Heat wave and fires harm Tunisia's grain harvest

STORY: A heat wave and fires are wrecking Tunisia's grain harvest, and the farmers union forecasts output will fall well short of government hopes.

The North African country is already struggling with the higher cost of food imports because of the war in Ukraine.

Abderraouf Arfaoui says he and other farmers are having to harvest earlier so as not to lose the crop, and they lose sleep watching out for fires.

“Usually we harvest on July 5th or 10th, and now as you see we are harvesting on June 17th or 18th. We are afraid of fires, we always monitor the land day and night, farmers are tired. We must harvest without waiting even if that reduces the quantity and quality of the wheat."

Tunisia was counting on a big crop to reduce grain imports amid a financial crisis worsened by the Ukraine war.

Higher prices of imported food and energy will cost the budget $1.7 billion this year, according to the government, which subsidises such supplies.

Hamdi Hached is an environmental engineer.

“The Ukrainian-Russian conflict, as well as climate change, put many challenges before Tunisia as it attempts to meet its local needs of grain - especially in the shadow of a market where prices are increasing every day, and in a market where grains are scarce and competed for in many countries. These are all elements that will place Tunisia in unclear circumstances this year as it tries to provide for its needs - especially during the last quarter of the year."

The farmers' union and experts say the crop also is suffering direct damage from high temperatures, which have already reached 117 Fahrenheit this summer.