High Atlas Foundation

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is a Moroccan association and a U.S. 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers, and is dedicated to participatory grassroots human development in disadvantaged areas in Morocco, mostly rural. HAF received United Nations Special Consultative Status in 2011. HAF's team is comprised mostly of Moroccans with some international members. Using a participatory approach, HAF works to establish development projects in Morocco that local communities design and manage, and that are in partnership with government and non-government agencies. HAF is committed to facilitating, and training facilitators in, the participatory app...
Dec 8, 2016

The Tassa Ourigane Irrigation Project in Morocco

The Tassa Ourigane Irrigation Project in Morocco

 

The High Atlas Foundation is planning to start a project in the Tassa Ouirgane village, in the Ouirgane municipality of the Al Haouz province of Morocco.  This region is considered to be the most disadvantaged in the country. The region suffers from drought, deforestation, and lack of water during the summer, and sudden floods during the winter. Climate change has extremely affected the area, many agricultural crops were damaged because of floods, and because of drought.  In addition, more than 20 plant indigenous species are threatened in the area. Some farmers could not fully recover from the flood that occurred in 1995 which destroyed crop.

Moreover, the High Atlas Foundation, using the participatory approach to map and assess the needs of community members, has been meeting with local men and women in order to advance human development in Tassa Ouirgane.  Community members focus on the problem of irrigation, since it is the agricultural foundation.  Community members saw that the involvement of HAF is very important and the project will be benefiting them in having a productive agricultural lifestyle, harvesting their yields in season. Farmers are obliged to harvest in May/June rather than September/October because of the extreme drought that afflicts the area.

Moreover, climate change has reduced the overall amount of water available for irrigation as well as the seasonality of available water, while also creating extreme frequent storm events. The extreme flood event in 1995 has significantly reduced the riparian habitat for wildlife in the region in addition to destroying and damaging agricultural fields.

As a result, HAF’s project aims to recover and save the plant species in the area as well as animal species, to provide answers to these challenges by facilitating the restoration of important agricultural fields and establishing a walnut tree nursery, which in the medium term will regenerate vegetation cover including riparian habitat, fight against soil erosion, and encourage a sustainable source of income for the population.

The project has 3 main objectives.  The first is to build up to 15 gabion structures that divert river flows away from farmland and riparian habitat. These structures will range from 20 meters to 80 meters in length. Second is to install a new well, a solar pump and storage tank, which will allow for water storage and irrigation of existing and reclaimed farmland, as well as vegetation and trees bordering fields. Third is to develop a community nursery production of walnut (extension of 0.5 ha) and 200,000 walnut seedlings will be produced there.  Here the activities include grafting that will improve the local variety of walnut (improving resilience and productivity).  The plants will be grafted with scions of selected good varieties known locally and in small numbers by the Bulgarian varieties introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries and the High Commission for Water and Forests and Desertification Control. A sustainable management plan for the nursery will be defined, including a plant dissemination plan, participatory and transparent manner in consultation with partners and communities, and the pursuit of organic certification.

Furthermore, HAF cares about sustainability, so capacity building of local stakeholders is very important in the project.  The initiative will benefit 50 farmers and growers of plants from the nursery.  Also, 15 workers will be working in the nursery, based on “train the trainer” approach and gender balance by including both men and women in the project and training.

Finally, the project includes capacity-building, information sharing, gabion construction, installation of a new well to ensure irrigation during dry seasons, tree nursery management, dissemination of seedlings and seeds, and the support for the valuation of walnut products and organic certification. This will generate sustainable profits in terms of the environment, quality of life, and personal income.

Dec 1, 2016

A Paradigm Project for the Future - Morocco

A Paradigm Project for the Future – Location: Morocco

 

By Yossef Ben-Meir

Marrakesh

 

What makes for a great development project?  Which qualities imbue an initiative with longevity and sustainability, enabling it to meet a whole range of interconnected material and emotional needs?  Is there a single concept applicable to a specific geographical location that - exceptionally – embodies those qualities?  

