Lone organic pioneers in Tunisia

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Skaya, our Tunisian almond and pistachio supplier, has been engaged in organic farming for around 20 years. It is nonetheless difficult to find more organic producers. This is due to a lack of infrastructure and subsidies, but also due to the mindset.

gebana has been purchasing organic almonds and pistachios from Skaya in Tunisia since 2018. The small business is located in the mountainous region of Kasserine, near the village of Thala. There, the company founders Rachid Skander Hamzaoui and his wife Eya have about 40 hectares of land, which Rachid inherited from his father. This legacy and a desire to make a difference in their homeland made Rachid and Eya Hamzaoui pioneers in organic almond and pistachio cultivation in Tunisia.

In Rachid Hamzaoui's view, there is a demand for organic products in Tunisia. But dates and olive oil account for 90 percent of organic products, he says. These two products are also the only sectors of Tunisian agriculture that receive state subsidies. This is also evident from the figures of the Ministry of Agriculture: Between 2002 and 2019, the organic cultivation area in Tunisia increased from 18,600 hectares to 326,000 hectares. In 2019, however, almost 80 percent of this area was occupied exclusively by olive trees.

Lack of infrastructure and scepticism

But the lack of subsidies is not solely responsible for the scarcity of organic almond cultivation in the country. In principle, almond cultivation is appealing: local demand is strong and prices – additionally supported by high import duties – are correspondingly high. Family farmers can therefore earn higher incomes with almonds than with grains, for example.

Organically produced almonds bring in around 20 percent more than conventional ones. But Tunisian producers remain sceptical. “You first have to introduce people to organic farming," says Rachid Hamzaoui: "We're still in the niche stage: there are no logistics, no supply chains, no infrastructure and no cooperatives that advocate for the producers." He is convinced that, as long as things stay this way, the supply of locally produced organic products will remain modest.

From Rachid Hamzaoui’s point of view, another hurdle for many Tunisian producers are the obligations that come with organic cultivation. "They must prove that their land is really theirs. That scares them. They fear being ripped off and they fear the obligations," he explains.

At the same time, producers must train themselves and acquire the necessary knowledge to increase their fields' yield. The problem lies in people's mindset, says Rachid: "An old Arabic proverb states that you should first see and then act. Unfortunately, this is the wrong order when it comes to converting to organic farming."

Leading by example

The challenge lies in bringing expertise to remote areas. Rachid is currently in contact with the "Institut de l'Olivier" in Sfax for a future pilot project. As part of this project, he lets professionals experiment with innovative methods on a part of his land. He is hoping that, as other producers see what is happening and the positive results, they will pass it on. "Perhaps this is how the improvements spread," he hopes.

Rachid and Eya took the first step in this word-of-mouth campaign themselves by convincing neighbours around their farm of the value of organic farming. Two farmers have already joined them. And the neighbours, in turn, told their neighbours. Six other farming families have now expressed an interest in supplying Skaya with organic almonds in the future.


Centre Technique de l’Agriculture Biologique : Le secteur de l’agriculture biologique en Tunisie. http://www.ctab.nat.tn/index.php/fr-fr/situation-du-secteur/tunisie/statistiques (abgerufen am 8.06.2022)

Le Monde (2021): Au Maghreb, l’agriculture bio et organique en plein essor. https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2021/11/08/au-maghreb-l-agriculture-bio-et-organique-en-plein-essor_6101351_3212.html (abgerufen am 8.06.2022)

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