Tunisia, the smallest country of North Africa, is bordered in the north and east by the Mediterranean Sea, and is also known as a Maghreb country. Tunisia’s population is slightly above 10 million. Both Arabic and French are spoken. Tunisia’s capital is Tunis. The country comprises 24 governorates, which are divided into 264 districts (mutamadiyat). The districts are further sub-divided into municipalities (shaykhats) and sectors (imadats).
The climate of Tunisia is temperate in the northern, mountainous region, with cool moist winters and hot, dry summers. Overall, it is warm throughout the year. The central region of the country is hot and dry plain while the southern part is desert. Several salt lakes exist in the northern part of the Sahara (desert). Average annual rainfall is about 1,520 mm, mostly confined to the mountainous region.
The agriculture sector of Tunisia is of great economic importance making up to 12.6 percent contribution to the national GDP. About 66 percent of the cultivable area receives less than 400 mm rain per year. In 2009, Tunisia had reportedly about 516,000 farms and 87 percent of them were of less than 20 hectares size. About 8 percent of the farmers own more than half of the cultivable land whereas about 62 percent are smallholders with less than 10 hectares each. Approximately 25 percent of the rural population is landless. Main cereal crops grown are wheat and barley. Olive is grown as commercial crop, as its oil is exported. The fruits grown include grapes, citrus and dates, and vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, onion, pepper and artichoke. Farmers rear cattle, sheep, goats, camels and chickens for meat and milk consumption. Organic farming has gained significant popularity among the farmers during the last ten years.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
|Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)||43.52||2009|
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
|GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)||4020||2011|
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary school enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)*
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)
History of Extension and the enabling environment
After Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881, the French progressively took over administrative responsibilities for many sectors including agriculture. Under the colonial rules, French settlers and commercial companies acquired substantial farm lands including those which were under religious trust or tribal common ownership. Apart from the unrest among Tunisians caused by this policy, the production of olive groves and vineyards went up.
In 1897, a livestock laboratory was established, followed by the establishment of Colonial School of Agriculture in 1898. In 1913, Botanic Service of Tunisia formed, and in 1924, an oceanographic station was set up at Salammbo.
After gaining independence in 1924, Tunisia established several agricultural research institutes. There is, however, little information available on the subject of agricultural extension. Excessive government control on all aspects of agricultural sector did not allow non-public and civil society institutions to flourish nor could it fully exploit the potential of the sector.
Starting around late 1980s, when Tunisia’s 7th Development Plan was in its last phase, agriculture, and agricultural extension in particular, did receive due attention from policy makers. In 1989, Extension Territorial Cells (CTVs) were created at the regional level. Following a study done in 1987 and complimented by other successive studies, the Education, Research and Extension Directorate (DERV) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources was abolished in 1990, and was replaced by two separate national level government institutions namely Agency for Agricultural Extension and Training (AVFA), and Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education (IRESA). The implementation of a five-year national agricultural extension development project, co-financed by the World Bank, started in June 1991 within the framework of the 8th Development Plan. The project introduced a few institutional reforms.
In 1994, extension services were provided by certain institutions directly under the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, specialized autonomous agencies for commodities (such as vegetables, cereals, wine, olive oil and irrigation), and semi-professional organizations covering vegetables, citrus and other fruits, dates, poultry products and grape vine. Over 90 percent of the extension services, however, were provided by the Ministry, which had about 650 Extension Units spread across Tunisia, but with high concentration in the northern region.
Several donors, notably the World Bank, provided financial and technical assistance to Tunisia to strengthen agriculture in general and extension and research in particular. Four main projects namely Agricultural Research and Extension Project (1990–1997), Agricultural Sector Investment Project (1993–2000), Northwest Mountainous Areas Development Project (1993–2001) and National Rural Finance Project (1995–2001) were financed by the World Bank, and all of them had direct or indirect influence on the development of agricultural extension in the country. The objective of the Agricultural Research and Extension Project was to improve the institutional framework of these services, mainly by creating coordinating agencies for research and extension, strengthening regional facilities, and improving links between research and extension. Some other donors that have provided financial and/or technical assistance to Tunisia include European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation (Swisscontact), Japan, France and USA.
The top priority that the Tunisian Government has assigned to agricultural extension is evident from the fact that the country’s president chaired a cabinet meeting in 2010 to discuss just the agricultural extension system. Decentralization and privatization of extension have been experimented in the country.
Major Institutions Providing Extension/Advisory Services
Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources
In spite of some efforts made at privatization of decentralized extension services, the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources remains the main public service provider in extension. The organizational structure of these extension services, as reported in 2004, is as follows.
