Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco

by High Atlas Foundation
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco
Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco

Many treasures are hidden within the coastal Mogador city, today known as Essaouira, which is characterized by its rich, multidimensional culture. This small city is a melting pot of Amazighen, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, African, and European influences, which give it a special place along the coast as one that is uniquely hyper-pluralistic.

Recently, the old medina of Essaouira has been recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. In addition to the fortifying architecture of the medina, the intangible heritage of the city has also been recognized by UNESCO, especially the distinguished Gnaoua culture, music, and rituals.

On Friday, September 17, HAF President Dr. Ben-Meir, with Laaribi and Al-Hamdouni of the USAID Religious and Ethnic Minorities Activity (REMA) team, visited Essaouira, originally called Mogador. The visit had two purposes: to meet civil society organizations (CSOs) that focus on cultural projects and to visit the Jewish and the Christian cemeteries where the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) implemented a cultural interfaith project in 2012-2013.

The team first visited the Christian Cemetery then the Jewish Cemeteries. The latter includes both the old cemetery, which is located by the sea, and the new cemetery located opposite the old one. The old cemetery is separated from the ocean by a single wall, and all of its tombstones are made of rocky stones that bear witness to the nobility of its history and authenticity. The wall of the Jewish cemetery is surrounded by trees planted by HAF with local community leaders and youth. They continue to grow beautifully.

Afterward, the group headed to Association Bayti, where HAF met with members of thirteen local cultural heritage CSOs. The meeting was opened by Dr. Ben-Meir and Mr. Elkadiri, President of Association Bayti. Each association introduced its mission, activities, and the domain of intervention. Those in attendance were authors, researchers, tour guides, teachers, and students who are intellectuals and active members in their city. They profoundly understand the unique culture that characterizes the “Argan city,” and they are eager to preserve its multidimensional heritage.

Dr. Ben-Meir began the dialogue among the associations by motivating them to put their minds together and think about a common cultural project that simultaneously meets their interests. Mr. Elkadiri agreed to facilitate the discussion among the guest associations with an open mind and heart. He started by brainstorming ideas about the project.

The discussion was very interactive, and each person shared their own project ideas. All of the ideas put forward are steeped in reviving heritage. They include:

  • Documenting heritage through scientific research
  • Establishment, facilitation, and growth of tolerance clubs at schools
  • Organizing rural caravans focused on archiving, raising awareness through theater, and environment
  • Documentation of cultural heritage through memory work, inclusive of engineering, art, oral histories, and heritage
  • Emphasis on theater as a basis to consolidate this memory
  • Legal advocacy for children, women, and disadvantaged groups

The CSOs developed a singular cultural project that embodies their collective vision. It is entitled “The Caravan for Essaouira Memory.”

At the end of the meeting, participants went through all the points and discussed the main ideas of the project. They successfully reached consensus and formed themselves into the “Coalition for Memory.”

The details of the one-year project are as follows:

Targeted Beneficiaries: Women, youth, and men

Main Objective: Advance the values of coexistence

Specific Objectives:

  • Revive Essaouira’s memory (a set of values that were disappeared through the archives and the research)
  • Activate the role of youth in raising awareness among women and children about their rights and position to defend their rights
  • Form a coalition of associations to create collective power

Activities:

  • Produce two plays per year
  • Make 4-5 videos by children called “Animate it”
  • Organize an exhibition for arts (murals)
  • Conduct scientific research (anthropology, archeology, and sociology)
  • Promote archaeological solidarity tourism
  • Organize intellectual seminars
  • Preserve natural life and heritage, including the conservation of rare endemic bird species and building a lake to accommodate them and the planting of 2,000 Argan, almond, and carob trees per year

Territorial Domain: 

  • Essaouira, Haha, and Chiadma

Partners:

  • Regional council
  • Municipal council,
  • Regional and collective councils
  • Regional delegation
  • League of private schools
  • Civil associations and youth clubs
  • Rural communes
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In the Tigmi Ntrga Village located in the Tisfan Commune, HAF has made notable progress toward achieving objectives for a UNDP-funded project to build agroforestry systems as a means of economic recovery from the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the project began in June 2021, lines of communication have been established with key local authorities in order to expedite activities. The governor of the Taroudant Province as well as other local actors are informed of the project and its progress. The HAF team has met with the president of Tisfan Commune, its community members (with a particular emphasis on female community members), and local associations in the village to involve them in the implementation of the project and the achievement of its goals. The team also visited the site where a new nursery will be built.

Once these initial meetings took place, the HAF team began the procurement process in order to purchase equipment and supplies for the construction of the nursery. These materials were then distributed to Tigmi Ntrga.

Water infrastructure is one of the most crucial aspects of the nursery construction, and notable progress has been made in this regard as well. The irrigation system was installed in collaboration with local association members. In addition, a machine was rented to prepare the land for construction, and greenhouses were installed.

Female community members participated in a training on how to fill plastic bags and how to plant carob and Argan seeds. The HAF team also purchased Argan and carob seeds, and the women began the process of filling plastic bags in the nursery.

In addition, female community members of Tigmi Ntrga participated in an empowerment workshop for four days. This allowed them space to reflect on their goals, serving as a positive source of energy and motivation to continue working on the tree nursery project.

In Tifrki Village, located in the commune of Adar, the HAF team met with members of the Ikmir Association for Development and Cooperation. Together, the group visited the 20 hectares of land that will be planted in the future. During this period, the team focused on mapping the land, specifying the location of the well that will be installed, and made progress on authorizations necessary to begin digging from the Basin Hydraulic Agency.

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Abstract

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is an international development organization based in Morocco whose mission is to promote sustainable development. By supporting and empowering local communities on capacity building, clean water initiatives, pro bono legal aid, youth development, women’s empowerment, education, and health, HAF is dedicated to creating brighter and healthier futures for Moroccan communities.

FRÉ Skincare is a company based in Israel that focuses on providing essential skincare products for women, especially for women who lead active lifestyles. Moreover, for every skincare set that is purchased, one argan tree in Morocco is planted.

Overview

The Moroccan people are the center of focus for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF). As a result, HAF began its tree planting journey early in 2000 when they discovered that the Moroccan people wanted to grow trees and plants that meet their needs, such as a sufficient amount of food. To meet this need, HAF formed long-lasting and effective partnerships with other organizations who share the same ambition to achieve environmental sustainability. Organizations such as FRÉ Skincare have proven to be especially beneficial to the people of Morocco, specifically with respect to health benefits, environmental improvements, and women’s empowerment.

Since 2018, HAF is proud to have a partnership with FRÉ Skincare. Founded by Azoulay and Bensadoun, FRÉ Skincare is a skincare company that emphasizes giving back to the Moroccan community, specifically women. This is achieved through the planting of argan trees in Morocco, specifically in the Province of Essaouira. In essence, planting argan trees serves as the primary means of community building and increased women’s involvement in order to create brighter futures for the community.

Health Benefits, Environmental Benefits, and Women’s Empowerment of Argan Trees

Perhaps the first step in ensuring progress toward environmental sustainability is planting trees. From cleaner air, to increased biodiversity, richer soil, and becoming a primary source of food, trees play an important role in the prosperity of all communities. Argan trees specifically have a key role in the Moroccan community in terms of health benefits, environmental benefits, and women’s empowerment.

Oil is extracted from argan trees that have various uses. According to the bio contents of argan oil, it contains large amounts of vitamin E and can reduce harmful cholesterol and triglycerides. The oil may be used in an array of foods, such as salads, couscous, as well as amlou (similar to almond butter). In addition to contributing to a healthy diet, argan oil has numerous skincare and physical health benefits. Argan oil contains multiple antioxidants which can help against hair loss. It may also be used to treat belly stretch marks, chicken pox pustules, and acne.

