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Tunisia struggles to grow more wheat as Ukraine war bites

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A farmer drives a harvester through a wheat field in the Cebalet Ben Ammar region, north of the capital Tunis
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Tunisian farmer Mondher Mathali surveys a sea of swaying golden wheat and revs his combine harvester, a rumbling beast from 1976 which he fears could break down at any moment.

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

The small North African country, like its neighbours, is desperate to prevent food shortages and social unrest — but for farmers on the sun-baked plains north of Tunis, even the basics are problematic.

“I’d love to buy a new combine harvester, but I could only do it with help from the government,” said Mathali, 65.

He reckons his outdated machine wastes almost a third of the crop. With spare parts hard to find, he fears a breakdown could cost him his entire harvest.

But even a second-hand replacement would cost him an unimaginable sum: $150,000.

“Our production and even the quality would go up by maybe 50 percent, even 90 percent” with government help, he said.

“But our situation is getting worse and the state isn’t helping us.”  

– ‘No continuity’ –

Tunisia’s wheat production has suffered from years of drought and a decade of political instability, with 10 governments since the country’s 2011 revolution.

That has exacerbated its reliance on imports. Last year, it bought almost two-thirds of its cereal from overseas, much of it from the Black Sea region.

Those supply chains have been rocked first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by the war in Ukraine, which last year provided around half of Tunisia’s imports of the soft wheat used in bread.

While it still plans to import soft wheat, the country is pushing for self-sufficiency in durum wheat by the 2023 harvest. 

That would be a valuable contribution to the national diet: the average Tunisian eats 17 kilograms (37 pounds) of pasta per year, second only to Italians.

In April, the government unveiled a programme to help farmers access better seeds, technical assistance and state-backed loans.

It also plans to devote 30 percent more farmland to wheat, and has dramatically boosted the prices it pays growers.

But the agriculture ministry’s chief of staff acknowledged Mathali’s problems.

“Tunisia has about 3,000 combine harvesters, 80 percent of which are old and very wasteful, which represents a major loss,” said Faten Khamassi. 

She said the state plans to fund farmers’ collectives to buy shared equipment.

– ‘Need to choose’ –

Agricultural technician Saida Beldi, who has worked with farmers in the northern Ariana governorate for three decades, says political instability has gutted the sector.

With each new minister, “the policy changes”, she said. “There’s no continuity.” 

She said many farmers struggled to obtain state-subsidised fertilisers, which trade on the black market at inflated prices.

Khamassi said it was “certainly possible to reach self-sufficiency in durum wheat”.

But she said Tunisia faces another dilemma: “develop cereal production to reach self-sufficiency, or develop other crops like strawberries and tomatoes for export? We need to choose.”

International organisations have long pushed poorer countries to focus on specific cash crops for export, rather than growing essentials.

A 2014 World Bank report argued that Tunisia “does not have a strong comparative advantage in cereals” and should instead focus on “labour intensive” crops because of cheap labour.

But in June, announcing a $130 million loan for emergency cereal imports, the lender said it was providing “incentives to sustainably increase domestic grain production” and cut import dependency.

Today, Khamassi said, comparative advantage is “no longer relevant”.

“We need to return to much more self-sufficient policies, local production,” she said.

– Changing times –

The ministry also said in June that it would allow foreign investors to own agricultural firms outright, instead of requiring at least one-third Tunisian ownership.

Khamassi said this would attract investment and create jobs.

But economist Fadhel Kaboub said this strategy would make Tunisia even more vulnerable.

“Small-scale Tunisian farmers operating on small plots of land will not be able to compete with big foreign investors with access to cheap loans from European banks,” he said. 

“These companies’ business model is to push for cash crops for export, to earn dollars and euros — not to produce wheat to sell for dinars in the local market.”

For farmer Mathali, who hopes to pass his business on to his son, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Tunisia was the Roman Empire’s main supplier of wheat,” he said, squinting under the summer sun.

“Why can’t we revive that?”

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Are the days of ‘Big Tech’ on their way out?

“These are cost-cutting measures, but if you talk to people in tech, they’re sort of emotional, cultural resets as well,” explains tech reporter Peter Kafka in podcast.

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Silicon Valley is having a bit of a rough go lately.

