Olive growing is a strategic sector in Tunisia; it is one of the main activities in agriculture. In fact, it contributes to the achievement of national goals of economic growth, food security, job creation, increased export earnings and preservation and enhancement of natural resources. Cultivating olives in Tunisia is done by heritage among small family farms representing 28% of the total area cultivated.
Tunisia has a long tradition in exporting olive oil, however, the adopted development strategy was always focused only on improving productivity and the main goal was a quantitative target “produce more to export more”.
Since 1995, following the accession of Tunisia to the World Trade Organization and the association agreements with the European Union, the aim has been to produce competitive goods in the international market. In this new context of competitive advantage, all efforts were directed towards the liberalization of exports and the establishment of an export promotion program accompanied by significant privileges and benefits for exporters (grants and loans from the CEPEX for transportation, market research, participation in exhibitions, publishing promotional materials etc.) and support structures (technical centers and inter-groups).
Despite these measures, Tunisian olive oil is still considered as a commodity and it is promoted solely on the basis of its physical characteristics while the symbolic attributes are generated on developed countries. In fact, there are few geographical indications for agricultural products in Tunisia, and in most of the cases, these products rarely cross borders.
Despite the fact that Tunisia is the fourth producer of olive oil worldwide and the third exporter, especially to Italy and Spain, a geographical indication for Tunisian olive oil cannot succeed overseas.
The objective of the research is to put forth the main problems that need to be solved before Tunisian olive oil can effectively use designation of origin and geographical indication (GI) to go to international markets. These constraints will be established based on information gathered through a survey of olive oil exporters and producers. Policies that focus on quantity will need to be complemented by specific measures based on quality at all levels of the industry in order to lead exports of this key product to reach its full potential.