Hunger in TunisiaAccording to the Global Hunger Index of 2022, Tunisia ranks 26th out of 121 countries in terms of hunger levels. A 6.1 score indicates that rates of hunger in Tunisia are low. However, according to the World Food Program (WFP), “a stagnant economy, high unemployment rates, regional disparities and dependence on cereal imports challenge the ability of the most vulnerable to ensure an appropriate, nutritious diet.” Tunisia is facing “overlapping nutrition problems,” such as obesity and vitamin and mineral insufficiencies. The WFP estimates that about 28% of pregnant or breastfeeding females and children younger than 5 suffer from anemia. As a result, more attention is needed to address malnutrition in Tunisia.

A Dependency on Imports

A 2019 article by Aymen Amayed says “Tunisia is not self-sufficient in terms of food production: more than 50[%]of the food the country consumes is imported.” Although the importing of food products allows Tunisia to meet the country’s food needs, and even though the government provides subsidies for specific basic food products, affordability is still an issue. Amayed explains that “because many agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers are imported, locally produced food is also subject to price pressure and fluctuation related to currency exchange rates and other uncertainties of international trade.” Also, the planting of imported seeds and trees depletes local varieties of crops.

Extreme weather patterns also exacerbate the situation. Tunisia’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) document created in 2015 predicts that droughts will decrease the land area used for cereal crops by 200,000 hectares and will reduce the land area for arboriculture by 800,000 hectares by 2030. There will be a 30% decrease in “available land area for rain-fed cereal production,” resulting in the country’s GDP shrinking by 5-10% by 2030.

Impacts of the Russia-Ukraine War on Malnutrition in Tunisia

Due to the war in Ukraine, food dependence in Tunisia has become a major issue. The impacts of the war in Ukraine on the global food system have long-term consequences. Tunisia’s current food insecurity issues originate from “agricultural, economic and social policies introduced by successive governments since independence and which are directly related to global food systems,” Arab Reform Initiative says. For example, instead of strengthening the production of local cereal crops, Tunisia’s government increased cereal imports.

Despite the problems related to malnutrition in Tunisia, the WFP is working to help the government address these issues through the Tunisia Country Strategic Plan (2022–2025). The WFP will help to strengthen and expand state-run school feeding programs with the goal of reaching 260,000 vulnerable Tunisian children.

The government acknowledged the importance of school feeding programs in improving education, nutritional and developmental outcomes; therefore, in 2019, it expanded the budget for the school feeding program to $16 million annually.  Furthermore, the “WFP is providing technical assistance in establishing a national food security monitoring system that can inform efforts to make the national social protection system and safety nets more inclusive and shock-responsive.” The Strategic Plan aims to accomplish two main outcomes:

  1. Expand economic opportunities for at risk-groups in vulnerable areas to increase their shock resiliency by 2025.
  2. Improve the capacity of specific “national institutions in Tunisia” to establish “school meal and inclusive shock-responsive social protection” initiatives to reduce food insecurity.

Through continued reform commitments from the Tunisia government, hunger in Tunisia can reduce.

– Olga Petrovska
Photo: Flickr