Layoffs at some of the biggest tech companies — 10,000 at Amazon and 11,000 at Meta for starters — have hit the sector hard, and there’s an air of downsizing all around. This means that in addition to letting staff go, even all those perks that many startups and long-established companies alike have used to lure top tech talent — think offices with stocked fridges, gyms, and shuttle services — have been reined in. 

A recent episode of Vox’s podcast Today, Explained dove into what’s happening in the tech world, speaking to Peter Kafka, a tech reporter at Recode

Here are three highlights from the conversation:

On the current landscape as an “existential shift”

I think most people who are working in tech have only been there during boom times. The last real deflation in tech was all the way back in 2000, 2001. There’s almost no one working in tech now who was around for that. So if you’ve been working in tech, you’ve only known things going up and to the right. You got paid a lot. There were always companies who wanted to hire you away from the company you were at, so you got paid even more. You knew that you could leave Facebook or Google and go to a startup, and if that startup didn’t work, maybe it would get bought by Facebook or Google.

And all of that comes to a record-scratch stop this year.

On the lack of growth in the sector

Yes. There’s a bigger story that goes back a couple of decades. These tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple all had crazy, crazy, crazy growth. They were selling tons of ads. They were selling tons of iPhones. They reflected a big change in the way the world used technology. They were at the front of that. They got rewarded for that.

But those companies aren’t growing at the same rate anymore. Many of them are pretty old now — or their main product is pretty old. The iPhone is 15 years old. Google’s main search ad business is 20 years old. YouTube is 15 years old, more or less.

On the “fable and myth” of Silicon Valley

Yeah. I don’t want to be pollyannaish about this because people are losing jobs. And people are going to have a harder time paying rent or mortgages or feeding their families. But it’s part real and part fable of Silicon Valley to have this creative destruction where old things get taken down. New, cool things get built in their place. It’s part of the fable and myth of Silicon Valley that has a great deal of truth to it as well. 

And so there’s lots of folks saying, “All right, we’re going to go make something new. By the way, we made a bunch of money in the last couple of years, the last 10 years. We can afford to not be working at a Big Tech company for a while. Let’s go cast around for a new idea.”

Read the interview transcript or listen to the episode

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Jobs where you’re most likely to be single at 40

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Can an occupation influence your marital status? Stacker analyzed Census Bureau data to find jobs where you're most likely to be single at 40.
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Ever felt like your job was holding you back from meeting that special someone? You may be right.

To determine jobs where you’re most likely to be single at 40, Stacker analyzed data from the 2021 American Community Survey, powered by the Census Bureau. The percentage of never-married respondents was calculated by dividing the number of respondents who had never been married by the total respondents for a given occupation; this metric ranks the list.

Similarly, the percentage of single respondents was calculated by dividing the sum of the respondents who reported they were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated into the total respondents for a given occupation. Inevitably, there is overlap between those who said they were never married and those who are considered “single.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these occupations are in the service industry, likely because employees in the service industry work long hours, evenings, and weekends and may not have time outside of work to find a partner. However, some blue-collar jobs also made the list.

The reality is that more people than ever are choosing to remain single longer, regardless of occupation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the marriage rate fell from 8.2 marriages per 1,000 people in 2000 to 5.1 marriages per 1,000 people in 2020. People delay marriage for numerous, wide-ranging reasons, from feeling unprepared financially to not wanting to settle down.

Meanwhile, the number of unpartnered people continues to grow. The Pew Research Center found in 2019 that nearly 1 in 3 adults between 40-54 were unpartnered, compared to 1990 (almost 1 in 4).

Keep reading to discover the jobs where you’re most likely to be single at 40.

