On the track of Stipa Tenacissima – Third Journey in Tunisia, December 2014


I am traveling throughout Europe and North Africa to call attention and promote interest by public and private actors in Europe and MENA countries and foster convergence of  interests and funds  on ARTES initiative for an Africa  – Europe cooperation in the field of bio economy.

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Last June ARTES has signed a partnership agreement  with  Tunisian Universities and companies which aims at introducing a new growth paradigm through piloting a research driven cluster start up focused on bio economy, in fragile peripheral regions, such as Gafsa and Kasserine, in the larger horizon of a Mediterranean stabilisation and cooperation strategy.

This revolutionary approach envisages green technology and art as the engine for an accelerated job and enterprise  creation initiative in the peripheral  landlocked regions of Gafsa and Kasserine.

If we succeed in the implementation, it would have real positive repercussions on employment, on economic development and on innovation in these areas, but it needs a wise awareness raising campaign to mobilise the key actors. Without local partners and institutions sharing our view and our efforts, it would be impossible to implement concrete solutions and have success in the long term.

To this aim, on the 2nd of December I visit Tunisia for the third time.

Wednesday 3nd, Sousse

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I arrive at Tunis Carthage around noon and the driver bring me straight to Sousse, where I meet Marzio Maiocchi, president of ATI Engineering  and my assistant, Leonardo Franceschi, who’s staying in Tunisia for two months  to follow more closely the current projects of Artes, in Tunisia. We have few hours to brief and to prepare my speech for the following day. I have been invited to speak to the Forum de Convergeance (http://site.forumeniso.com/), an important annual meeting organised by ENISo (the National Institute of Engineers of Sousse) under the leadership of Zoubeir Tourki, the young and charismatic director of the school.



Under the motto: to be wired or not to be, the forum is aimed at connecting with each other representatives of institutions, education and enterprises from within and outside the country,such as Artes, ATi Engineering, ALTAIR and many others.

ENISo  is located in a modern building equipped with laboratories and an incubator space which hosts more than 130 spin offs. A leading Tunisian institute in the field of robotics, mechatronics, and automation is the  preferred destination of  bright and committed students who are prepared to take the lead of their country.

The school is eager to gain international attention and to acquire innovative know-how, and the director is thus very inclined to collaborate with us in our research project on the fibre of ginestra (Spartium Junceum) (http://www.artes-research.net/portfolio-articoli/ginextra/). ENISO will contribute to the “scale-up” of the pilot biorafinery plant for the treatment of the ‘Ginestra’ in close cooperation with ATI Engineering putting at the disposal of the ARTES international team of researchers their  well equipped laboratories and a duly selected team of students and professors specialised in robotics and mecatronics. The partnership would give us the chance to enter in the Tunisian market and investigate the possibility to apply our patented technology to the local plant of Alfa. We present the project in our stand and I make my speech, in front of crowded audience and at the presence of the Minister of Higher Education, Research and ICT and the Ambassador of Germany in Tunisia.
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Thursday 4rd, Monastir

The day after we participate to the seminar of the European project SUSTEXNET (http://sustexnet.eu/), organised by our Tunisian partner Cettex, in the luxurious hotel and spa Thalassa.



The event is addressed to the Tunisian Textile community of entrepreneurs to present the Comparative Analysis of the textile and apparel industry in the SUSTEXNET partners countries (Italy, Egypt, Spain and Tunisia) (http://goo.gl/IYO2mH). The event is aimed at giving start to the direct company studies and interventions phase, envisaged by the European project.

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It is a unique occasion for me to listen to the voice of Tunisian entrepreneurs who take active part to the event and give me a clear and real picture of the industry needs and perspectives.  Development of competences of employees at any level emerges to be a crucial needs and as the coordinator of the comparative study and a specialist in human capital development and training  I am invited to give my point of view and to visit the companies’ facilities and give support.

Friday 5th, Sousse

On Friday,  we take a break from the meetings, working from home and preparing the travel to Gafsa to meet our partners at the Higher Institute of Arts and Crafts. We need to discuss the progress of the agreement signed and prepare a study visits of nzyme4future team of experts , scheduled January 2015.

Saturday 6th, Gafsa

We start our journey  on Saturday before dawn, after only few hours sleep, and we head to the hinterland of Tunisia on a narrowed road. As the sun raises, the landscape, slowly begin to emerge from the gloom. The panorama is vast and flat and scattered with olive plantations, which luxuriantly spring out of the arid land. The environment changes once we pass the governorate of Keirouan. The air gets filled with sand and dust, giving everything around us the appearance of being abandoned. Towns becomes rarer and traffic less heavy. The landscape is now open and beautiful, interrupted only by small buildings aggregations.





We arrive at Gafsa at 10 A.M. sharp and, after little difficulties, we find ISAM, the Higher Institute of Artes and Crafts, where we have a meeting with the director Dr. Amine Khadimallah. He is young and welcoming and he puts us at ease after the long trip. Imen Said, the coordinator of the Tunisian Piloting Team of the agreement, is connecting via Skype from Paris, while  taking part to an international research programme.

We discuss critical aspects for the success of the programme. They  confirm the great interest that our project has raised and the firm belief of its importance for the territory.  They commit to involve all key actors and primarily  students, women, entrepreneurs of all sectors, the whole local community and duly prepare the January study visit.

We  leave Gafsa with the sensation of being now in the right direction.

On the way back, we take a break in one of the many “Restaurant de campaigne”, where they serve lamb meat, grilled at the moment, and delicious traditional Tunisian sauce with bread. A simple meal in a rustic environment that gives us a real taste of Tunisia.

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Monday 8th, Tunis

On Monday we travel from Sousse to Tunisi, to meet Mr. Patrick Berckmans, Minister Consellor  at the EU delegation in Tunisia and Head of the Section for Governance, Social Development and Sustainable. My visit  in Brussels in the previous weeks and my meetings with the heads of Units at  Europe Aid are now completed by this visit to the Tunisian Delegation. The meeting is constructive and it paves the way for the next study visit in January. The support of EU is extremely important for our  programme, we need that  the EU representatives in Tunisia, the Multilateral Banks, the National Governmental Institutions, the Business and scientific world at national level, the key leaders of civil society and the press are all informed, and that they understand, share and support the partners signatories of the ‘GAFSA AGREEMENT’.

We need to walk in the same direction if we want to progress.

I leave Tunisia the day after, persuaded that in few days, an hard successful work has been done.

An intense red and golden sky accompany my departure! Come back soon to Tunisia, it seems to invite me!