- National level
The Agricultural Extension & Training Agency (AVFA) (Agence de la Vulgarisation et de la Formation Agricoles) has overall responsibility for extension services. The agency, which comprises the following five directorates, supports, coordinates and supervises field extension activities:
- Directorate of Agricultural Operations;
- Directorate of Supervision of Professional and Private Agricultural Extension;
- Directorate of Agricultural Extension Support and Training;
- Directorate of Fisheries Extension and Training; and
- Directorate of Technical Pedagogy.
The staff based at the national level is required to perform the following functions:
- Conceptualization and implementation of agricultural extension policy in line with the Development Plans’ guidelines;
- Elaboration, follow-up and evaluation of agricultural extension programs;
- Coordination of field extension services through pedagogical and logistic support;
- Production and dissemination of printed technical documents and audio-visual materials;
- In-service training of various categories of the extension staff; and
- Raising awareness among farmers and their organizations with the objective of strengthening and encouraging them to get involved in extension actions.
- Regional and field levels
Regional Agricultural Development Commissions (CRDAs) have responsibility for extension in their respective regions. The CRDAs perform their functions through the following field institutional mechanism:
- Division of Extension and Promotion of Agricultural Production (DVPPA): Responsibilities: planning, organization and follow-up of extension and training. Activities: collaboration with CRDA districts, technical services and regional subject-matter specialists to ensure necessary support to extension activities.
- 24 Coordination Units (UCs);
- 183 Territorial Extension Cells (CTVs):
Responsibilities: assistance to the regional level extension staff in planning and organizing their activities through provision of transport and equipment; technical support and follow-up; and
- 844 Agricultural Radiance Centers (CRAs):
Responsibilities: diffusion of information and options regarding improved technologies among farmers; awareness raising and training of farmers in the organization of cooperatives, associations, etc.; assistance to farmers’ groups as needed.
Table 1: Human Resources in Public Agricultural Extension Service as of November 2004 in Tunisia
|Agricultural Extension & Training Agency (AVFA)||33 Technical Officers||21 Field Extension Agents||54|
|Regional and Field Levels (combining Technical Officers and Field Extension Agents)|
|Division for Extension and the Promotion of Agricultural Production (DVPPA)||Male||Female||
|Coordination Units (UCs)||47||30||77|
|Territorial Extension Cells (CTVs)||166||5||171|
|Agricultural Radiance Centers (CRAs)||580||13||593|
Source: Touayi, M. (November 2004). Agricultural Extension in Tunisia: Development Perspectives. Paper presented at the Sub-regional Workshop on Application of ICT for Enhancement of Extension Linkages, Coordination and Services, held at Hammamet, Tunisia, 22-24 November, 2004, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education (Institution de le Recherche et de l’Enseipnement Superieur Agricoles)
The Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education (IRESA) is a national level organization within the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, which is responsible for agricultural research and higher education in Tunisia. IRESA does not directly provide extension services to the farmers but does play an important role as one of the components of its mandate in “promoting agricultural research through the establishment of linkages between agricultural research and higher education institutions on the one hand and, on the other hand, agricultural extension and the producers”. IRESA comprises, among other organizational arms, four directorates and one of them has responsibility for dissemination of innovations and forging of linkages between research and extension. All seven Regional Directorates of IRESA called Poles of Agricultural Research and Development (PRRD), created in 1995, also liaise with extension institutions in their respective regions.
- National Institute of Agronomy of Tunisia (Institute National Agronomique de Tunisie)
The National Institute of Agronomy of Tunisia (INAT) is the leading institution of higher learning in agriculture. Other academic institutions include five schools of agriculture, and the National School of Veterinary Medicine (ENMV). INAT does not provide extension services, per se, but it is of importance for extension due to its academic programs in agricultural sciences, and training programs for agriculturists. This institute has about 80 hectares of agricultural land close to the village of Morang, which is used for research and other agricultural operations.
Since long, the Tunisian Government’s policy has been to modernize its agriculture sector through liberalization and mechanization. Farming mechanization has led to the creation of larger farms due to replacement of farm laborers by machinery, as well as an increase in the migration of rural people to urban areas. In spite of an agricultural sector adjustment program implemented in Tunisia, under which the entry of private sector in various aspects including extension was encouraged, the private sector in agriculture has not yet developed enough with the exception of some private financing in activities like export of olive oil. Presently, there is no private company that provides significant extension and advisory services to the farmers.
