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.