In terms of environmental benefits, argan trees are also known to be a common hotspot for tourists due to the fact that argan trees have tree climbing goats! It is known that these tree climbing goats can comfortably climb up to 30 ft above the ground. These goats climb the argan trees because they rely on its leaves and fruits for their dietary needs. An interesting aspect to note about the nature of the argan fruit is that the raw argan fruit is not digestible for humans, but it is for these tree-climbing goats. As a result, after these goats consume and digest the argan fruits, the seeds are collected from their excretions. These seeds are then grinded to make argan oil which, as noted above, has a plethora of benefits. In a sense, argan trees are vital for livestock such as the tree-climbing goats, but one can also note the unique cycle of how argan oil is retrieved. In other words, the livestock, primarily the tree climbing goats provide a source of income for the farmers tending the argan trees and livestock from tourist visits. Additionally, like all trees, argan trees are a source of windbreakers, minimize erosion and landslides, provide wood for home construction and other construction uses, and are sources of shade for animals and travellers.

In terms of women’s empowerment, according to HAF, when argan trees are planted, they are most often cultivated by women’s cooperatives. With HAF providing training on organic certification, these women will now be able to cultivate, process, sell, and receive the entire profits from their own argan. This is extremely empowering for women as they will be able to generate profits and will be able to manage their finances without the authority or decision of a male. Moreover, it instils confidence in young girls who can learn that besides cleaning, cooking, and growing up to becoming mothers, they are as equal as men regarding making financial and household decisions.

FRÉ Skincare Partnership

On March 4th 2021, Dr. Yossef, president of the High Atlas Foundation was honored to have the opportunity to conduct an interview with one of the founding members of FRÉ Skincare, Dr. Bensadoun.

Born in Rabat, Morocco, Dr. Bensadoun holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Sciences Po Paris, a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University, and a PHd in Political Science from Bar-ilan University where his thesis focused on the making of the modern Moroccan National Identity. After pursuing his undergraduate and graduate careers, Dr. Bensadoun moved to Israel where he and Mr. Michael Azoulay co-founded FRÉ Skincare.

As noted by HAF, FRÉ uses argan that is harvested and processed in Morocco, and they are committed to giving back to the communities that make their world-class product possible. Upon hiring a dermatologist and with extensive research on ensuring that FRÉ Skincare products consist of natural contents, Dr. Bensadoun stated that the main goal of their company is to “build community” and figure out an effective way to “give back to the community.” Thus, after learning the unique and beneficial properties of argan oil, FRÉ Skincare started an initiative where with every purchase of a skincare set, one argan tree is planted in Morocco in partnership with the High Atlas Foundation.

When asked about the first thing that comes to mind in regards to FRÉ Skincare’s vision and achievement, Dr. Bensadoun stated that “as a brand, it is the community, my passion is to build a global community where we know we are making an impact on women’s empowerment and giving back to nature.” Moreover, Dr. Bensadoun expressed his sincere passion in supporting women and how integral their role is in the societal makeup of communities. He stated that “the Moroccan community has so much to gain from having the women part of society. It is not a secret that the condition of women can be improved. When women rise, society rises.” Dr. Bensadoun highlights the importance of women and how their role can be improved so as to achieve societal, long-term goals, which he integrated into the ambitions of FRÉ Skincare itself. FRÉ Skincare is a company with a strong foundation in empowering women to be confident in themselves, be it through exercising or through argan trees. Dr. Bensadoun states that “we want to inspire other people and say it is possible to combine great responsibility and great social impact.”

HAF’s strong partnerships with organizations such as FRÉ Skincare not only provides long-term environmental benefits, but it is educating the current and next generation of strong, confident women.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr. Yossef for conducting and organizing the interview. I would also like to thank Dr. Mickael for his time in sharing his experiences, thoughts, and hopes in the future of FRÉ Skincare. The interview was especially insightful and informative, and I hope that this article depicts the beauty of forming effective partnerships that will empower, educate, and create brighter futures for all.