Tunisia has a considerable number of NGOs, but none is involved in extension work for farmers. Examples of a few national NGOs engaged in women empowerment, environment protection, and sustainable development are as follows:
- Association Femme et Development (Association for Women and Development)
- Association Tunisie-Mediterranee pour le Development Durable (Tunisian-Mediterranean Association for Sustainable Development)
- Association des Responsables de Formation et de Gestion Humaine dans les Enterprises (ARFORGHE – Association of Professionals in Human Resources)
- Association pour la Protection de l’Environnement et du Developpement Durable (Association for Environment Protection and Sustainable Development)
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
There is no association of farmers in Tunisia, which is financially independent. The only major farmers’ association is l’Union Tunisienne de l’Agriculture et de Peche (UTAP - The Tunisian Association for Agriculture and Fishery), which is almost entirely financed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, with some contribution coming from certain other bodies and farmers. UTAP, established in 1950, represents farmers’ interests through organization of national and international fairs, exhibitions, and promotion of partnerships. The association has representatives and commodity federations (such as for cereals, dates, citrus, tomatoes, olive oil, etc.) in each governorate (province), and helps farmers in forming cooperatives for obtaining farm inputs.
The formation of cooperative farms and agricultural cooperatives started in Tunisia in 1950s. During 1960s, the government amalgamated, as a part of land restructuring reforms, a large number of farms to operate as producer cooperatives. Taking the notice of poor performance of agricultural cooperatives, the government embarked upon their privatization in 1992. Around 1996, about 60 percent of the milk production in Tunisia was being marketed by cooperatives. Documents covering the subject of agricultural cooperatives during 1960s and 1970s are there, but there is little information available about their current number and performance. A Mutuelle Agricole Sidi Bouzid (Sidi Bouzid Cooperative) has been mentioned, which is active in olive oil, almonds and organic farming. Also, there are about 30 groupements de development agricole (agricultural development groups) of farmers engaged in organic agriculture in Tunisia. More than 10 societes mutuelles (co-operative societies) for organic products were established in 2010 within the framework of Inter-professional groupings for vegetables, fruits, legumes, bee-keeping, poultry and rabbit products, meat and milk.
TRAINING OPTIONS FOR EXTENSION PROFESSIONALS
Pre-service education in agricultural disciplines including extension may be pursued at the Institute National Agronomique de Tunisie (INAT - National Institute of Agronomy of Tunisia), which is the principal academic institution offering degree programs in agriculture. Five schools of agriculture and the National School of Veterinary Medicine (ENMV) also offer diploma programs. Knowledge and skills of extension professionals in Tunisia are updated through frequent technical and pedagogical training. During 2003-2004, as many as 1,909 men and women extension staff received in-service training.
For in-service training, extension professionals could make arrangements with INAT, schools of agriculture, National School of Veterinary Medicine (ENMV) or with Institution de le Recherche et de l’Enseipnement Superieur Agricoles (IRESA - The Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education). IRESA comprises an elaborate network of research institutes, academic institutions and labs spread throughout the country, which can offer in-service training on technical subject-matter.
INFO-MEDIARIES AND INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY (ICT) FOR AGRICULTURE AND EXTENSION
According to the World Bank, in 2011, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Tunisia was 116.93. During the same year, the number of internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 39.1. The Ministry of Communication Technology and Transport has overall responsibility for the development of ICT in Tunisia. The National Observatory of Agriculture (ONAGRI), located within the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, created in 1999, is responsible for performing the following functions:
- Development of a reliable information system to analyze the situation of agriculture and fisheries at the national and international level through relevant, reliable and regular indicators.
- Collection, analysis and processing of information and data on national and international sectors of agriculture and fisheries.
- Dissemination of information and data collected among stakeholders including policy makers, planners, researchers, producers, exporters and others (the dissemination of information and data is ensured through an information network comprising a website, intranet and internet website).
Around early 1999, the Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation (ISWC) Project in Tunisia introduced an innovative weekly radio program, “Agriculture and Innovation.” Farmers were invited to present their innovations, which were debated by researchers, training specialists and development agents. Sometimes, all parties sat together and at other times specialists participated through telephones.
Institution de le Recherche et de l’Enseipnement Superieur Agricoles (IRESA - The Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education) has set up a national network of agronomic education and research called AGRINET. The network provides Internet-related services, such as intranet and electronic mail. Technical directorates and Agricultural Development Committees are connected to AGRINET through the Internet. An agronomic scientific research information database in Tunisia called BISRAT has been established in the country.
A program called E-Mediat in Tunisia focuses on capacity building of NGOs and civil society organizations through strategic use of social media and the development of a communication strategy based on new media technologies. The program provides training to over 60 NGOs and relevant organizations through its three training centers located in Tunis, Sfax and Kairouan.
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- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (June 2013)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson