Adding value to oases through handicrafts

August 5, 2022

Tozeur is renowned as a region rich in date production and also a top-rated tourist destination at the gateway to the Tunisian desert. But today, many young Tunisian entrepreneurs, such as Farida Laimech, promoter of Decopalm, see it as something more. They are aware of the stakes involved in protecting the environment and the importance of developing all the products of the date palm to create jobs in their region and safeguard this heritage for future generations.

When she was 20 years old, Farida Laimech, like many young people in her region, was proving herself in the tourism sector. Having earned the trust of a relative, she run a travel agency with 38 drivers under her management. She learned quickly and mastered all the aspects; tours, departures, arrivals, excursions, customers and even accounting until the revolution, when the business is forced to close down.

But that doesn’t matter, she’s a fighter and she has what it takes. “It was my father who passed on to me the love of agriculture and the culture of valorizing the different components of the date palm. He taught me that the date is a sacred product and that nothing should be thrown away, not even the little perianth that connects it to the stem.

“On the advice of a friend who runs a guest house, I made my first paintings with these natural corks, followed by curtains, tablecloths and various decorative products made from recycled palm waste, which were extremely popular and successful.”

Her experience as a woman in the field, combined with her ingenuity and the know-how passed on by her late father, did the rest. In 2015, she was the first woman to launch Decopalm, a company that makes decorative objects from recycled palm waste, and above all to innovate in the design of its products. And she still is. Farida doesn’t do things by halves, taking the help of the Espace Entreprendre, she takes advantage of the CEFE’s support to work on her business model and to study her competition.

“My customers at the beginning are mainly family and friends impressed by my products which contrast with those offered in the souks, but also regional officials looking for exotic gifts, tourists passing through or visitors to fairs who buy a story behind a product, that of a 100% natural product made from waste recovered in the palm grove.”

In 2019 Farida is immersed in a new opportunity, she is entering the world of the industry. The young entrepreneur applied for and obtained a credit of 30,000 Tunisian Dinars to launch her carpentry workshop specializing in the manufacture of wooden furniture from old palm tree trunks, products that are very popular in Tunisia and also abroad. Thanks to her meeting with the Mashrou3i project expert, and the advice and help she received, Farida feels she has wings. She has all the assets on her side to present innovative products on the market, which are a clever combination of furniture made from palm wood and decorations obtained by recycling waste.

But the Corona pandemic decided otherwise, and like thousands of young entrepreneurs, she was forced to stop production shortly after it was launched and sent her 17 employees home with a heavy heart. The recovery in 2021 was very difficult. She had to face the competition in palm wood furniture, find the necessary resources to pay the bank, and above all, obtain the raw materials and make the necessary stocks.

“Once I got out of the first shock, I turned once again to Mashrou3i, which, through its technical assistance, gave me a breath of fresh air and the impetus I was missing. First of all, the English training Mashrou3i provided has enabled me to communicate about my products with foreign customers and to tell their story, and the vital role they play in the preservation of an entire ecosystem. Also a training in Design has helped me to release my creative potential and finally a training on the panel saw which will allow me to leave the subcontracting and to innovate on my products and to market before being copied… “.

For the future, Farida has a lot of hope and above all a lot of projects for Decopalm through the development of its commercial site and for her association “Oasis Women for Sustainable Development” which she has been managing since 2021 and where she teaches women to be autonomous and to take advantage of the recycling of natural waste, but also of household waste by creating their own composts, and by developing their own vegetable gardens.