Africa still plays a small, but growing role in the global organic market. North Africa is the most developed region in Africa and it is dynamic. Markus Arbenz highlights the key aspects of the situation in the region.

Organic Trade in and with North Africa

Organic Trade in North Africa: regional overview

North Africa is comprising the countries and territories of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, West Sahara and Mauretania. Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco are all strong in organic agriculture and trade. Libya and West Sahara have no organic agriculture and Mauretania has entered into the statistics only in 2020. Algeria is developing, however still has very small production and trade.

The region has a Mediterranean to arid climate. The north coast is characterized by mild, wet winters and warm dry summers, providing special opportunities to produce organically for the local and international markets. Popular products include early potato or medical and aromatic plants (MAP) from Egypt, olive oil for blends from Tunisia, citrus fruits or argon oil from Morocco or dates from all North African countries.

North Africa is not a uniform region with common institutions and intense internal trade relationship. There is also little exchange with Sub Saharan Africa. North Africa orients itself to the Mediterranean area and is for example integrated in MOAN, the Mediterranean Organic Agriculture Network or in IFOAM AgriBioMediterraneo. Recently, e.g. with Morocco hosting the 2021 AfrONet Africa Organic Conference and bidding for the Organic World Conference 2024 on behalf of Africa, there are arising efforts to collaborate with the rest of Africa.

North Africa organic developments may serve as spearheading examples for the rest of Africa. North African countries were the first to regulate the sector and to establish own guarantee systems. Tunisia is the only African organic system that is recognized as being equivalent by the EU and Switzerland. Tunisia also takes a leading role particularly for the francophone world in organic supporting policies and in sector governance. Morocco has established a strong, government legitimized organic umbrella organization (FIMABIO) and Egypt has through SEKEM inspired the whole world with an international flagship for social entrepreneurship.

North Africa organic production and marketing

In North Africa, 8.800 producers offer a wide range of products for the food, textile and body care products markets. One can identify various strategies of operators:

  • Production for bulk markets such as olive oil, where producers compete with a low price for producing blends. The same – to a smaller extent – is true for annual oil crops and cereals;
  • Products with climate advantage such as citrus fruits, dates or other subtropical fruits;
  • Off season products such as early potatoes and vegetables;
  • Specialty products such as MAPs or long staple cotton for the industry;
  • Specialty products for short chain and fair-trade markets such as dates, honey or nuts.

More than 500 processors export their products. Only a few producers serve the domestic short chains markets, e.g. farmers to retail, gastronomy or directly to consumers with an estimated annual market value between 1 – 10 million €.

North Africa organic developments may serve as spearheading examples for the rest of Africa

Morocco

Organic Agriculture started 1986 with citrus exports to the EU. They soon extended to other vegetables and fruits targeting EU off-season demand and to MAP. The certified organic area in Morocco grew rapidly initially but has thereafter remained relatively constant with a new dynamic in export volumes in the last few years (approx. 500 ha in 1997 to 8.300 ha in 2003 and 9.300 ha in 2019 with 270.000 ha wild collection). The production volume reaches now 100.000 tons, of which 17,000 t (80% growth since 2016, mostly going back to wild collection) is exported. With 302 certified producers (ICS), 76 processors, 15 exporters and 1 PGS (30 operators), the organic sector in Morocco is still relatively small.

Tunisia

In the last years, the organic sector in Tunisia had a high increase in area and number of farmers, with more crop diversification. This development is the result of policies supporting the sector, the building of organic institutions and a national strategy.

Today, Tunisia has the largest area of certified organic land in Africa and in the Arabic world covering some 336,000 hectares. The number of certified organic operators has grown from 480 in 2002 to 7,900 in 2018, and organic exports have grown from 7 million Euro (3,000 tons) in 2004, to 34 million € (9,000 tons) in 2007 to 200 million € (60,000 tons) in 2018. These figures also reflect that values per volume (from 2.3 €/kg to 3.3 €/kg) have increased.

Tunisia’s main crops of organic olives and organic dates are primarily (and increasingly) cultivated on small and medium sized farm holdings. There are more than 300 processors, out of which 240 are processing olive oil. Tunisia also produces fruits (almonds, peach, citrus), vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, pepper), MAP and honey. All in all, more than 60 organic products are exported.

The domestic market of Tunisia is still small with about a dozen specialised shops in various cities. There are plans in the organic sector to promote agritourism with organic products.

In the last years, the organic sector in Tunisia had a high increase in area and number of farmers, with more crop diversification

Egypt

Egypt has a relatively well-developed organic sector with many stakeholders. In January 2020 an organic regulation passed in the parliament.

Around 3 % of agricultural land in Egypt is organically cultivated. The organic farmland increased from 2,667 ha in 2004 to about 116,000 ha in 2018. The major organic crops produced for export are fruit and vegetables including (early) potatoes, as well as a variety of herbs (MAP). There were estimated growth rates of the market of around 15 % per year, but at the same time Egypt had setbacks in 2011 due to political unrest and in 2017 when both national certification bodies lost international accreditation. Particularly processors of MAP report that they could process and market much higher quantities.

The domestic market is small but arising in big supermarkets (e.g. Carrefour or Hyper One), through short chain markets by producers (e.g. Sara Organic Farm) and a few new specialized shops.

Author: Markus Arbenz – Organics & Development, Winterthur, Switzerland. Consultant for organic development

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