Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2024

World Food Day

Ines Messaoudi

“For me it is a principle of life to follow and respect nature.”


Ines Messaoudi, 40, grew up in a small town near Tunis. But her heart has always lain in the Béja region, a rural area in the northwest of Tunisia where she spent her summers reveling in the local culture and flavors  

“In Béja, perfumes and culinary traditions are very distinctive,” she says about the region where she built her farm and a successful olive oil business. 

“My childhood dream was to become a farmer,” she recalls, crediting her grandmother’s teaching. “[She] taught me to smell the earth, to feel when it is time to prune and when it isn’t.” 

Today, Ines is an agricultural engineer who combines olive growing, arable farming and sheep rearing on her farm.  

It’s uncommon for her generation to move to the countryside, she knows, especially since running an agribusiness in a water-scarce country is challenging. 

“Global warming is every day more present,” she says. “We are seeing temperatures that surpass 45 degrees. Water becomes scarcer by the day. The situation is disturbing.”  

Because many irrigation systems in Tunisia are not efficient, “big amounts of water are wasted,” she says. That is why she switched to a traditional irrigation method that’s both highly efficient and low-cost: roman jars.  

“The jars are small, porous water containers that we bury in the soil and allow water to pass according to the needs of the plant,” she explains. “It is a traditional idea that is taking hold [again] in the Mediterranean.”   

The terracotta jars reduce evaporation because the water seeps into the soil below the surface. And if installed properly, they create a self-watering irrigation system that never gives more than the plants need, so roots don’t rot.  

It has saved her considerable amounts of water, she says, and boosted her overall production.  

In addition, Ines grows Chétoui and Gerboui – ancient local olive varieties that are well adapted to the soil, climate and available water resources.   

She uses her grandmother’s ancestral recipe to make unique olive oils with aromatic and medicinal plant flavours and consumers can learn about the origin and benefits of the ingredients by scanning a QR code on each bottle. 

“My business is a responsible, ecological, and profitable investment,” she says. “For me it is a principle of life to follow and respect nature.”