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Deciphering effective mechanisms for long term growth is a journey that most certainly involves a variety of factors to be considered. Factors such as sustainable growth, women empowerment, clean drinking water, and planting trees are all integral in order to ensure brighter futures for Moroccan communities. Planting trees, in particular, is a unique factor that promises a greener, more vibrant, and interconnected future for Morocco. Morocco is gifted with an abundance of tree varieties, from pine forests to poplars to jujube trees.  The most notable one, however, is the famed argan tree, better known as “The Tree of Life”.

Primarily prevalent in the south west region of Morocco, the argan tree is renowned for its plethora of health and environmental benefits as well as women empowerment. Henceforth, the preservation of argan trees in Morocco is a vital development strategy that ensures positive developmental growth for coming generations.

Health Benefits of Argan Trees

The overarching use of argan trees for Moroccans is argan oil which involves an extraction method that has been utilized for years. Argan oil has a valuable fatty acid profile, as it contains 13% palmitic acid, and more than 80% monosaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids including 48-59% oleic acid and 30-50% of linoleic acid. It is also noted that argan oil contains large amounts of vitamin E and can reduce harmful cholesterol and triglycerides. Interestingly, an old tradition in one of the benefits of using argan oil is that its residue can be collected and mixed with honey which makes a paste similar to that of peanut butter; hence providing another food source. The chemical makeup of argan oil proves to be especially useful in cooking foods, including a variety of salads and couscous, thus providing a healthy diet.

Moreover, argan oil is abundant in dermatological benefits as well as for hair and skin products. It may be used for growing stronger hair, treat belly stretch marks, chicken pox pustules and acne. Additionally, as with most trees, the wood from argan trees serves multiple purposes, from construction to firewood, though what is unique about wood from argan trees is that they are generally resistant to insects. Due to this fact, this would ensure that local communities are able to construct stable houses that ensure cleaner, non-infested environments.

Environmental Benefits of Argan Trees and Morocco

One of the most notable distinctions of the argan trees are the goats that grow on it. Known as the tree climbing goats, these goats climb the argan trees and can comfortably climb up to 30 ft above the ground. What attracts them to the argan trees are its fruits and leaves which, interestingly, after munching on these fruits, the seeds are recovered from their excretions. These seeds are then used to make argan oil. Thus, not only do these goats serve the farmers, which are notably mostly women, a source of income by retrieving the seeds to make argan oil, but it also serves as a popular tourist attraction which can also provide a source of income through tips from tourists. In short, argan trees and tree climbing goats have a commensalism relationship in that the recovered seeds can grow more argan trees and also provide a source of income to local farmers. Additionally, not only are argan trees hotspots for goats, but it is also a food source for other livestock, including but not limited to sheep, camels, and cattle.

As with the beauty of trees, the argan tree also serves as a source of shade and rest for travelers as well as windbreakers in times of extreme weather. Furthermore, argan trees play a significant role to combat desertification and erosion in Morocco. Their large and dense crown protects the soil and pasture from sun damage and its deep root system binds the soil and helps water infiltration, which replenishes ground water. The plethora of argan trees also prevents southern Morocco from deforestation which negatively impacts various spheres of life, including agricultural impacts, the livelihood of livestock, and drastic changes in normal temperatures. In other words, the diminishing of argan trees contributes to the negative impacts of climate change.

