Why did you get interested in doing business in Tunisia?
We own quite a large cherry tomato company in Holland, where we grow tomatoes all year around. Especially during winter, we use a lot of artificial light and heating for this. So, it resulted in quite exorbitant expenses of gas. Therefore, we started searching for other places to grow tomatoes, in a more affordable way.
Did you look at other countries as well?
Yes, we compared Tunisia with Morocco, their largest competitor. We chose Tunisia because we found an already existing company here, that was growing here and used geothermal heating during the cold desert nights. It also re-uses water, in nice greenhouses. So we opted for Tunisia.
Which other benefits did it have?
Logistically it was also easier: it took a day less to travel between Europe and Tunisia than to Morocco, due to the good connection between Tunis and Marseille, a 24-hour ship journey. From our company in the south of Tunisia to our market in Europe takes only 3 days. Usually, we only harvest in Tunisia during the European winter, when there is no supply from Holland. This goes on until the spring.
How big is your company?
We started 7 years ago with 2.5 hectare, and a bit of (PSI) subsidy from the Dutch government. Now we are at 20 hectares, and 600 staff members. We have enough water, because there is a large aquifer (water deep in the ground) just below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.
Where are you exporting to?
Desert Joy is part of AgroCare, and we sell our cherry tomatoes through a cooperative called Harvest House. Products can end up in Dutch supermarket chains like Hoogvliet and Deen, as well as in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia and Poland. It is sold under our fair trade certificate. They normally come in round plastic containers. In Holland they are known as ‘snoeptomaatjes.’
Are you the only Dutch company there?
No, we also have neighbors nowadays. A company called A&G van den Bosch is growing the larger type of tomatoes.
Which challenges do you face?
Tunisia is still a poor country, so sometimes it takes long to receive certain subsidies on export to which we are entitled. Also the process of getting your documents can sometimes be very lengthy. We do see things have changed for the better since the 2011 revolution, things are more structured and put in systems, rather than arranged through a patronage network. In general, we enjoy doing business in Tunisia, we have a great team of very friendly and loyal staff.
Is there space for growth?
A lot. In total I think there is 100 hectares of the type of horticulture we do, while in Spain you’d have tens of thousands of hectares. Desert Joy shall soon add another 5 hectares to our farm.