In the Maghreb, organic and organic agriculture is booming

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Harvest of organic olives in Oudhna, near Tunis, October 4, 2021.

It is “The future of agriculture” ! Sarah Shili proudly displays freshly picked organic eggplants and pomegranates near Tunis. In the Maghreb, organic products are booming under the effect of local demand and exports.

Every day, this manager of Domaine Elixir Bio inspects in Oudhna, 30 km from Tunis, the 94 hectares of a farm specializing in certified organic crops. These productions which “Respect nature” represent, in his eyes, “The future of agriculture in Tunisia and even in the world”.

The farm saw its turnover explode “Under the effect of strong demand and online sales”. Between 2015 and 2020, it was multiplied by five to more than 100,000 euros, despite prices “A little higher” than conventional agriculture.

The quantities produced are still insufficient to meet demand from abroad. And next to the “Lack of water, as for all farmers”, it can be difficult to “Finding organic seeds, you have to fend for yourself”, explains Mme Shili.

“Very favorable climate”

Tunisian organic has grown considerably over the past two decades with twenty times the area cultivated in 2020 (320,000 hectares certified), explains Samia Maamer, responsible for organic farming at the Ministry of Agriculture. Between producers and traders, the number of players in organic has multiplied by 24 to reach nearly 8,000.

Despite the pandemic, organic has “Contributed to the revitalization and diversification of the economy” to be present “13% of food exports, which is important for this small sector”. Exports have almost tripled, from 36,000 tonnes in 2013 to nearly 90,000 tonnes in 2020. Of the 250 organic products grown in Tunisia, about sixty are exported: olive oil, dates, vegetables and fruits, aromatic and medicinal plants.

If Tunisia appears at 30e world rank of organic agriculture, it is the first in Africa in terms of certified area and exported products, according to Mme Maamer.

Read also Tunisian women are betting on organic to find a place in the world of olive oil

“The Tunisian climate is very favorable to organic farming”, she said, pointing out that only 5% of the 2 million hectares of olive trees planted are subject to treatment with pesticides. Potentially 95% of the plantations could therefore become organic. It is, according to her, conceivable to arrive quickly at “1 million hectares of organic land for olive trees and 1.5 million hectares for arboriculture and vegetable farming”.

Organic is “In demand internationally”, in particular by the United States and Europe, and locally, “There is a strong demand from young people aged 25 to 30 who are connected and informed about its virtues”, according to the ministerial official.

By 2030, Tunisia also wants “Develop a specific rural model” so that organic becomes “An engine of local development making it possible to promote other sectors such as tourism, crafts, renewable energies”, she emphasizes.

Taking off in Morocco

In comparison, organic is still taking off in Morocco despite a certain boom with 10,300 hectares of organic crops in 2020 against 4,000 in 2011. “This remains far below the potential of an agricultural country like Morocco”, explained to AFP the president of the Moroccan Union of Organic Farmers, Reda Tahiri. Essentially, these are olive, citrus and almond crops in the regions of Marrakech (south-west), Rabat (north-west) and Souss-Massa (south).

Morocco also has nearly 300,000 ha of spontaneous crops of aromatic and medicinal plants, such as argan or cedar. He intends to promote organic, now considered as “Priority” by the Green Morocco government plan, through the financing of high certification fees (up to 1,000 euros per hectare per year).

Read also Morocco is slowly turning to organic farming

The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture plans to reach 100,000 ha of cultivated area by 2030 and a production of 900,000 tonnes per year, of which one third is intended for the local market and two thirds for export.

In 2020, out of nearly 130,000 tonnes, around 14,000 tonnes of fresh (fruit and vegetables) and processed (citrus juice, frozen strawberries or olive oil) were exported to the European Union, Canada, Switzerland or the United States. “We must raise awareness among consumers and increase profit margins for producers” if we want to accelerate the movement, analyzes Mr. Tahiri.

Finally in Algeria, if the organic market is still in its infancy, specialized stores have been offering urban dwellers organic baskets for several years, supplied directly from small producers. But cultivated areas did not exceed 1,200 hectares in 2013 with 81 organic farms, according to the Center for Research in Applied Economics for Development.

The World with AFP

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In the Maghreb, organic and organic agriculture is booming

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