Tunisia's blossoming agribusiness sector

Tunisia's blossoming agribusiness sector

With the support of Mashrou3i, entrepreneurs are tapping into new opportunities and establishing new businesses

28 Nov 2019

(Main photo - Maher Ben Ismail, agriprenuer and co-owner of Triomphe olive oil, Beja)

Agribusiness makes an important contribution to the Tunisian economy, representing the third largest manufacturing sector and accounting for 9.5% of gross added value. In recent years, the sector has witnessed rapid growth and today comprises more than 1,000 companies. Tunisian agribusiness exports to 138 countries, including the European Union as its chief market but also the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan and the Gulf states.

Record harvests are expected in 2019 for high potential crops like dates (340,000 tonnes) and olives (350,000 tonnes) which will help boost the development of agro-industries.

Beja's olive oil is going global

In recent years Tunisia’s olive production has undergone a consistent and remarkable improvement in terms of quantity and quality. The country now accounts for around 40% of the world's organic olive oil production. Agripreneurs like Maher Ben Ismail, co-owner of Triomphe olive oil are proving the potential in this sector is significant.

Triomphe has already won over 15 prizes for its high quality olive oil and is exporting to Japan and Germany. In 2019, Mashrou3i facilitated new trade agreements worth around US$300,000 for the export of 20,000 bottles to Saudi Arabia and 30,000 bottles to Kuwait. The company is a member of the Beja Olive Oil Cluster, recently established by Mashrou3i, to strengthen the value chain and promote market access of the region's Chetoui olive oil variety.

Mashrou3i (‘my project’ in Arabic) is a joint project by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and the HP Foundation. Mashrou3i is designed to foster youth entrepreneurship in Tunisia and support the creation and growth of enterprises.

"The Beja olive oil cluster is very important as it gathers all the stakeholders - farmers, agripreneurs, wholesalers - of the olive oil value chain to enable synergies between actors and to also reinforce the network between producers. Today, we have to be united if we want to achieve commercial success on the market."

A natural substitute for sugar

In February 2019, Ali Sghaier from Kebili launched Organic Food Trade Company (OFTC), a company specialized in the production of date derivatives and a natural alternative to sugar. Watch this video to learn more about his business and how coaching provided by the Mashrou3i project helped strengthen his enterprise.

An energy bar fuelled by Tunisia's natural products

Hugely popular among athletes and as a healthy snack, energy bars have taken the world by storm. In Europe alone, the energy bar market is expected to reach US$689m by 2023. Zeineb Ben Naceur from Medenine is tapping into the lucrative natural health food market with her business, Olidatta.

Initially the young entrepreneur focused on traditional products, such as robb (a date syrup) and dates filled with dried fruits. Passionate about the health benefits offered by dates, Zeineb began to refine her product offering and developed an energy bar made with dates, cocoa powder and almonds – which has quickly become her most successful product.

To develop her managerial skills, Mashrou3i provided Zeineb with entrepreneurship training and product analyses from accredited laboratories. After completing the HP LIFE online courses she took part in a five-day Mashrou3i training workshop. She also received coaching in marketing, sales techniques, environmental management and communication, where she got the opportunity to promote her products on the regional radio. Olidatta currently employs two people and Zeineb plans to recruit an additional 15 employees to manage the marketing, management, administration and purchasing department.

“Olidatta promotes healthy eating and Tunisia’s traditional products in a modern way and at an affordable price. I sell my products through social media and specialized fairs in Sfax and Tunis. In the coming months, I hope to obtain the organic certification which will open the doors to the European market.”

Zeineb Ben Naceur, Olidatta

Consultancy services for a new breed of entrepreneur

Growth in Tunisia's agribusiness sector has also opened up new opportunities in support services. In January 2019, Refka Lefi launched a consulting firm that helps agripreneurs tap into funding opportunities. The agricultural engineer got the idea for her business during a coaching programme of the APIA (Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency). While preparing the launch of her business Refka discovered the Mashrou3i project.

“It's my curiosity and willingness to always train and improve my skills that led me down the path of entrepreneurship. After seven years of experience in consulting and business creation, I already had a good knowledge of business management. But thanks to Mashrou3i’s entrepreneurship training I was able to reinforce these skills – especially the elements of a business plan and market analysis.”

Refka was able to draw on her network to gain her first contracts. She has also reached out to potential clients via social media and the regional business centre and APIA. Recently she worked on a preliminary study for the Farmers' Union. This involved visiting farmers of the Central Cooperative Society, carrying out a diagnosis and drafting an action plan for the modernization or restructuring of their farms. Most of her business is currently focused towards supporting agripreneurs to prepare applications and to secure funding, especially grants from the APIA PRIMEA Program, funded by AFD and the European Union. In the future, Refka aims to become a leader in the global advisory system for the benefit of farmers in the region.

Refka Lefi