You may also like: 50 most physical jobs in America

Two cooks in commercial kitchen

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#30. Cooks

– Percent never married: 56.96%
– Percent single: 70.45%

Person carrying drinks to table

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#29. Food servers, nonrestaurant

– Percent never married: 57.27%
– Percent single: 70.38%

Bartender mixing drink

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#28. Bartenders

– Percent never married: 57.5%
– Percent single: 73.1%

Tour guide leading hike

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#27. Tour And travel guides

– Percent never married: 58.19%
– Percent single: 66.59%

Air transportation attendant

Olena Yakobchuk // Shutterstock

#26. Transportation service attendants

– Percent never married: 58.91%
– Percent single: 69.92%

You may also like: Jobs with the lowest divorce rates

Person washing vechile

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#25. Cleaners of vehicles and equipment

– Percent never married: 59.14%
– Percent single: 71.05%

Parking attendant in lot

Yevhen H // Shutterstock

#24. Parking attendants

– Percent never married: 59.37%
– Percent single: 70.06%

Person working in shipping room

Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

#23. Stockers and order fillers

– Percent never married: 60.3%
– Percent single: 71.93%

Two people holding dog in veterinary office

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#22. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

– Percent never married: 60.84%
– Percent single: 67.19%

Person buying movie tickets

Tyler Olson // Shutterstock

#21. Ushers, lobby attendants, and ticket takers

– Percent never married: 61.38%
– Percent single: 73.53%

You may also like: Former jobs of every Supreme Court justice

Telemarketer speaking with client

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#20. Telemarketers

– Percent never married: 61.45%
– Percent single: 74.78%

Construction worker carrying ladder

ephyr_p // Shutterstock

#19. Helpers, construction trades

– Percent never married: 62.48%
– Percent single: 70.51%

Person chopping vegetables

DenisProduction.com // Shutterstock

#18. Food preparation workers

– Percent never married: 62.52%
– Percent single: 75.17%

Soliders stand and salue

Bumble Dee // Shutterstock

#17. Military-enlisted tactical operations and air/weapons specialists and crew Members

– Percent never married: 62.8%
– Percent single: 67.08%

Person preparing hamburgers

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#16. Food preparation and serving-related workers, all other

– Percent never married: 63.76%
– Percent single: 70.03%

You may also like: The unemployment rate the year you turned 16

Cashier working grocery checkout

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#15. Cashiers

– Percent never married: 65.88%
– Percent single: 78.08%

Recreation coach speaking with kids team

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#14. Recreation workers

– Percent never married: 66.2%
– Percent single: 75.92%

Woman cleaning tables

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#13. Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers

– Percent never married: 66.83%
– Percent single: 77.07%

Man installing photovoltaic panels

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#12. Solar photovoltaic installers

– Percent never married: 67.%
– Percent single: 76.26%

Tutor assisting student

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#11. Tutors

– Percent never married: 67.04%
– Percent single: 72.93%

You may also like: Richest women in America

Person filling out job application form

Mangostar // Shutterstock

#10. Unemployed, with no work experience in at the last 5 years or more

– Percent never married: 68.88%
– Percent single: 79.78%

Note: This refers to those unemployed with no work experience in the last five years or earlier or those who never worked

Close up waitress taking order

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#9. Waiters And waitresses

– Percent never married: 69.95%
– Percent single: 79.64%

Dancers rehearsing at bar

Evgeniy Kalinovskiy // Shutterstock

#8. Dancers And choreographers

– Percent never married: 70.63%
– Percent single: 78.34%

Dishwasher cleaning in commercial kitchen

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#7. Dishwashers

– Percent never married: 70.95%
– Percent single: 81.66%

Man adjusting stage light

Oleksandr Nagaiets // Shutterstock

#6. Other entertainment attendants and related workers

– Percent never married: 71.16%
– Percent single: 79.38%

You may also like: 5 ways to take the stress out of traveling for work

Umpire on sports field

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#5. Umpires, referees, and other sports officials

– Percent never married: 71.62%
– Percent single: 77.28%

Students gathered in dorm kitchen

FXQuadro // Shutterstock

#4. Residential advisors

– Percent never married: 80.53%
– Percent single: 87.76%

Man working in food truck

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#3. Fast food and counter workers

– Percent never married: 82.68%
– Percent single: 87.63%

Baristas in coffee shop

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#2. Hosts And hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop

– Percent never married: 83.88%
– Percent single: 89.06%

Prison attendant

Bigflick // Shutterstock

Protective service workers

– Percent never married: 90.1%
– Percent single: 92.13%

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WeaveSphere: 5 conference highlights

The WeaveSphere tech conference wove together ideas about AI, FinTech, STEM education, innovation in Canada, and more.

