Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (test)

Plant breeding programs in Tunisia

The Tunisian Republic is situated in North Africa. The economy was once mainly based on agriculture but has now diversified, although it still employs about 16% of theTunisia_Map workforce and contributes nearly 14% to GDP. While around 40% of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, over a quarter (5 million ha) is cultivated. About a third of the cultivated land is sown to cereals, half of which is wheat. Another third supports olive production (60 million trees). Other important crops are tomatoes, peppers, melons, potatoes, onions and dates.

Tunisia achieved independence from France in 1956 and placed great emphasis on agricultural research and education. Several institutions pursue plant breeding and biotechnology: five public, seven higher education, five inter-professional and two private. There has been an increase in numbers of plant breeders, and especially biotechnologists, since the 1980s, and qualifications have also improved. Plant breeding budgets have risen steadily.

Crops have to be bred in Tunisia for adaptation to a wide range of environments. There is extensive dryland agriculture where drought and heat are often severe and numerous biotic stresses affect the wide range of crops grown. For wheat, barley, grain legumes and vegetables, numerous crosses have been made and segregating populations generated. For other crops line evaluations have been done at several sites.

In order to enhance Tunisian plant breeding programmes, staff training needs to be strengthened, especially in use of biotechnology for plant breeding. Collaboration is good, but benefit could be gained from better linkages among the numerous national agencies engaged in plant breeding and biotechnology, possibly through a central mechanism.

Research and education institutes with activities in plant breeding

Public Institutes


Arid Land Institute (IRA) – Institut des Régions Arides
Website available in French, English or Arabic

IRA was created in 1974 in Medenine and functions under the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technology. During the eightees IRA research covered fruit trees (Palm trees, Pomgranates, Figs), and sorghum and barley. From 1995 Pasture crops and Aromatic and Medicinal plants became of major interest. The major activity is line evaluation and conservation of collections of fruits species, pasture crops and medicinal and aromatic plants in the field. One unit of tissue culture was established.


Biotechnology Centre of Sfax (CBS) – Centre de Biotechnologie de Sfax
Website available in French, English or Arabic

Created in 1982, CBS has dealt with plant biotechnology since 1995. This research dealt mainly with the transformation of two crops: potatoes and wheat. The transformation of wheat has been developed after evaluation of local germplasm for salt tolerance and the genetic mapping of salt tolerance genes. The transgenic lines are evaluated in the greenhouse. The transformation of potatoes focuses on improving response to storage.


National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia (INAT) – Institut National Agronomique de Tunisie
Website available in French or Arabic

It is the first college of Agriculture built in 1898 by the French colonists as the “Ecole Coloniale d’Agricutlture” (ECAT) , to train agronomists needed for the French land colonization. It became INAT in 1970. It carries out studies in genetics, plant breeding and biotechnology. The main activity of research covered forage crops and cereals with mainly line evaluation and germplasm enhancement. The first tissue culture unit started functioning in 1987 working with adapting tissue culture techniques to durum wheat and barley.


Sciences Faculty (FST) (University of Tunis) – Faculté des Sciences de Tunis
Sciences de Tunis, Website available in French, English or Arabic

The Faculty of Sciences of Tunis is the first college of science established after the independence in 1956. It belongs to the University of Tunis under the auspices of the Ministry of higher education. FST undertakes biotechnology research associated with plant breeding. Most of the research activity has dealt with vegetable crops and fruit trees (40 % to 50 %) followed by Forage legumes (40 %) and wheat (10 %).


Superior School of Agriculture (ESA) – Ecole Supérieure d’Agriculture du Kef
Website available in French, English or Arabic

ESA is a new college of agriculture established in 1976 to train BSC in Agronomy on Field crops and to establish a field crops breeding project for semi-arid regions of North West Tunisia. The allocation of total resources was predominantly for germplasm enhancement for cereals (60-80 %) and line evaluation (40 to 20 %). However for forage and legumes, and vegetables most of the resources (90 – 100 %) were allocated for line evaluations. Some activity has been developed on tissue culture as a tool for micropropagation and for use of Marker assisted selection.


National Agricultural Research Institute of Tunisia (INRAT) – Institut National de Recherche Agronomiques de Tunisie
No Website available

INRAT is the oldest Agricultural Research Institute established as an agricultural experimental station in 1906. It became “Service Botanique“ in 1913 and called INRAT in 1961. It is the largest establishment that falls under the authority of the Agricultural Education and Higher Education Institute (IRESA), which is a semi-autonomous public body under the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MARH). It has seven branches across the country’s agro-ecological zones. More than half of its budget is allocated to wheat and barley. The use of biotechnology dated back to 1983 when the virology unit established ELISA tests to screen for virus disease resistance in Potatoes.


National Institute of Scientific and Technical Research (INRST) – Institut National de Recherche Scientifique et technique
No Website available

Created in 1982, INRST is a public Institute belonging to the Ministry of Research. Its molecular physiology laboratory, established in 1987, has dealt mainly with wine grapes research. The main activities are on biotechnology. The laboratory does not have activities in plant breeding. The biotechnology activities are on molecular characterization, use of tissue culture, gene isolation and transformation of local lines.


Horticultural High School (ESHCM) – Ecole Supérieure d’Horticulture de Chott-Mariem
No Website available

ESCHM is a new college of Agriculture established in 1974 giving academic training of BSC level in Horticulture. It also does some plant breeding and biotechnology work. The research activity started on evaluation of Horticultural crops (fruits and legumes) since 1987 – The Biotechnology research was limited to virus disease detection and some tissue culture since 1990.

Private Institutes


Mabrouka Society – Société Mabrouka
Website available in French, English or Arabic

It is a private society created in 2001 dealing with micro propagation using tissue culture for production of virus free potato seeds and Strawberry seedlings. It has two scientific staff composed of one BS.C level and one Ph.D. The production of virus free materiel is the only activity undertaken. This private society is planning on expanding its activities to other crops.


Green Space - Espace Vert Sarll
No Website available

It is a private company established in 2002 with three agronomists at M.Sc level and a significant budget. Its main focus is on, testing and releasing new varieties of grain legumes and other vegetable crops (tomatoes, water melon, and salads). The genetic material is mainly introduced from private commercial companies (80%) and collected from different local farmer sites. Testing is only for adaptation to irrigation and biotic stress.


Information by Abderrazak Daaloul (2006).- Information based on the Tunisia's full report from the PBBC survey. Last revised 24-06-2010, GIPB.