Tunisia: As Drought Looms, Promise Remains in Olive Oil Production

by | Apr 23, 2023 | Economic, Social, Tunisia


Early 2023 has been an encouraging period for Tunisian olive oil producers, with an increase in exports noted as awareness of Tunisian oil continues to rise internationally.

At two recent international olive oil competitions, Tunisian producers took home numerous medals for quality. The competitions held in Japan and the US, were an opportunity for Tunisian olive oil producers to showcase their quality next to other top global producers.

Tunisia is continuing to invest in improvements to the olive oil industry, even as new challenges to production emerge from the ongoing water shortage. An estimated 90% of Tunisia’s olive groves are rainfed. In recent years, dependence on the country’s few irrigated olive groves has grown significantly.

Much production has also continued to rely upon older olive groves, with trees that are well over 100 years old. While impressive relics, older trees lack the production potential of younger trees.

In light of this, Tunisia has added nearly 200,000 hectares of new olive groves in the last decade as producers look to leverage the increased production potential of newly planted groves.

Producers have also worked to increase the quality of the olive oil produced. One estimate indicated that in 1990, only 30% of Tunisian oils achieved the “extra virgin” level of quality. However, recent estimates indicate that over 70% of Tunisian oils now reach this level of quality.

There is broad movement amongst Tunisian producers and bottlers to increase exports of bottled and packaged olive oil, with the end goal of achieving higher returns. Currently, the vast majority of Tunisian olive oil is exported in bulk to bottlers outside of the country and either repackaged or used in generic oil blends. Spain imports nearly half of Tunisia’s bulk oil, while Italy and the United States take large percentages as well.

Tunisian producers have worked to increase the quality and marketing of their oils in hopes to expand further into the bottled export market. This includes significant growth in organic production, a mark many consumers value highly around the world.


Olive oil remains a remarkable resource native to North Africa. While many crops would struggle in the country’s central regions, olive trees have long-thrived, with the heart of Tunisia’s olive production sitting in the hot plains where the lusher northern region transitions to desert.

However, this long-established industry is ripe for disruption, with the need for fresh approaches to production and marketing needed to push Tunisia to its full potential.


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