainly on this culture, is only getting worse. On the side of the State, it is absolute silence.