Posted by: Agence Tunis Afrique Presse

Tunisia is starting Monday a second round of negotiations with the European Union (EU) in anticipation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), with on the agenda among others negotiations on agriculture; while a survey conducted last March revealed that 90% of Tunisian farmers have never heard of the DCFTA.

About 82% of farmers believe the agreement would be beneficial for large farmers. For 34% of the interviewees, the DCFTA would not be beneficial for small farmers and 31% consider that it is not also beneficial for the Tunisian consumers.

The survey carried out from March 16 to 30, 2018 also showed that 78% of farmers are not satisfied with the agricultural policy and 81% sell their products without any processing.

According to the survey of men and women engaged in farming and with up to 10 hectares of farmland to develop their activities, 68% of farmers think they need financial support, 52.3% aid in kind and 21.3% irrigation water.

The survey indicated that 75% of those under 35 years of age are interested in farming activities related to processing, primarily livestock and beekeeping.

In addition, according to a study entitled “DCFTA, an opportunity to modernise agriculture in Tunisia”, the sector suffers from several constraints, the first and not least of which is the economic and social crisis that restricts the government’s room for maneuver.

The study conducted by Ghazi Ben Ahmed, director of the Mediterranean Development Initiative association notes that among the constraints are the increase in pressure on natural resources weakened by global warming and limited access to bank financing.

Only 7% of farmers benefit from bank loans and 70% are financed by “own funds”, which implies a large volume of supplier and buyer credits.

The study refers to the size of farms marked by a form of dualism between large farms and small ones.

“A new form of dualism was born in 2010 with differentiated access to natural resources, sources of funding and information,” said the document.

As for the social aspects of agricultural policy, a 2006 World Bank (WB) report cited in the study shows that those who depend on agriculture are often the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the population in society.

In addition, the objectives of agricultural policy in Tunisia have been, since independence, more social, namely maintaining social stability and food security, which has resulted in “production prices disconnected from real costs and has disadvantaged agricultural producers.

The study, which refers in this section to the reflections of a working group made up of experts from AFD and the Ministry of Agriculture, emphasises strong growth in imports, particularly for certain basic products in order to achieve food security, the deficit of the “price” and “non-price” competitiveness of national agricultural supply compared to imported foodstuffs and the difficult control of export markets, whose volatile prices and stagnation in some cases jeopardize the strategies of the producers for a better valuation of the exported products.

In its conclusion, the study estimates that the country has an interest in taking advantage of 10 years of respite to rethink the agricultural development model that is too expensive in resources and not efficient enough.

It calls for a real modern agricultural policy that aims to produce more with fewer resources and to use environmentally friendly technologies.

It also incorporates, on its behalf, the recommendations of the Mediterranean World Economic Foresight Institute (IPEMED).

These include the creation of a professional and social status for agricultural workers and securing the land, so as to facilitate access to property or owner-farming for small and medium farmers.

IPEMED recommends improving producer incomes through the adoption of attractive prices, support for farm management performance, intensification of research and development effort and support to the organisation of agricultural producers and agri-food chains.

Since November 2012, Tunisia has enjoyed the status of a privileged partner of the EU, its main trading and economic partner. Both parties had a first round of DCFTA negotiations in April 2016.