 

Yes!  Allow me to introduce what I term a Paradigm Project – shovel-ready, with the potential to be inaugurated in the Kingdom of Morocco.  In this context, a particular dimension of sustainability is germane.  

 

The fact is that the more partners there are to a well-managed community project, the longer the project life.  A greater number of partners means a higher number of interests and goals likely to be met, with more interested parties and contributors, lower risk, greater adaptability and efficiency and a higher level of beneficiary knowledge and ability to reinvest.

 

The Paradigm Project in question is indeed a unique case, involving the Moroccan Jewish community playing an indispensable role in meeting Morocco’s need for one billion trees and plants and thus aiding in the dissolution of the harsh burdens of rural poverty.  The initiative could inspire the world since it combines Muslim-Jewish collaboration with local-to-international and private-public partnerships.  

 

The Paradigm Project’s multi-faceted nature and unique features have enabled it to meet the criteria for becoming a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action.

 

Is it agricultural? Environmental?  Multicultural? Does it empower women, youth and marginalized families?  Does it advance democratic procedures, civil society and businesses?  Does it increase domestic and foreign trade and jobs? Does the project invest in human development and address causes of rural poverty? Does it develop highly employable and nationally imperative skills?  Does it further food security, carbon balance and Morocco’s goals?  

 

Yes, to all of the above!

 

Origins

A full 23 years have passed from the project’s conception to the consensus for expansion of the resoundingly successful pilot.

 

In my mid-twenties, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, living in the Tifnoute Valley on the south side of the High Atlas Mountains.  Passing through the Ouarzazate region, I noticed a barren, eroding mountainside with majestic, ancient white structures nestled at its base.  

 

I was both curious about the buildings and cognizant that the mountainside could be terraced, providing arable land for much-needed nurseries.  Later I learned that this site houses the thousand-year-old tomb of Rabbi David ou Moché, one of hundreds of Moroccan tsaddikim – Jewish saints.   Other structures have been provided to accommodate the hundreds of visitors arriving every year, particularly during the fall, for the Rabbi’s hiloula (commemoration of the passing of his soul)that occurs straight after the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

 

I saw an opportunity.  While farming families need desperately to grow fruit trees, as one of a series of measures necessary to end systemic rural poverty, they find it impossible to give up their existing land for two years in order to establish nurseries.  The input of new land in the interim, before transplanting, is therefore vital in order to break the deadlock.  The Jewish community of Morocco, with over six hundred rural sites, could be a potential partner in this enterprise.

 

At the time of writing I am president of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a U.S.-Moroccan nonprofit organization which I cofounded in 2000 with other former Peace Corps Volunteers.  We work with farming communities ‘from farm to fork’ - from the setting up of nurseries to the sale of certified organic product and carbon offsets.  

 

Our model is to engage in partnerships with communities and utilize participatory methodology to determine and implement an initial project before utilizing revenue thus obtained to invest in students and schools, women’s cooperatives, drinking water, irrigation, and training - the priorities expressed by those communities.   

 

My father, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, is a writer and activist for peace in the Middle East. Looking back, it seems natural that I sought to establish community nurseries for a predominantly Muslim society on land lent by the Moroccan Jewish people, adding an element of unity in a region burdened by catastrophic divisiveness.

 

I express sincere appreciation to His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco.  The king has made the preservation of cemeteries of all faiths a matter of national importance and has established the connection between Moroccan multiculturalism and human development.  

 

Pilot project at Akrich

In 2014, the HAF pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was established at Akrich, located on the northern side of the High Atlas in Al Haouz province, around 25 kilometers south of Marrakech, at the site of the 700-year-old tomb of the healer Rabbi Raphael Hacohen,

 

Since that time we have planted 120,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon seeds which have reached maturity and now are maintained by about 1,000 farmers and 130 schools.  

