Women in rural Tunisia mix hot sauce with business

Najoua Dhiflaoui and another 150 women are making money producing and exporting their ancestral savoir faire.

Seasoned culinary expertise. Najoua Dhiflaoui presents Errim harissa products in Menzel Mhiri near Kairouan. (Al Arab newspaper)


2017/12/10 Issue: 135 Page: 21




These Tunisian women have some sauce, pooling their resources and a sea­soned culinary expertise handed down through centuries from mother to daughter.

Their secret? Harissa — the spicy hot pepper paste used to add zing to dishes traditionally prepared in the Maghreb region.

When Najoua Dhiflaoui pre­pares harissa, it is no longer just for her family. She and another 150 women are making money produc­ing and exporting their ancestral savoir faire.

Harissa — made from sun-dried chili peppers, freshly prepared spices and olive oil to preserve and soften its heat — is added to many dishes in restaurants in Tunisia and is popular abroad.

In 2013, farmers in Menzel Mhiri near Kairouan in rural central Tu­nisia banded together to form a cooperative they dubbed “Tahadi” — Arabic for “Challenge.”

Dhiflaoui and her co-workers certainly rose to it.

They went “door-to-door to con­vince others to join them, to com­bine their knowledge and sell their products together,” she said.

The women were aided by an official project to support local produce and were giv­en training in the techni­cal, hygienic and commer­cial aspects of their venture.

For two years, they have marketed their harissa under the “Errim” trade name. That’s Arabic for “small gazelle,” also a symbol of feminine beauty.

“It’s a way of representing the Tunisian woman — hard-working, authentic and fiery,” Dhiflaoui said with a smile, her forehead beaded with sweat from the heat and the peppers.

Tahadi has 164 workers and is one of the first firms in Tunisia to work exclusively with local ru­ral women working on a flexible schedule.

In a spotless white laboratory lined with machinery that grinds, kneads and fills, gloved women wash and prepare locally harvested ingredients to make the red paste.

Women play a key role in the Tu­nisian economy, said Farouk Ben Salah of PAMPAT, a UN, Swiss and Tunisian project aimed at getting rural products such as harissa onto the market.

“The main thing is to create working conditions for them as soon as possible,” he said.

The harissa makers are paid “slightly more than the agricultural wage, around 15 dinars” ($6) per working day, said Ben Salah.

Others work from home, per­forming essential tasks for the project and generating income by cleaning and drying peppers on the roofs of their houses.

Dhiflaoui is full of enthusiasm. “This work allows women a cer­tain financial autonomy,” she said, boosting their confidence and ena­bling them “to move forward.”

Since the launch of the coopera­tive, the farmers “have encouraged each other to make their mark. No longer do you have to be a teacher or doctor, now they too can work and feel they have a place in soci­ety.”

Women in rural Tunisia are par­ticularly affected by gender dis­crimination and lack of job securi­ty. Female unemployment is 22.5% at a national level but the rate ex­ceeds 35% in rural provinces, a 2015 report by the National Institute of Statistics stated.

Dhiflaoui said that many women who work at Tahadi used to labour in the fields in “terrible conditions” or “waited until their husbands brought money home.”

Their new role has “made them bloom” and given them “liberty,” she added.

“There’s a big difference between a woman with her own monthly salary and a woman who relies on a husband,” said Chelbia Dhiflaoui, Najoua’s cousin who also works at Tahadi.

“She feels a sense of responsibil­ity, she sets goals she can reach and she’s working to improve her living conditions.”

Ben Salah said PAMPAT could help Tahadi diversify its produc­tion to give the cooperative more opportunities to employ women who live in rural areas.

Errim harissa is already making a name for itself. Sold in gourmet food stores nationally, it can be found in Switzerland and Germany and orders have been dispatched to France and Italy. Talks are un­der way to export the delicacy to Canada.

(Agence France-Presse)


As Printed
MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

Designers

Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved