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Olive oil in Tunisia, a female-dominated industry

women olive oil tunisia

Whether it is enjoyed on its own or used as an ingredient in preparation, olive oil is a cultural symbol as well as one of the most appreciated culinary delights in Tunisia.

It is also an essential economic resource of the country. Tunisia ranks fourth among olive oil producers in the world, with an average annual production of over 300,000 tons, and is the largest producer of olive oil outside the European Union. In 2021, Tunisian olive oil exports have been estimated at more than one billion dollars, which represents a significant share of total exports of the country.

Olive groves cover about one third of Tunisia’s soil, mainly in the central regions of the country, and the olive oil industry employs about 300,000 people. In addition, family-owned olive farms are becoming increasingly widespread in Tunisia, highlighting the extent to which the practice is embedded in the country’s culture.


A female enterprise

Interestingly enough, olive oil production in Tunisia is essentially a female enterprise. Tunisian women represent more than 80% of the country’s agricultural workforce, and many of them are over 50 years old. This is due to a combination of factors, including the migration of men from rural to urban areas, and the lack of educational and professional opportunities for older women.

On the other hand, many women have managed to establish themselves as leaders in key positions in the country’s olive oil industry, and several women entrepreneurs have made significant progress in the sector. This is the case of Soraya Hosni, founder of the startup Clever Harvest. “We have also feminized the work in the oil mill, which is historically a male job, but as the engineering profession is becoming more feminized in the country, we have introduced new jobs in the oil mills. Quality control and hygiene are often the responsibility of women.” she explains to RFI.

The business woman is one of the many Tunisian women who have taken on leading roles in this sector, notably as engineers, chemists, marketing managers, etc.



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Une publication partagée par Soraya Hosni (@sorayahosni)

Not without difficulties

Nevertheless, despite the significant contributions of women to the Tunisian olive oil industry, they face several challenges. Women olive oil farmers are often subject to low wages, long working hours and minimal legal protections. Many women work in hazardous conditions, without access to basic health and safety equipment or training. In response, several Tunisian governments and unions have expressed their commitment to improving working conditions for women farmers and providing additional legal protection for one of the country’s most crucial income-generating industries.