Tunisia is the most important country of the southern Mediterranean in the olive oil industry and the largest world power in this sector outside the EU, the fourth largest. The olive cultivation in Tunisia is an ancient tradition introduced by the Phoenicians and developed by other civilizations that succeeded on its soil.
The Tunisian olive growing plays a fundamental role in socio-economic life: more than a million people are living directly or indirectly from the olive growing and it limits the rural exodus, because it is the only viable crop in less favored areas. International trade in olive oil represents 50% of agricultural exports (5.5% of total exports) and is the fifth largest source of foreign countries.
In 2005, Tunisia is the second largest acreage (1.5 million ha) and fourth in the world in number of trees (65 million). 85% of holdings are less than 5 ha. The yield (400 kg / ha on average) and the density of plantations depend on water resources: typically 100 trees per hectare in the north (200 irrigated), 60 olive trees per hectare in the center and 20 trees per hectare to the south. In the period 2000-2006, Tunisia produced an average of 144,500 tons of olive oil for domestic consumption of 42,300 t / year, and 15 000 tonnes of table olives local consumption of 14 100 t / year.
The Tunisian varietal heritage consists of a wide variety of cultivars. Among olive varieties include Chemlali, Chetoui, Oueslati, Gerboua, Zalmati, Zarazi, Barouni Chemlali and Gafsa. Regarding varieties table olives include Meski, Besberi, Bidh el Haman Limli and Limouni. However, olive groves consist essentially of two main varieties: Chemlali Sfax occupying 60% of the olive area and Chetoui, which is a variety dual ability occupying 35% of the olive-growing area of the country especially in the northern coastal strip.
The processing sector is changing from craft practices to industrial practices. There are 1571 oil mills which half are still working in a traditional way, but the production capacity has been multiplied by 3.5 in two decades and the quality has improved. There are also 14 refineries in the country, and 14 oil extraction units pomace underemployed and 41 conditioning units with a strong export potential. The region of Sfax is largest player in the olive oil economy with 56 exporters and 1 300 oil mills. In April 1976 an agreement with the European Community, Tunisia enjoys privileged conditions for access to the EU market for various products, including olive oil. 70% of the oil produced is exported, and Tunisia is accounted for 32% of world exports for a production of only 8.3% of world production, which led the state to take action for this strategic sector, such as the granting of credit for the development or promotion and the exemption from value added tax.