TUNISIA – Tunisia’s Ministry of Agriculture has called for the need to follow the sanitary protocol issued by the agricultural scientific research to fight against the date palm mite in the southern oases, which consists in cleaning the farms and then spreading in time the use of  appropriate insecticides and monitoring its spread in the oases.

The date palm mite (DPM) is a major pest of the date palm in North Africa and the Middle East that causes heavy losses by feeding and making webs on date fruits, thus impairing their quality and quantity.

The Minister of Agriculture, Mahmoud Elyes Hamza stressed that nearly 70 tonnes of sulphur have been made available to farmers concerned, which must be used before the appearance of the insect, during his visit to the governorate of Tozeur.

He said other treatments will be distributed in the productive governorates, with the imperative to pay attention to the appearance of this insect even before its spread.

The date palm mite, said the Minister, has contributed to reducing the quality of Tunisian dates during the last two seasons, causing problems at the marketing level already affected by the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

He noted that the visit he made to a number of oases in the region and contacts with producers and agricultural groups, allowed him to detect the difficulties and failures that the sector is experiencing in the region.

These include the scarcity of irrigation water, the increase in salinity in a number of boreholes in addition to the problem of increasing indebtedness for a number of hydraulic groups and the grouping of producers in professional structures.

In terms of product marketing, Hamza called on farmers to organize themselves within structures and coordinate with industrialists and exporters in order to create a complementary sector in the date sector which takes the form of a partnership contract guaranteeing the rights of different actors.

The Minister of Agriculture took note of the progress of a number of projects in the delegations of Nefta, Tozeur, Dguech and Hezoua.

Dates market share

Dates are a very healthy fruit to include in the diet. They are high in several nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, all of which may provide health benefits ranging from improved digestion to a reduced risk of disease.

Tunisia operates as one of the largest producers of dates in the world, and is the Mediterranean country date producer par excellence, thanks to its dry and hot climate that promotes the cultivation of date palm in its oases.

With a production of 120 thousand tonnes, Tunisia produces 11% of the world’s dates. Tunisian export of dates is ranked fifth in the world, after Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Iran. Although Tunisia has a 10% share in the world’s exports, it has a 40% share of the European market, according to CBI. Around 10 thousand tonnes of Tunisian dates are exported as organic.

More than 42% of Tunisian dates are exported to Europe. Morocco is the largest destination market for Tunisian dates, followed by Spain and Germany.

Contamination with insects seems to be one of the biggest issues for dates on the European market. The main pests affecting dates are the carob moth (Ectomyelois ceratoniae), the lesser date moth (Batrachedra amydraula), and the raisin moth (Cadra figulilella). They can develop inside the fruit and continue their growth upon arrival at the packaging plant and during storage.

The development of those insects is timed with the seasonal occurrence of date fruits. During 2019, there were two official registered cases of dates withdrawal from the European market because of the presence of insects.

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