Like every holiday eve, this Tunisian bakery is always full. “We need enough to hold on until the recovery, after the feast of the sacrifice,” says one of the customers, taking away a dozen loaves. With an average of 74 kilograms per year and per inhabitant, Tunisia regularly tops the ranking of the most gros bread consumers in the world.
Tunisia: “Nothing will be done without agriculture”
Even though white bread was introduced by colonization, the country has always had a special relationship with wheat. It suffices to be convinced of this to observe the mosaics of the Carthage period exhibited in the Bardo Museum: Tunisia was even considered the attic of Rome.
A historic cereal crop, but in decline
The cultivation of cereals goes back a long way. From the Neolithic era, we note the presence of seeds from Mesopotamia, having undergone mutations that distinguished durum wheat from soft wheat – varieties close to those we know today. “Grains, including barley, played a role essential in the food bolus and brought satiety”, resituates a nutritionist. These eating habits became culinary traditions with derivatives of semolina, including couscous and pasta, introduced later. To the point of seeming immutable, the country being a producer of durum wheat.
Weakened public finances, an extended pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict were enough to belie the image of Épinal of a Tunisia with inexhaustible cereal resources. So much so that the supply of wheat is today an absolute priority for the State. The authorities are well aware that a shortage or a rise in prices can lead to popular uprisings, such as the bread riots in January 1984.