Tunisia’s first consumer co-operative has launched a weekly market fair to sell agricultural products. Called “The market of the co-op” the initiative will bring together small local producers, farmers and craftsmen every Saturday for two months. They get to showcase their products and establish a direct contact with consumers. The co-operative is supported by Développement sans frontièrs (DSF) and Lab’ESS in Tunisia.
The first market opened on 19 September in Belvédeère, Tunis, from 9:30am to 13:00pm, bringing together over 60 people. The idea behind the project is to enable people to buy fresh products from local producers while also supporting the local economy.
Tunisie Coop hopes that the event will help create a social connection between producers and consumers and encourage responsible consumption. The weekly market is also the co-op’s first initiative since it was launched in March 2015. Consumers shopping at the market fair will get the chance to find out more about the co-operative and join it. The market will take place every week for the next two months, at the end of which Tunisie Coop wants to open a shop to sell fresh products, including meat.
Another objective of Tunisie Coop is to promote sustainable practices in agriculture and healthy eating. Naoufel Haddad, president of the Tunisie Coop and one of the 15 founding members says the project is inspired by a Japanese federation of consumer co-operatives, Seikatsu Club, which he learned about while visiting the country. The co-op model helps cut middlemen, by working with producers based within 60km from each other.
Agriculture continues to play an important role in Tunisia’s economy, accounting for over 12% of the GDP and employing almost a quarter of the country’s labour force. While the organic market continues to grow, domestic demand for organic products is not high. Tunisie Coop aims to encourage consumers to buy more local quality products, developing an “agriculture of proximity”.
The co-operative sector also has a long history in Tunisia, with the first consumer co-operative set up in 1924 by trade union leader Mohamed Ali El Hami. However, the “forced co-operation” that followed in 1962 along with the failure of some co-operatives created a negative public opinion about the model. “The reticence towards co-operatives seems to be fading now,” says Mr Naoufel Haddad.
“We chose the name and domain Tunisie.coop. The word Coop symbolises the word ‘co-operative’ but can make one think of the word co-operation, a co-operative project between the producer and the consumer. With Tunisie Coop we want to make the consumer the key driver of change to encourage sustainable agriculture in Tunisia. This project gives us a real confidence in recreating the connection between the consumer and the producer as well as creating a win-win relationship.”
Photo: Naoufel Haddad, president of the Tunisie Coop welcomes a new members