Most of Tunisia's economy is derived, not from tourism, but from agriculture. A large part of the agriculture depends on the olive.
There are approximately 65,000,000 olive trees growing in Tunisia. (That is a lot for a country with 13 million inhabitants!) Tunisians plant their trees with 17-24 m between them, in order for other "soft vegetables" to be grown, i.e. garlic, lettuce, onions, etc.
It takes approximately 5 to 8 years to see the first fruit, once a tree has been planted.
Olives are a winter harvest fruit and approximately 300 kg of olives (on average) is produced per tree. Tunisians also prefer to hand-pick the ripe fruit, as it is commonly believed that machine picking damages the trees leading to lower yields in subsequent years.
20% of the olive groves within the country are government-owned, whereas 80% are private, like the one below that I was fortunate enough to visit.
Prices for the oil are also fixed by the government every year. This year, in 2010, the price for cold pressed, extra-virgin olive oil is 5 Dinars or €2,50 ($3.75 CAD) per litre.
Small factories gather piles of olives and send them through a machine process.
First, the fruit runs through a conveyor and is washed.
The olives are then drained.
Next comes the pressing...
...and a cloudy green oil is secreted.
This particular olive oil was not filtered or processed any further, leaving it with a very earthy taste. Since this type of olive oil is derived from a mélange of different varieties of olives, the flavour varies with each press.
It was, by far, the freshest olive oil I had ever had.