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WeaveSphere
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For three days this November, innovation, collaboration, and a whole lot of big ideas were shared among “Weavers” during the WeaveSphere tech conference in Toronto.

“Today is an opportunity for greater connection between the scientific and tech industry, and academia,” said Marcellus Mindel of IBM Canada, opening the conference. With innovation the event’s core, Mindel added: “let’s define innovation, thinking of it as reframing that implements better outcomes.”

While lots happened over three days, here are five highlights and takeaways from the event:

1. Thought-provoking keynotes had attendees thinking big

Each day of WeaveSphere kicked off with a keynote, where three speakers brought their insightful ideas to attendees.

Gillian Hadfield shared ideas about AI and regulation

On Day 1, Gillian Hadfield, Professor of Law and director of the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society at the University of Toronto, explained where we are today when it comes to regulating artificial intelligence (AI) — and where we need to go next. 

While AI makes machines intelligent, Hadfield argued that it cannot, by definition, produce intelligent behaviour if it isn’t functioning appropriately and ethically. Machine learning is not the same as standard programming, since machines write the rules. As a result, machines can start solving problems in ways we don’t want them to, resulting in regulatory challenges. 

How to solve this? Hadfield presented two solutions:

  1. Establish compensation for harm
  2. Design incentives for meeting good and safe behaviour

Dr. William Barry discussed ethics with an AI co-presenter

On Day 2, professor, AI ethicist, and futurist Dr. William Barry talked about a particular problem: what ethical questions might arise when you program a robot? 

For starters, how do you determine what information to include or not? Where is the appropriate line? 

As a professor, Dr. Barry has been working with robots as teaching assistants in his classroom since 2015, and brought a digital version of Maria Bot (one of his AI assistants) to interact with the audience.

As Dr. Barry explained, he is very strategic when choosing the information from which his assistants learn. 

One place Maria won’t get access to? Twitter, says Dr. Barry, highlighting it’s too much of a risk for an “AI benign” to get access to misinformation. This would distort the ethical perspective that Maria is learning, he said. 

While he has programmed her to weed out and to not learn from toxic content — like racism and misogyny — Dr. Barry does work at exposing his AI beings to a wide range of diverse thought and lived experiences. In the end, how ethical an AI being is, is in the hands of the human controlling what they learn, he argued. As a result, they’ll ultimately be biased as a result of the specific data sets we provide for them. 

Marcel Mitran discussed technology for good

WeaveSphere’s Day 3 keynote took a slight turn away from AI. 

IBM Fellow, IBM Master Inventor, and CTO for Cloud Platform for zSystems and LinuxONE, Marcel Mitran took to the main stage for a keynote on responsible computing. At the heart of his talk was the argument that technologists need to take a step back and look at what’s being done to keep the world safe. 

For example, the opportunity for error and bias in the role of facial recognition in public safety, and the fact that our digital footprints — both on a personal level and for enterprise — have grown significantly even in the last year.

As Mitran explained, responsible computing is a systemic, holistic approach addressing current and future computing challenges like sustainability, ethics, and professionalism. It advances the “quadruple bottom line” of people, planet, prosperity, and participation. 

2. Insightful sessions had attendees thinking deep

Photo courtesy WeaveSphere

FinTech, cryptocurrency, AI, digital economies, Canada’s innovation landscape — there was a large cross-section of topics covered across a variety of workshops, paper presentation, and panel discussions. 

Some highlights include:

Chhavi Singh, co-founder of Flyte, asked the question: have you considered using AI to coach your sales staff? Elaborating on the opportunity AI presents to increase sales performance, Singh explained how AI can be used to help understand customer challenges and handle objections and concerns. 

COO of wealth management platform OneVest, Jakob Pizzera, outlined the three phases of FinTech. The first (1.0) was in-house sites for basic online banking. Version 2.0 was the “unbundling” of financial services, and the rise of standalone businesses. The last few years has brought FinTech 3.0, with embedded finance — for example making a purchase through Instagram.

WeaveSphere conference chair and R&D specialist Vio Onut answered the question of why we need to care about cyber security. For starters, the potentially very large costs to your organization, and because the massive skills gap of privacy and security experts has created vulnerabilities. 

