Building Food Sovereignty in Tunisia

By Habib Ayeb

The Tunisian government is in high-level talks to remove the last crumbling barriers protecting Tunisian agriculture. Efforts to capitalize on the ‘comparative advantage’ of Tunisia’s nearly year-round sunshine has already forced a shift toward production of fruit and vegetables for export, and increasing dependence on imports for the basic cereals that make up most Tunisian diets. As the nation’s agriculture turned to meet the demands of Europe over the last 25 years, poverty in the countryside swelled.  If the changes go through, it would cement dependence on the European trading system, and decimate what is left of Tunisia’s diverse peasant agriculture.

Dr. Habib Ayeb, activist, geographer and co-founder of the Tunisian NGO Observatory of Food Sovereignty and Environment (OSAE) discusses the potential changes and presents a new vision for food sovereignty in North Africa in this opinion editorial.

Translation and introduction by Max Ajl. 

Leaving ALECA and the Global Food System: For a New Sovereign Agricultural and Food Policy that Breaks Definitively with Food Dependence and International Markets

One out of every two Tunisians is currently fed from outside the country. Our food dependence now exceeds fifty-five percent of our consumption. This situation was not inevitable. Contrary to what the vast majority of experts and decision-makers say (against all evidence), Tunisia has sufficient natural resources, including water and land, as well as human resources, namely extremely rich peasant knowledge, to feed its entire current population, if not a larger one.

For decades, Tunisia has been sinking into an ever-more-asphyxiating food dependency. After 2011, many of us wished for a change of course and hoped for a complete break with the policies that had been followed since national independence. However, all our governments have blindly pursued the policies of their predecessors in a forced march to nowhere, and against the vital interests of the country.

This massive food dependency is likely to worsen if the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (ALECA, as it is commonly known by its French acronym) with Europe is signed and approved by Tunisian policymakers.

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