It is often wrong to talk about agricultural policy in Tunisia. According agricultural development expert with the United Nations, the Tunisian policy in this area fails to assess the constraints of the agricultural sector and to define priorities and interventions to implement the short, medium and long term.
In an interview given to journalist Imen Gharb of Tunisian official news agency TAP, she advocates the rationalization of natural, human and financial resources and creating conditions for a sustainable and viable job-generating jobs.
How do you evaluate the health of the Tunisian agricultural sector?
To say that the agricultural sector is not doing well is a euphemism. This is evidenced by recent protests by farmers who have raised crucial issues for the future of the sector (organization of value chains, price system for strategic products, such as wheat, milk or meat, cost price of agricultural products, land access, cost of water …).
However, there is a blatant paradigm shift in the economic analyzes conducted, since the intangible-based sectors have taken precedence over material-based sectors such as agriculture.
The wealth of nations is created only from a managed, tapped and valued material base: there can be no financial sector, no banking sector, or even no industry or services, if there is no creation of a primary wealth that passes necessarily by the production, including agricultural.
Otherwise, the economy ends up looking like a bubble, based on mechanisms and phenomena, difficult to understand, not palpable and moreover uncontrollable, which can lead to successive crises and bankruptcy.
The galloping inflation as well as the continuous depreciation of the Tunisian dinar are the symptoms of an economic system, not sufficiently productive and which is running out of steam.
Thus, the situations of rent and the excessive speculation, go up to distort the rules of the market.
Does Tunisia have a real agricultural policy?
There are many strategy papers in Tunisia recommending interventions to be implemented in the subsectors of agriculture, but there is no real integrated agricultural policy, diagnosing the constraints of the agricultural sector, defining priorities and interventions to be implemented in the short, medium and long term.
Beyond the absence of an agricultural policy, governance and management of the sector are problematic.
The management of the agricultural sector has always been that of the separate management of sub-sectors (crop production, animal production, water resources …), which has led to extreme compartmentalization and a lack of prioritization of constraints.
This often leads to conflicting decisions or non-decisions that serve neither the growth of the sector nor the actors who operate in it.
Finally, the still nascent coordination between the ministerial departments, the most important of which are the Ministries of Agriculture, Trade and State Property and Land Affairs, penalizes the performance of the agricultural sector.
The country has been developing the milk sector since 1990, which has led to the self-sufficiency and even the export of this product: the imperfect coordination between the two departments of Trade and Agriculture, calls into question the achievements and efforts of more than 3 decades.
Likewise, there is an unused state-owned land reserve, whose exploitation and allocation in the form of long-term leases, would contribute to the settlement of young people, job creation and local development dynamics.
What is your vision of what an agricultural policy should be?
First of all, it is necessary to create attractive living conditions so that producers / women and young people who live in rural areas continue to work in agriculture and in rural areas and agree to continue to serve the nation.
An agricultural policy must have the objective of rationalizing the use of natural, human and financial resources with the aim of ensuring a level of food sovereignty in the country but also, to serve the interest of the innumerable actors engaged in the sector and to establish conditions for a sustainable and viable activity that creates jobs.
The aim is to remove the constraints facing the sub-sectors of water management in the context of climate change, the milk and meat sectors or vegetable and tree crops, the cereals sector, the inputs supply and the livestock feed supply. The objective is to protect our animal and natural capital and the livelihoods of many actors engaged in the sectors in a fair and balanced way.
It is also imperative to develop financial products adapted to the sectors and even to each segment of the sectors. These financial products would be deployed through banks or microfinance institutions in all regions of the country, in the form of a local service to farmers.
There is also the need to set up an attractive price system and to define the degree of state’s commitment to the protection of strategic sectors. Two key elements determine the development of the sectors.
Firstly, the structuring of producer organizations in a bottom-up way, from grassroots organizations to regional and national organizations.
Strong producer organizations will have the power to negotiate to defend the interests of their members within the branch and with other stakeholders involved in the sector. Such structuring of organizations will be possible only if producers see an interest in joining and realize that the services offered meet their needs.
Secondly, the creation of platforms for dialogue with the authorities, integrating the actors involved in the sector, is essential for regular consultations to be held on producer prices, marketing prices and existing constraints on the level of each segment of the sector.
Strategically, it is clear that there are three stages of deploying a new vision of the agricultural sector, in the short, medium and long term.
The short term concerns urgent actions such as the restoration of an attractive price system for milk producers or the removal of bottlenecks related to the marketing of fruit or vegetable products or the maintenance of irrigation networks in irrigated perimeters.
The medium term concerns the actions or interventions to be carried out to optimize the use of resources, for example the reconsideration of water management systems and their organization in the already existing perimeters.
Long-term actions are more concerned with access to land and the reform of the rights to land and natural resources: for example, legal access to land (land titles) constitutes an essential condition for agricultural development, because it allows access to loans, engine of investment in the sector.