In the Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis is the Mediterranean School of Business, a private business school affiliated with South Mediterranean University, whose officials have stated it aspires to be an example for those living in the northern countries of Africa. Within this school is Noomen Lahimer, a professor of economics and entrepreneurship, who encouraged several of his students to partake in a special idea of his that would not only give them a solid social enterprise project, but it would also help their country and community in terms of poverty, opportunities, and Tunisia’s place in a popular international market. And that is how TuniBee was born: the promise of bees.
This scheme by Lahimer’s students intends to build up the honey market in Tunisia and improve the quality of Tunisian honey using people with beekeeping experience from deprived areas of the country. “We immediately liked the idea,” says Chaima Ben Romdhan, an MSB student and TuniBee’s president. “However, we didn’t have any specialist expertise [of beekeeping].” In order to have the right beekeeping knowledge readily available, Lahimer got his students in touch with Khaled Bouchoucha, a Tunisian entrepreneur, former mentee of Lahimer’s, and owner of a business, Iris Technology, specializing in helping beekeepers increase honey production.
Bouchoucha agreed to provide the beehives for the chosen participants and offer technical support like GPS in the hives, later being joined by Hidhli Naoufel, a veterinarian specializing in honeybees, who would train the participating beekeepers in best practices for better quality and larger quantities of honey. “Expertise is often lacking, and incorrect practices are adopted from generation to generation,” says Naoufel. One such example includes feeding bees sugar, which increases a hive’s production but results in bland honey lacking the flavors one gets if bees harvest various nectars.
While TuniBee’s 24 sponsors would receive one-third of the harvested honey for three years in return for their investment, the participating beekeepers will keep the rest and then get to keep their hives and honey scores once the three-year period is up. As of now, TuniBee has three beekeepers being trained by Naoufel, all of whom are using beekeeping as an additional income.
Mohamed Jouini, an electrician, has even said, “The current economic situation in Tunisia makes it hard to survive with just one job.” Abdelfatteh Sayari, a mapmaker by trade, said he started keeping bees as a hobby, keen to restart a family tradition: “My grandmother kept bees in the traditional way (in trees), but nobody took over from her when she passed away.” Khairi Kharroubi, who’s been helping his father raise bees since childhood, is currently pursuing a business administration degree, so selling honey brings in vital money for him and his family.
The hope of this project is that the beekeeping skills the TuniBee program teaches will enable beekeepers, like the three current participants, to increase Tunisia’s honey production and quality of life. By economist Mehdi Ben Braham’s assessment, “This kind of project could have a significant socio-economic impact in deprived areas by giving hope and creating sustainable jobs and providing sufficient financial resources to reduce poverty.”