Unlike other organizations, the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP) is now in a critical stage, requiring bold measures, “even if some parties, sometimes outside the organization, try to sow discord and disorder.”
These measures should mark a definitive break with a regime that has marginalized it for 23 years. Considered as an organization advocating for the rights of 550,000 farmers and fishermen, UTAP has been facing since January 14 movements of protest by various members requiring changes in the structure of the organization.
This worrying situation prompted the UTAP Rescue Committee to organize on Tuesday a meeting on the theme of: “The Rescue of the Agricultural Organization: Challenges and Prospects “and aimed at revitalizing and restructuring the UTAP as union and not a branch of the disbanded RCD.
It is an organization that must be limited to union work and not do politics, as reminded by Omar Behi, member of the committee.
He confirmed the project to dismantle the two existing bodies (the Central Committee and the Executive Committee) and create instead an interim and safeguarding committee to
prepare the next conference which will choose a new president and the executive board.
How things currently stand? Several problems are now facing the agricultural sector and farmers, including land fragmentation which must be resolved and the land division, knowing that 450,000 hectares (the best land) are poorly farmed, in addition to the upsurge in prices and the lack of control in distribution channels especially among retailers.
This has aggravated farmers’ debt, bearing in mind credits in kind (10 sheep or a cow) instead of the unemployment premium and the lack of drought insurance. In addition, this
meeting helped pinpoint the various sectoral issues that stir farmers.
Thus, for market gardening: there was an uncontrolled increase in prices of implements and
lack of control in distribution channels especially among retailers. There is also an absence of inspections of imported fertilizers and the intensive use of pesticide.
For breeders, it does not seem that they are very convinced of the activities undertaken by the UTAP and inter-professional groups to defend their interests with the government.
Moreover, their concerns revolve around the lack of fodder in both quality and quantity, and therefore the massive use of imports of concentrated feed. Hence, production costs are high and productivity is low.
Regarding tree crops, the speakers emphasized the lack of land titles preventing the resort to bank loans and the fragmentation of agricultural lands: 70% of tree farms <10 ha and 50% of tree farms <5 ha, and the inability of tree growers to invest in preservation and processing infrastructure and conquer external markets. They are issues that refer to fundamentally union and social failures. Faouzi Oueslati, member of the UTAP rescue committee said, in this regard, that the role of UTAP was unproductive and virtually nothing has been
undertaken with the relevant ministries.
According to him, this body is completely ineffective and provides no support, training and outreach, which affected all extension and guidance agencies, though the majority of the latter is funded by taxes on sales of agricultural products.
Farmers emphasize the importance not only of the restructuring of UTAP but also setting place urgent measures to save the agriculture and fishing areas at this difficult juncture in terms of security and weather.
Several recommendations were made, suggesting to create a confederation of farmers ensuring the interests of farmers, guarantee a price allowing profitability based on costs of production, reduce the number of intermediaries in the chain of marketing and control their profit margin and revise the farmer-bank relationship.