 

The project’s cost of $60,000 was graciously given by Wahiba Estergard and Mike Gilliland, owner of Lucky’s Market, and Jerry Hirsch and the Lodestar Foundation.  The then-Governor of Al Haouz province, Younes Al Bathaoui, showed fantastic leadership and coined the initiative’s name, House of Life.  Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish Community of Marrakech-Essaouira, together with his wife, Freddy, provide essential support, as do community members Isaac and Bloria Ohayon.  

 

In 2016, the first trees from the pilot were handed to local children and farmers by the Governor joined by the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush, Sr.  Earlier, Ambassador Bush hosted a reception for House of Life at his residence in Rabat, at which advisor to the King, André Azoulay, and former Peace Corps Director in Morocco, Ellen Paquette, spoke about the years of dedication and benefits for Morocco embodied in our work.  

 

Making the Paradigm Project a reality

Were the Paradigm Project to be implemented, the first year would see the construction of 26 nursery terraces supported by stone taken from the surrounding, crumbling mountains.  The new arable space created would encompass half a hectare (5,000 square meters), upon which would grow 300,000 one-meter tall organic trees of walnut, carob, fig, pomegranate, cherry and almond, as well as dozens of varieties of medicinal herbs.  On maturity they would be given without charge to local associations, 5,000 farming families and 2,000 schools in provinces across Morocco.  Together with our partners, HAF would monitor growth as part of carbon offsets sales, the revenue from which would be invested in further planting.

 

After one year, a sign made out of fallen organic walnut wood would be installed in loving memory of Julien Raphael Berdugo, a young, sadly deceased son of Arlette and Serge Berdugo, the Secretary General of the Jewish Community of Morocco.  

 

After four years, there would be more than one million trees and herbs grown from seeds near the site of Rabbi David ou Moché burial and then transplanted to communal orchards and plots. As the plants mature, they would have an increasingly powerful social and environmental impact.  Almost undoubtedly the project as a whole would initiative replication across the Moroccan Jewish community, providing hundreds of parcels of land adjacent to sacred sites throughout the kingdom.  At scale, tens of millions of seeds would be planted every year and a better life afforded to all.

 

Achieving the vision

To bring the Paradigm Project to fruition, we need $300,000, which would cover the entire cost, including training communities in organic practices.  On November 17th HAF is hosting a Carbon Offset Auction at COP 22 in Marrakech, sequestered by the local community orchards we plant.  With our community partners, we currently have more than 500,000 saplings in twelve nurseries around Morocco.

 

Every day I feel grateful to work for sustainable development in Morocco, where national frameworks enable the implementation of projects to national scale.  Here is where the House of Life project, sits so naturally.  Implementing the Paradigm Project as part of this initiative would make manifest those partnerships that seek the people’s prosperity, opinion and participation and, ultimately, the greatness of Morocco.

 

 

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation.

Nov 23, 2016

New vistas for students: Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Fez, Morocco

Morocco, in the eyes of many people, is the place where anything is possible.  Through a range of policies and actual programs, the Kingdom seeks sustainable human development and decentralization, achieved through participatory democratic methods.  Civil organizations are capable of strengthening participatory democracy and creating federations for sustainable development owing to the existence of Moroccan frameworks that encourage this process.

To achieve scale, the model of the  High Atlas Foundation (HAF) - a profit / non-profit hybrid - is to invest strategically in training, seeds and infrastructure, thus enabling local cooperatives engaged in organic agriculture to generate further revenue from this and carbon offsets to finance their own human development projects.

Enabling students since 2008

While other vital factors include finance and effective facilitation of participatory meetings,university students constitute a particular group within society that can help catalyze community action and facilitate the planning of their own sustainable projects.  They are in a perfect position to gain capacities, perform a management functions within development projects, create jobs and empower themselves and others.

Since 2008, HAF has been managing experiential training programs at Moroccan universities to provide students with that life-changing opportunity.  Thanks to the National Endowment for Democracy and the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the HAF training Center in Mohammedia with the Faculty of Law, Economics, and Social Science helped create a successful basis for expansion.  Programs for students are currently scheduled to take place at locations across the Kingdom including SUP MTI in Beni Mellal and the Center for Human and Social Studies and Research in Oujda.

