Since its launch, the Souk At-tanmia program has enabled the emergence of 250 new businesses and created more than 2,000 jobs in industry, services, agriculture, renewable energies, crafts and tourism. Almost two thirds of the structures are managed by young people, more than a third by women. More than 60% of entrepreneurs come from priority regions of Tunisia.
Known as Cilium under the Roman Empire, Kasserine is a city with a unique heritage. A city located in the center-west of Tunisia where, through the generations, a craftsmanship that has made its reputation endure.
Najet Salhi is from Kasserine. Sitting determinedly, she holds two tufts of alfa in her hands. Used since the 19th century, this fibrous plant must be handled with care. Cut, dried then braided, the material is transformed into baskets and containers of all shapes. It is labor that can take hours to get to the finished product.
“We used to make the alfa and sell it as is to the paper mill,” Najet recalls. “Today we harvest it and make artisanal products that we sell. Our income has increased and preparation seems less difficult, ”she explains. This craftswoman is one of the women who have benefited from specialized training. Made in three workshops in the city, most of their production is sold in the capital, Tunis.
A few years ago, an artisanal cooperative based in Kasserine was born: “Zazia Artisanat”. Its founder, Taoufik Saudi, funded it with a grant from the Souk At-tanmia program. This entrepreneurship support initiative, endowed with around 8 million euros, was launched in 2012 by the African Development Bank with around 20 partners.
Taoufik, himself from Kasserine, is a business school graduate. After studying in Japan, he returned to his native region. “I didn’t have a lot of money at the start,” he says. I started off with a small project but kept going. Souk At-tanmia is a good system because it combines financial assistance and technical support. It helped me start my project “. The cooperative ended up creating around 20 jobs.
To support entrepreneurship, the Souk At-tanmia program funds entrepreneurs with seed grants ranging from US $ 5,000 to US $ 15,000. Particular attention is paid to businesses led by women and young people in the so-called “priority” regions of Tunisia, in particular Gafsa, Medenine, Tataouine, Sidi Bouzid, Kairouan, Seliana, Kasserine, Kef and Jendouba.
In Nabeul, more than 200 kilometers northeast of Kasserine, Emna Ben Mustapha, in his thirties, is doing business on his aquaculture farm. Her work is a goldsmith’s work: she prepares, in absolute silence, capsules, powder and flakes, all based on spirulina. This micro-algae is renowned for its antioxidant, nutritional and purifying benefits. Emna seized the opportunity to serve a growing demand for organic and “healthy” products. After a master’s degree in marine biology, she founded with her husband Bilel, a spirulina production unit, AquaSpir. “It is a seaweed with a thousand virtues: iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamins (…) one of the richest foods there is,” she explains.
With a dozen growing ponds, AquaSpir produces 1.2 tonnes of spirulina per year and employs six people full time. For more efficiency and quality, Emna has even installed photovoltaic panels and only uses well water. Its products, previously sold through intermediaries, are now marketed under its own brand in drugstores and specialist brands. “We were focused on the French market,” she explains. Thanks to the funding and support from Souk At-tanmia, we have been able to expand internationally to other countries such as Italy, Yemen and Pakistan. We plan to increase production to two tonnes per year, increasing our workforce to ten employees. “
Like a majority of Tunisian entrepreneurs, Emna and Taoufik now find themselves threatened by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a survey conducted by the program, beneficiary companies experience, on average, a drop of about 60% of their turnover, and half of their jobs are at risk. In this context, Souk At-tanmia, supported by its British, American and Danish partners, has deployed a new financial and technical support system to preserve these companies and facilitate the resumption or continuation of their activities. It’s about protecting jobs.