Toward a shared vision on agricultural cooperatives in Tunisia, June 2017
Agricultural cooperatives, which
account for about half of the world’s agricultural production, play a vital
role in improving farmers’ access to inputs, financing, markets and technical
But in Tunisia – where small family
farms make up the lion’s share of farms – only 6 percent of the country’s
producers belong to such cooperatives.
On 12 April, Tunisia’s Ministry of
Agriculture, Hydraulic Resources and Fisheries, in collaboration with the Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), hosted a workshop in the Tunisian
city of Mahdia.
The purpose was to share the
preliminary findings from an FAO/EBRD study on agricultural cooperatives in
Tunisia, and to begin mapping out a shared vision and action plan on
agricultural cooperatives in the country.
The event drew around 145
participants from across Tunisia, including representatives from agricultural
cooperatives, inter-professional groups, government, international
organizations and the private sector.
The General Directorate for
Financing, Investments and Professional Organizations (DGFIOP) of the Ministry
of Agriculture, Hydraulic Resources and Fisheries, the Regional Commission for
Agricultural Development of Mahdia and FAO’s office in Tunis provided support.
Amor El Behi, the Secretary of State
to the Minister of Agriculture responsible for agricultural production, noted
the initiative’s timeliness, explaining that the country’s new investment law
“encourages farmers to integrate into cooperatives by granting subsidies and
investment premiums that are higher than those granted to individual farmers.”
“The review of the cooperatives law
will give more flexibility to the creation of cooperatives and investment,” he
Good leadership key
The FAO/EBRD study looked at
Tunisia’s best performing cooperatives, including dairy, olive oil, meat,
poultry, horticulture, wine and multipurpose service cooperatives, to
understand why they were successful.
Through field visits and interviews,
the FAO study team, in collaboration with DGFIOP, analysed cooperative
governance and autonomy, market positioning, the social context, public
policies and investment potential.
looked at the constraints holding back cooperative development in the country.
Good leadership was the common
denominator among the more successful cooperatives, said Cristiana Sparacino,
an FAO economist and team member.
“The cooperatives that work well are
the ones where people come together to resolve a problem and get a good,
committed manager to help them find the solutions,” she said.
Deepening the debate
workshop, participants broke off into working groups to discuss five main
themes from the study.
One group focused
on the process of creating well-functioning cooperatives, while another looked
at governance and management issues, reflecting on the different roles and
responsibilities within the cooperatives.
Another group discussed investment potential and access to financing
value chains was also one of the themes. Agrifood industries should be
encouraged to set up near production areas, while cooperatives and the private
sector should enter into consortia agreements. Such agreements can promote
innovation and help cooperatives access quality advisory and technical
working group deepened the discussion around the importance of strengthening
the business, leadership and management skills of actors within the cooperative
sector, and also of supporting and monitoring the progress of start-up
team will incorporate the main observations and recommendations from the
working groups into the study, which will be finalized shortly.
contribute to greater efficiency in certain agrifood chains, create employment
and bring more women and young people into the rural economy. That’s why
keeping the momentum is crucial.
One way to do
that – as discussed during the workshop – would be to create a specific agency
to champion cooperative sector development in Tunisia.
Akermi, Director-General of DGFIOP, supported that idea as it “would unify and
boost scattered initiatives in this domain.”
For EBRD’s part,
Hassen Messedi, Associate Banker in the EBRD office in Tunisia, underscored the
Bank’s interest in exploring opportunities to strengthen the sector.
“While the Bank’s
emphasis remains on investment with private enterprises, it can also encourage,
through technical assistance and policy dialogue, the graduation from bankable
cooperatives to potential clients,” he said. “We recognize that the development
of commercially viable agricultural cooperatives can help Tunisian farmers’
access markets and improve employment prospects in rural areas.”
Learning from one another
FAO is now
organizing a study tour for representatives from the cooperative sectors in
Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. The visit will take place in July in Bretagne,
It will enable
participants from the three countries to learn from French cooperative leaders
and also exchange experiences with one another.
for agriculture in the coming years is to produce sustainably, while ensuring
sector competitiveness and profitability for farmers,” said Lamourdia
Thiombiano, FAO Representative for Tunisia, adding that all three countries
struggle with increasingly scarce and fragile natural resources. “Agricultural
cooperatives can play an important role in responding to these challenges and
providing farmers with a better environment in which to work.”