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Tunisia Struggles to Grow More Wheat

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta. The small North African country, like its neighbours, is desperate to prevent food shortages and social unrest — but for farmers on the sun-baked plains north of Tunis, even the basics are problematic. In April, the government unveiled a programme to help farmers access better seeds, technical assistance, and state-backed loans. It also plans to devote 30 percent more farmland to wheat and has dramatically boosted the prices it pays growers. Tunisia’s wheat production has suffered from years of drought and a decade of political instability, with 10 governments since the country’s 2011 revolution. That has exacerbated its reliance on imports. Last year, it bought almost two-thirds of its cereal from overseas, much of it from the Black Sea region. Those supply chains have been rocked first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by the war in Ukraine, which last year provided around half of Tunisia’s imports of the soft wheat used in bread. While it still plans to import soft wheat, the country is pushing for self-sufficiency in durum wheat by the 2023 harvest. That would be a valuable contribution to the national diet: the average Tunisian eats 17 kilogrammes of pasta per year, second only to Italians.