Access to Credit in Southern Tunisia Brings Fresh Flowers and Jobs

October 1, 2015

  • A World Bank credit facility to promote access to financing for small and medium enterprises in Tunisia supports the launch of a flower farm in the south of the country.
  • The flower farm brings much needed jobs to one of Tunisia’s underdeveloped regions; especially for young women, whose employment rate is below 10% in the rural south.

Ahmed Sallami is making the desert bloom—literally, by investing in a flower farm made possible with money loaned to him under a line of credit that was expanded in 2014 by the World Bank specifically to help entrepreneurs running small to medium scale businesses like his in Tunisia.

His flower farm is at Nekrif in Tunisia’s impoverished southern interior. Except for wadis (river beds), the region is desert with barren mountain ridges. Making the desert bloom was easy though, he says, by comparison with securing the funds to do it. Crystal clear water is pumped up from underground, and the flowers protected from summer sun and winter frost by greenhouse netting.  To ensure the sustainability of the project, Sallami is also using a technology known as ‘drip irrigation’ that serves to preserve the natural water resources.

Although Sallami started working on the project in mid-2011, the farm began operating only in early 2013. Frustrated by the slowness of Tunisia’s “banks and bureaucracy”, Sallami borrowed money “from here and there” until the bank loans he had been promised for his venture slowly trickled through.

The World Bank has made it easier for entrepreneurs like him to get things going by increasing the amount of finance available to them. Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) drive Tunisia’s private sector growth, forming 99.7% of the country’s enterprises (624,000 businesses) and employing about 1.2 million workers.

The Bank’s 2014 credit facility made US$100 million more available to entrepreneurs, the idea being to give businesses the credit they need to establish themselves. By issuing the loans through local banks, the Bank hopes to encourage Tunisia’s financial sector to follow suit, and serve as a catalyst for growth and job creation through lending.


" Access to credit is vital for Tunisian entrepreneurs to launch enterprises, create jobs and act as engines of growth. "

Though relatively remote, Sallami says he chose Nekrif for its “good climate”, adequate water supply and untapped pool of manual labor. He employs young women from nearby to pick the flowers. They sort armfuls of fresh gladioli and carnations into bundles. “We used to only have olive trees and some fruit trees,’ said Saida Luganeb, who has worked at Sallami’s farm since 2013. “We never imagined we could grow flowers in Nekrif. Now we have lots of varieties. We are even competitive.”

The flowers are exported by air to the flower markets of the Netherlands. It is a business that not only adds variety and value to Tunisian exports, but also helps dent unemployment in Tunisia’s underdeveloped, or ‘lagging’ regions where jobs are scarce. Employment rates for young women drop below ten percent in rural areas in the south of Tunisia, such as Nekrif.  Working at the flower farm is an entry into the job market, a ticket toward financial independence.

“Access to credit is vital for Tunisian entrepreneurs,” said Laurent Gonnet, World Bank Senior Financial Specialist, “to launch enterprises, create jobs and act as engines of growth.”