Women Empowerment and Development Strategies at HAF

As mentioned, women primarily harvest the seeds from the argan trees and goats which provides a source of income, and put simply, opportunities for women involvement in managing household finances. Important to note is that generally, the extraction process to finally retrieve the argan seeds is a very time-consuming. According to National Geographic, this process usually consists of two parts: First, separating animal feed, then cracking open the nuts by hand for their oil-rich kernels to make very expensive cosmetics or food. Nonetheless, it is a profitable opportunity that many farmers in Morocco partake due to the countless benefits of argan trees. In essence, this opportunity is not looked down upon rather it serves as a mechanism for the women of Morocco to be able to educate themselves on having a financial responsibility as opposed to men being the sole head of the household. Producing argan oil has been a generational aspect of Moroccan people’s lives with women taking the primary lead on this endeavor.

Highlighting this resourceful opportunity, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) recognized this and included planting trees as part of their mission to support and grow Morocco’s vibrant community. In 2018, HAF partnered with FRÉ Skincare, a woman centered beauty company that utilizes argan in its products and is set to give back to the Moroccan community by planting an argan tree with every purchase. Since the start of their collaboration, 65,000 argan seeds have been planted in an organic community managed tree nursery, and 23,075 young trees have been transplanted with seven associations of farming families in four provinces - Beni Mella, Essaouira, Oujda, and the Sahara. Thus, partnerships such as this not only instill confidence in the women of Morocco, but it also serves to combat climate change that threatens the very beauty of argan trees. Overall, be it tree-climbing goats, skin care benefits, or women empowerment, argan trees promises fruitful futures for a brighter Morocco.

The Provincial Director of Water and Forests in Essaouira confirmed that one argan tree can yield 15 kg of nuts annually. Therefore, 65,000 mature argan trees after 15 years can provide nearly one million kilograms of nuts, rehabilitate argan cooperatives, result into argan oil and its derivatives, create job opportunities, and preserve the environment by its capacity to resist hydric stress and climate change.

Alone I can save my trees, but together we can save the heritage of our children. Sustainable development can become planting trees for our children to reap the rewards as our grandparents did for us.

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The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) continues promoting sustainable economic growth, food security, and agricultural development in Morocco through the USAID Farmer-To-Farmer (F2F) program. The F2F team developed an assignment that seeks to build and improve the web presence of two cooperatives (Mogador and Mejji) in the Essaouira province to increase the value of their production. Similarly, the assignment aims to develop online stores that will allow these two cooperatives to sell more of their Argan-based products on the internet, develop their marketing exposure, build the capacity of their staff to maintain their respective websites, and, therefore, increase the income of these two cooperatives and their members.

Previously, these two cooperatives have benefited from 804 argan trees provided by FRÉ Skincare and HAF, a partnership agreement which was further extended by conducting women’s empowerment training workshops with other women’s cooperatives in the province. FRÉ has since established and is now expanding an argan tree nursery to serve cooperatives of the entire province, as well as farming communities in the Taroudant province.

F2F team members, accompanied by local F2F volunteer Anass, visited the two cooperatives in Essaouira and met their members. The F2F local volunteer utilized a participatory method in order to collect information about their products. He also had the members imagine various aspects of the marketing process such as how they want to present their products online, to whom they will sell, what prices they are considering, and if they would like to focus on exporting globally or just national/local markets.

All of the information gathered helped the local F2F volunteer figure out how the online platform stores will look. It also enabled him to provide  some direct recommendations to the hosts. The most important feedback for the associations concerned the packaging.  The F2F volunteer suggested they  include the associations’ existing organic certificates in the design, which will clearly reinforce the product’s value and increase its price.

Anass will commence developing these online stores very soon. He will return to each site in the near session  for videography sessions. When the cooperatives will have all their Argan products ready, he will help them make short videos about the whole chain of processing Argan (from the tree to the bottle). These videos will help increase the associations’ exposure on the market, build content for their online presence, and help them gain valuable validation of their processes to increase the sales of their products. F2F team, local volunteer and paired remote US volunteer Abraham Wilcox will have an online meeting this week to discuss assignment progress.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Gueliz, Marrakech Morocco
$2,310 raised of $55,000 goal
 
18 donations
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