Digital strategist Matt Everson explored what can go with emerging technologies like Web3 and the metaverse. Everson said developers should just start building and drawing on video game virtual markets as a model. He used popular online game EVE Online as an example of how virtual economy design can be translated to other markets.

Lijia Hou, Blockchain Systems Engineer with Draft Kings, explained that three key problems still exist when it comes to blockchain technology. First, investors want to understand how — in a volatile market — to mitigate risk. Second, developers from the traditional software side need a mindset shift when it comes to decentralization. And finally, the tools of decentralization are used differently, and this is not always evident for those unfamiliar with Web3.

3. There was a LOT of interest in STEM education

As part of WeaveSphere’s Education Day slate of programming, hundreds of high school and university students had the opportunity to workshop real-life problems from both school and work — all under the guidance of IBM’s Design Thinking experts

Photo courtesy WeaveSphere

This meeting of next-generation tech talent collaboratively explored Enterprise Design Thinking strategies like As-Is Scenario Mapping, Empathy Mapping, Hills (positioning statements), and Hopes and Fears. This approach to problem-solving works by framing the issue at hand in a human-centric way, centering the end-user in all decision-making. 

For Education Day, the problem at hand was helping fourth-year university students find their first job. 

Photo courtesy WeaveSphere

4. There were loads of networking and learning opportunities

One of the best parts of any conference is the opportunity to network and learn from fellow attendees.

In the conference’s Innovation Valley section, event sponsors were on-hand to discuss everything from their latest technologies to job opportunities, plus several graduate students were also there to present their research.

Since WeaveSphere is a “meeting of the minds” between tech professionals and students, many undergrads from schools like York University and Mohawk College came to the conference full of questions, ready to absorb everything. 

5. WeaveSphere celebrated top tech talent

A big part of WeaveSphere was a celebration of some of the best tech minds in Canada. 

During a gala evening at the end of Day 2, the 2022 Developer 30 Under 30 and Tech Titans were awarded to the best of the best among young developers and digital transformation leaders in Canada. 

The winners were:

Developer 30 Under 30 winners

Photo courtesy WeaveSphere
  • Alexander Newman
  • Anakha Chellakudam
  • Anthony Langford
  • Arshdeep Saini
  • Aryaman Rastogi
  • Bohdan Senyshyn
  • Charlie Mackie
  • Charmi Chokshi
  • Colin Lee
  • Daniel Marantz
  • Francisco Hodge 
  • Hassan Djirdeh
  • Jerry Fengwei Zhang
  • Julia Paglia
  • Karandeep Bhardwaj
  • Kathryn Kodama
  • Khushbu Patel
  • Lianne Lardizabal
  • Lucas Giancola
  • Mathew Mozaffari
  • Maz Mandi
  • Oleksandr Kostrikov
  • Rishab Kumar
  • Samantha Lauer
  • Sarah Syed
  • Stan Petley
  • Tanmay Bakshi
  • Tim Romanski
  • Xiaole Zeng
  • Yash Kapadia

Tech Titans winners

Photo courtesy WeaveSphere
  • Andrew Dolinski
  • Ashish Agrawal
  • Chhavi Singh
  • Chris Dolinski
  • Dean Skurka
  • Demetrius Tsafaridis
  • Fay Arjomandi
  • Harish Pandian
  • Harpreet Gill
  • Iman Bashir
  • James Stewart
  • Len Covello
  • Manav Gupta
  • Marcel Mitran
  • Michelle Joliat
  • Dr. Mohamad Sawwaf
  • Omar A. Butt
  • Peter Zwicker
  • Ryan McDonald
  • Dr. William Cherniak

Finally, as WeaveSphere came to a close, the Pitch Stadium opened, hearing from a wide variety of startups. 

They came, they pitched, and in the end, Iman Bashir and Nicole Lytle of Craftly.AI, a copywriting assistant that uses AI to generate original content, took home the $50,000 prize to help grow their business.

Photo courtesy WeaveSphere

WeaveSphere was a uniquely collaborative, innovation-focused conference filled with engaging workshops, presentations, and networking opportunities.


DX Journal is an official media partner for WeaveSphere. Check out our series of articles from the lead-up to WeaveSphere.

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