An initiative by ACEA is allowing Tunisians to get to know their country better and helping to create a bigger market for local artisans working in more remote areas.
The Collaborative Action for Handicraft Exports (ACEA) project supports Tunisian handicraft artisans to upgrade and export their products, applying a collaborative cluster methodology. With ACEA’s support, artisans and other value chain stakeholders have established the “Wiki PAM” cluster a regional network that promotes the production and marketing of artisanal essential oils and related products from Northwest Tunisia.
To highlight the diversity and richness of the Wiki PAM products and empower the Wiki PAM cluster members, ACEA launched its first integrated Eco-touristic pilot circuit, combining initiations to artisans work and local products with outdoor sports activities in Ain Draham, one of the most beautiful regions of the Tunisian northwest.
The initiative is about getting Tunisians to get to know their country better but also to start creating a bigger market and a bigger network for local artists and artisans working in lesser visited and more rural parts of the country. At the same time, it helps these same artisans grow their networks and develop new collaborations.
Learning about the region
The participants who took part in the trip met early in the morning in the capital city of Tunis and drove three hours west to the city of Aïn Draham near the Algerian border. For many of the participants, this was their first visit to this part of Tunisia, an area known for its lush forests and biodiversity. On arrival in the forest the participants set out on a botanical hike and received a detailed explanation of the surroundings by a local guide.
At the end of the hike, the attendees chose between another activity including mountain biking or something less strenuous such as a yoga class.
Following the activity-led sessions, which helped the group to get to know each other and bond, the group then participated in some discussions and seminars, including on the work and initiatives that are helping to empower women in rural communities. The participants learnt about the traditions of the region and some of the initiatives undertaken by the local artisans’ cooperative to change the stereotypes associated with rural regions and women.
Later that afternoon, the participants attended various workshops curated and run by the artisans themselves, learning different techniques and crafts that are practiced in the region. These included learning how to distil oil, how to make artisanal cheese and how to put plants through a plant dryer to make products like dried lavender.
Focus on sustainability
As the world meets to change food systems, producing local, consuming local, and eating natural, nutritious foods will become more important to our lives. Doing so in a sustainable and natural way is the best way to combat climate change and also having a healthier population.
The issue of sustainability and doing things in an eco-friendly way was a running theme during the day. The organisers reiterated the importance of recycling and to do things in a sustainable manner. There was minimal waste. For example, each participant was given a gourd as opposed to plastic water bottles. Plastic bags, which unfortunately are still too common place in the country, were replaced by fabric bags and baskets and disposable lunch dishes were replaced with reusable kitchen ware.
Creating opportunities for women
Created in 2018, the Wiki PAM network now counts over 500 women from the northwestern region. The northwest, less wealthy than the coastal cities in the country, includes the remote but picturesque cities of Béja, El Kef, Jendouba and Siliana.
Creating these networks and providing support to these artisans will also create new opportunities for these women as well as support the local economy. The country has had a depressed economy in recent times due to political crises and Covid-19 and unemployment is on the rise.
ACEA, which is supported by the US Embassy in Tunisia, and implemented by FHI 360 in partnership with the National Office of Handicrafts (ONAT) is currently expanding its activities which include olive wood handicrafts, traditional carpets, and pottery.