TUNIS, June 27 A heat wave and fires badly damage Tunisia’s grain harvest, leading the farmers union to forecast that output will fall well short of government hopes.
Loss of grain production comes as the North African country struggles with food importation costs driven higher by the war in Ukraine.
Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Elyess Hamza forecast that the 2022 grain harvest would reach 1.8 million tonnes, up 10% from last year’s.But farmers union official Mohamed Rejaibia, pointing to fires raging over much of the country last month, said that was no longer possible.
The union and experts say the crop also suffers direct damage from high temperatures, which have already reached 47 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) this summer and are forecast to go as high as 49 Celsius. Moreover, the heatwave could hinder agricultural workers from collecting the harvest.
Tunisia has been counting on a big crop to reduce grain imports amid a national financial crisis that the war has exacerbated. Higher prices of imported food and energy will cost the budget $1.7 billion this year, says the government, which subsidises such supplies.
The country has aimed at self-sufficiency this year in the production of durum wheat, the main grain it produces.Some farmers are harvesting grain early, accepting smaller crops for fear of losing all their 2022 production to fires.
“Usually, we begin the harvest season in July, but this year we started on June 18,” said farmer Abderraouf Arfaoui in Krib, a northern town. “We are afraid of fires and must watch our land day and night.”
“We must harvest without waiting, even if that reduces the quantity and quality of the wheat, and when we finish the harvest, we must watch our haystacks, too.” President Kais Saied said this month that the grain crop this year would be a target for criminal gangs, which planned to steal products of good quality.