Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators
GDA Pure Nature: Empowering rural women thorough a cheese making cooperative in Tunisia
“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, ILO interviewed Ms. Rihem Bchini, President of GDA Pure Nature – an agricultural cooperative of rural women workers in Tunisia.
Can you tell us about yourself?I have been working in the Tunisian civil society for over five years. After obtaining my master’s degree in translation in 2018, I was chosen as a President of Agricultural Development Group (Groupements de Développement Agricole, GDA) Pure Nature. Pure Nature was set up in August 2018 by 50 rural women who are now members of the cooperative. Through the cooperative, we want to change the stereotypical image of rural women in Tunisia.
What is the GDA Pure Nature about?GDA Pure Nature is an agricultural cooperative located in Ain Drahem, North West of Tunisia in the governorate of Jendouba. It has 51 active women members, including eight staff members, who have completed professional training in cheese making and received professional certificates. Pure Nature specializes not only in goat farming and production of artisanal goat cheese but also in producing essential oils, floral waters and dried herbs. Among the varieties of our cheese are: cheddar, gruyère, camembert, blue cheese, herb flavoured cheese, and goat cheese marinated in olive oil.
All products of Pure Nature are natural. We use no synthetic ingredients, no pesticides and no artificial fertilizers in the production process. We re-use rainwater for distillation. We provide information about where, when, how and by whom each product was produced. Ethics are at the heart of Pure Nature with respect for producers and collectors and their work environment.
How does the GDA finance its activities? Who are the key partners?The creation of GDA Pure Nature was a project of Khmir Association for Environment and Development (Association Khmir Environnement et Développement, AKED). It was made possible within the framework of the project ‘PROMESS’ funded by the government of the Netherlands and implemented by the ILO in partnership with the Ministry for the Employment and the Professional Insertion of the Youth, Tunisia. Through the project, AKED supported the creation of an artisanal cheese producers’ cooperative with a processing plant and a small goat farm. It also provided the necessary equipment, a herd of goats, the training for cheese making and follow-up support. Club Enactus Charguia supports labelling and packaging of the cheese products (TCHEEZEN), and SMSA Blessed Fountains supports marketing and sales of these products.
The production of essential oils was financed by the France Foundation. We also received support from the Collaborative Action for Handicraft Exports (ACEA) project of Family Health International (FHI) 360 in getting professional credentials of oil distillation for the cooperative members and in taking part at the international exhibition VIVANESS 2019 in Nuremberg, Germany.
What are some of the challenges that faced the GDA?One of the key challenges for Pure Nature is to make the necessary investments to scale up our production. To produce more cheese, we need to have more goats and a bigger stable for them. In addition, we designed a cheese cave according to European standards, but later we realized the temperature and humidity level in our region is so different from those in Europe that the cave cannot preserve the quality of our cheese. We need to install an air conditioner and a humidifier.
What do you think are opportunities for growth and expansion of the GDA?Pure Nature was a dream come true for its members. We aim to expand and reach international markets; improve the quality of our products; obtain a bio certificate; and to enlarge our herd of goats. One of our main objectives is to involve as many rural women as possible, to eradicate poverty and lack of opportunities for women in rural areas in Tunisia.
We believe that running a successful business is not about sitting back and planning until everything is perfect. It is about getting in the mud, getting ours hands dirty and working with whatever challenges come up. We know every major challenge can be overcome simply by not giving up.
All of our products are made with passion and love. We treat our customers like friends, we provide them with recommendations, offer free samples and always ask for their feedback to take note of areas we can improve upon.
In order to accomplish our objectives, we believe that teamwork is essential. We don’t believe in hierarchy, as we all are partners in success through our cooperative. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In Pure Nature we don’t just dream; we translate our dreams to reality.
Spotlight interviews with cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders around the world, whom ILO officials have encountered in the course of their work with cooperatives. This article does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.