EL KEF, Tunisia — Concerns have been mounting in Tunisia that the increasing smuggling of livestock toward neighboring Algeria in the east could worsen the food crisis affecting Tunisia, where markets are experiencing a severe shortage of dairy products.
On Oct. 23, law enforcement authorities announced the seizure of 20 cows that smugglers intended to cross to Algeria.
Algeria and Tunisia share a 1,034-kilometer (642-mile) land border and smuggling of various goods such as gasoline and livestock is rampant in both directions.
Some farmers have been trying to get rid of their livestock because of the high cost of keeping them. Smugglers rush to buy them at a low cost and then smuggle them out of the country, various farmers associations have reported.
Najeeb Fadli, a farmer from a remote village in the northwestern province of El Kef, bordering Algeria, told Al-Monitor, “I have four cows, but I will get rid of them soon because I no longer earn anything from them.”
Speaking outside his barn, Fadli continued, “Feed prices have skyrocketed. The country is facing the specter of drought, while authorities are not making the slightest effort to support us. I don't care who buys the cows, be it a smuggler or another breeder. I will sell them as soon as I can.”
The smuggling of livestock from Tunisia to Algeria is nothing new, but Tunisian authorities have recently recorded an uptick in smuggling activities.
Houcem Eddine Jebali, spokesperson for the Tunisian National Guard, told Al-Monitor, “From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, around 49 smuggling operations were tracked on the border. Around 158 cows were smuggled to Tunisia's neighboring countries during the same period.”
He added, “This is happening most in Jendouba, in the northwest of the country near Algeria, as well as El Kef and Kasserine.”
Imam al-Barkouki, an official with the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries, told Al-Monitor, “Tunisia is currently grappling with a shortage in dairy products. This is partly due to the smuggling of livestock. Farmers who are facing difficult conditions today cannot be blamed.”
He suggested that one raising milk prices in Tunisia could help, explaining, "In neighboring countries, the price of a liter of milk exceeds $1, but in Tunisia it costs much less.”
This dairy product shortage comes as Tunisia is battling major shortages of several other basic commodities and anger is growing among Tunisians, who see their government as unable to meet the challenges facing the country.
Meanwhile, Tunisians are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of social unrest. Protests are being staged regularly amid a stifling economic crisis that has forced the Tunisian government to once again apply to the International Monetary Fund for a new rescue package.