Because the starting of the yr, the variety of individuals fleeing North Africa by boat to the European Union has elevated considerably. Whereas a few of them are individuals who have fled from sub-Saharan Africa and use nations similar to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as a transit level, many are native residents who can not make a dwelling in their very own nations.
The EU has been working to forestall extra individuals from crossing the Mediterranean by stepping up its surveillance and militarization of its southern maritime borders. However the nation has additionally reached out to regional governments to get their assist in combating migration.
Within the case of Tunisia, the EU and Tunisian President Kaïs Saied signed an settlement referred to as the “Complete Partnership Bundle”. In alternate for stopping the move of individuals making an attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, Tunis will obtain 255 million euros ($269 million) for gear, coaching and monetary help. The nation may additionally obtain one other 900 million euros ($953 million) if it reaches an settlement with the Worldwide Financial Fund for structural financial reforms, together with controversial cuts to its meals subsidy program.
Relating to the commerce part of the deal, the Memorandum of Understanding outlines plans for investments in agriculture, inexperienced vitality and the digital transition, amongst different issues. Whereas it stays to be seen how this memorandum will take form, it may be learn as a continuation of the EU’s commerce coverage in the direction of its southern neighbor, which has been criticized for systematically disadvantaging Tunisian small and medium-sized enterprises.
Towards this background, it appears unlikely that the migration deal will enhance the scenario for Tunisians, particularly these from rural areas who’re making an attempt to to migrate en masse from the nation. In truth, the EU’s previous and current commerce insurance policies in the direction of Tunisia are largely accountable for the distress of small-scale farmers and agricultural staff.
Whereas EU firms have flooded the Tunisian market with EU-made merchandise, Tunisian farmers have struggled to compete with their EU counterparts, not least due to the methods by which the EU continues to guard its home agricultural sector.
Typically EU protectionism takes the type of frustratingly easy points, similar to the truth that durations when Tunisian merchandise are given privileged entry to the EU market underneath a customs quota scheme are out of sync with their manufacturing cycle in Tunisia. For instance, within the case of watermelons, the principle rising season is between June and September, whereas the EU solely permits duty-free imports between November and Might.
The unequal financial alternate in agricultural commerce relations between Tunisia and the EU can be mirrored within the commerce in olive oil, certainly one of Tunisia’s foremost export merchandise.
Olives are grown as a large-scale monoculture on one of the best irrigated agricultural lands. About 80 p.c of the olive oil produced from it’s exported, largely in crude kind, primarily to Spain and Italy, the place it’s refined and offered to European shoppers. Tunisia is lacking out on important added worth.
In the meantime, rising meals costs within the nation have put olive oil consumption more and more out of attain for abnormal Tunisians. Meals stays the most important expense for Tunisian households, costlier than housing, electrical energy or water, accounting for a median of 30 p.c of annual family bills, rising to nearly 40 p.c for the bottom earnings teams.
Extra conventional olive rising, in contrast to industrial monoculture olive groves, includes older bushes which can be spaced aside and require much less water; thus it’s higher suited to extra arid climates. Such agricultural practices that smallholder farmers use for manufacturing for the home market are thought of unviable because of the lack of help they obtain from the federal government.
As farmer Abdul Karim defined to me throughout a commerce and agricultural coverage workshop organized by the Tunisian Platform for Options and the Transnational Institute in Tunis in July: “Conventional olive bushes can reside for 150 years. The help for olive cultivation is 2 dinars per olive tree, whereas our manufacturing prices are about 15-20 dinars per tree. We’d like help for water and for tractors. However with out this help my olive bushes will dry out and die.”
Along with olives, Tunisia is underneath stress to develop different agricultural merchandise for export to the EU, together with citrus vegetables and fruit. A few of them are additionally notably water-intensive crops, which make little sense to develop in a rustic affected by excessive water shortage, droughts and forest fires.
Already within the fourth yr of a chronic drought, and with temperatures reaching 50 levels Celsius (122 levels Fahrenheit) in July, the scenario of Tunisian farmers will solely worsen. Local weather danger forecasts for Tunisia predict that annual most temperatures are prone to rise by 1.9 to three.8 levels Celsius by 2050, whereas precipitation ranges may fall by as a lot as 22 p.c.
In response, the Tunisian authorities has taken a sequence of measures to curb water use, together with a restriction on agricultural irrigation and a ban on pumping groundwater beneath 50 meters.
Whereas these measures might sound cheap, Tunisian farmers are struggling. Diminished rainfall has compelled farmers to resort to tapping groundwater sources to irrigate their crops and bushes and to supply ingesting water for his or her animals. But declining groundwater ranges imply that water can solely be discovered at a depth of 80 meters, Abdul Karim instructed me. Farmers haven’t any alternative however to dig deeper or face financial wreck.
Farmers we spoke to complained that whereas they danger being criminalized for utilizing water to outlive, the federal government turns a blind eye to rich buyers who unregulatedly purchase up land for olive manufacturing and dig deep-water wells. These wells might be as much as 200-300 meters deep, stated Yasser, a Tunisian pure sources administration engineer who additionally participated within the aforementioned workshop.
All because of this small-scale farmers, who kind the bulk in Tunisia, are caught between the crushing forces of unfair exterior commerce insurance policies and inner authorities insurance policies tailor-made to the wants of some main market gamers. They will not make a dwelling from agriculture and plenty of haven’t any alternative however to to migrate.
The EU’s settlement with Tunisia to spice up commerce ties and stem the move of individuals making an attempt to achieve European shores is a blatant refusal to deal with a number of the root causes of migration. A commerce coverage that favors European markets is not going to enhance the socio-economic scenario of Tunisians in rural areas.
Within the context of a number of and intersecting crises, agricultural and commerce insurance policies in Tunisia and the broader North Africa area must be reexamined. If the EU actually needs to deal with what it calls a ‘migration disaster’, it should rethink its extractive commerce insurance policies with the remainder of the world, and never enter into offers that solely result in extra uncertainty.
The views expressed on this article are these of the creator and don’t essentially mirror the editorial place of Al Jazeera.