From biotechnologist to artisanal cheesemaker

IFAD Asset Request Portlet

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From biotechnologist to artisanal cheesemaker

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Ibtissèm Mansour is a woman of many talents.

By the age of 23, her career in the pharmaceutical industry was already off to a strong start. The year 2019 found her working in a lab in the capital city of Tunis. But when her mother fell ill, she moved back to her hometown of Rouhia, in central Tunisia, to take care of her.

Of course, she needed a new way to support herself and her mother – but, soon enough, she had an idea. Despite having a strong milk production industry and high demand for fresh dairy products, Rouhia had no cheesemaking capacity. So she set out to pursue a dream she’d always had: setting up her own cheese factory.

First, though, she needed some funds to get started. Coming from a family of modest means, she didn’t have enough capital on her own. In September of that year, she acquired a small loan to buy the bare minimum needed to set up shop: a table, a display case, a cooking pot, a gas stove, four tables, and ten chairs.

Soon, her cheese shop – the first of its kind in Rouhia – was up and running, selling ricotta, butter, and fresh and fermented milk.

To fulfil demand and grow her business even more, Ibtissèm submitted a business plan to PROFITS, an initiative co-financed by IFAD and the Tunisian government. PROFITS provided 80 per cent of the costs she’d estimated for the upgrades she needed – equipment such as a milk tank, refrigerated cabinet, display case, and cheese press – and Ibtissèm covered the rest.

Ibtissèm serves a customer in her shop.

She received the equipment in April 2021 – just before Ramadan, the most profitable month of the year. She had her work cut out for her to get everything up and running on time, but she managed it. She pulled in a record profit that month, and ever since, she’s averaged a monthly turnover of US$3,200, with a margin of US$900.

There are two key factors to her success. First, location: her factory is situated on a busy main road in the city centre, perfect for attracting customers. Second, she’s built strong relationships with her suppliers. They not only provide her with high-quality milk, but also help deliver it – in return for her expert advice on milk preservation practices, based on the knowledge she gained from her pharmaceutical background.

Ibtissèm, now 26, is earning almost double what she was making in the lab, and she’s easily able to meet her and her family’s needs. She’s even been able to hire two young women to help her in her workshop. But her ambitions don’t stop there: her next goal is to buy a refrigerated vehicle so she can sell her products in nearby regions. This will also allow her to buy from farmers on-site, cutting her costs and increasing her profits even more. She also wants to hire more employees and diversify the range of products she offers.

As she’s proven over the years, her hard work and entrepreneurial spirit is good news not only for herself and her family, but for all of Rouhia.

Learn more about IFAD’s work in Tunisia