Tunisia is the second olive oil exporter worldwide after the European Union. Depending on the crop year, it tends to take the third or fourth position in the ranking of global exporters, with the exception of the 2014/2015 crop year when it was first, having exported 304 000 t of olive oil, in particular to Spain, Italy, the United States, France and Portugal.
Olive growing is one of Tunisia’s main agricultural activities. It plays a fundamental social and economic role, given that 60 pc of the country’s farmers work in this area and draw all or part of their revenues from it. Olive growing accounts for 30 to 40 million work days a year. It contributes to slowing down the rural exodus and generating revenues. The olive growing sector has a robust industrial infrastructure, with more than 1 700 olive oil
processing facilities, 15 refineries, 10 olive pomace oil extraction units and more than 40 packing plants.
Over the last 50 years, the average production per crop year has gone from 79 000 t between 1965 and 1975 to more than 176 000 t in the last ten crop years (2005-2015), in particular as a result of a record production of 340 000 t in 2014/15. However, harvest fluctuation continues to be significant.
The main varieties of olive in the northern part of the country are the: Chetoui, Sayali and Gerboui varieties. The plant density in those areas is 100 trees/hectare. In the central part of Tunisia one can find the Chemlali and Oueslati, varieties where the plant density is 50-60 trees/hectare. Finally, in the southern part of the country there are the Zalmati, Zarrari and Chemlali, varieties, with plant density of 17 trees/ hectare.
The biggest volume of exports goes to Italy (55%) and Spain (21%), where, after adulteration, the oil is being packed and then sold to the international markets. Tunisia is making efforts to penetrate new markets and also to improve the product’s quality. During this effort Tunisia has managed to channel its exported oil in the EU, without taxes after a deal with the EU which was sealed 21 years ago (1995). The political stability of the country has helped towards this direction.
For more information you can see here the International Oil Council’s report on Tunisia