As part of this mission, in October I experienced a day I’ll always remember, visiting Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University (USMBA), in Fez.  I greatly enjoyed speaking with the inspiring people who study and work there and am scheduled to return on November 22nd to talk with students about creating development initiatives in Morocco.

The university has 100,000 students, about three percent of whom are international. Its president, Professor Omar Assobhei, and his team are at the helm of a community determined to advance sustainable human development activity.  

Mostafa Mouslih is president of Volunteer Experts for Development, a non-profit organization that helps build the University’s programs promoting sustainability.  USMBA incubates start-ups and, allied to this, possesses a state-of-the-art, well-utilized research medical lab for genetic analysis.  

A year ago this month HAF and the university entered into partnership to create the Center for Sustainable Development and Innovation.  Its purpose is to promote student and community engagement, acting as a Moroccan and international hub for participatory action and analysis, community consensus, implementation and evaluation.  

The circumstances in which the partnership agreement was signed with presidents Assobhei and Mouslih were as memorable as my visit that just took place. We set aside a moment during a reception held at the residence of the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush Sr., in the presence of Mr. André Azoulay, advisor to the King of Morocco.  The event itself celebrated House of Life - an interfaith tree nursery and integrated agricultural project of HAF (as well as a commitment-to-action of the Clinton Global Initiative).  Launching an endeavor - on this occasion with USMBA - amidst a of moment unity and hope in another context hopefully set things on the best possible footing and serve as a point to consider when planning future significant organizational events

 

An ongoing success story

During our first year partnering with USMBA, HAF’s Mouhssine Tadlaoui-Cherki led a very well-received training program with 66 students (28 women and 38 men) in identifying and organizing for community priority projects.  We assisted workshops for critical analysis of the challenges the students faced in their lives, leading to the creation of a fully-sketched proposed program of community development, including service learning and mentorship for vulnerable youth.  

This November HAF’s Fatima Zahra Laaribi is scheduled to facilitate a four-day empowerment workshop for women of the university utilizing the Imagine approach developed by the Empowerment Institute.  The methodology teaches individuals and groups how to transform their limiting beliefs and behavior patterns that are holding them back from their potential in a range of areas - physical, material and spiritual.  It helps them direct their creative energies toward achieving what they really want in their own life, working on the premise that it takes courage to dream and knowledge to bring those dreams to fruition.

HAF and its community nursery partners have more than 500,000 young trees available for planting this season!  

At COP 22 on November 17th, HAF held a Carbon Auction that will expand the support for trees we can plant and monitor with school communities.  

At noon on January 16th, 2017, HAF and partners throughout the country are holding public tree-planting events to which all are invited.  On this day we plan to share 5,000 trees and interactive environmental activities with schoolchildren partnering with the Education Delegation in Ifrane province, where I visited just before coming to Fez.  In Ifrane, HAF is also fully dedicated to the success of a community tree nursery planted on land contributed by Al Akhawayn University.  With USMBA, our goal is to plant 10,000 trees, many of them with children on January 16th.  

Morocco’s human development model, driven by participation, needs to succeed for itself, and in addition inspire the MENA region and world community.  It stands to reason, then, that it is vital to create and fund university programs which build the needed capabilities of students and the public for local planning and management of development.  Such programs harness empowerment as profoundly for the students as they do for the communities with whom they learn, research and act to create change.  I am reminded from my visits that there is nothing like being present with partners, focusing with them to plan steps to realize their dreams of sustainable development, which are fully achievable.

 

HAF offers fantastic volunteer opportunities in Fez, Oujda, Mohammedia, and Beni Mellal.  Could you teach matters of sustainable development in classes at the universities of English as a second language, and at the same time coordinate HAF programs? Professional fulfillment awaits!

Please feel free to contact me: yossef@highatlasfoundation.org

 

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, a sociologist, is president of the High Atlas Foundation, a Moroccan-U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to participatory development in Morocco.

 

 
   

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