Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries

by High Atlas Foundation
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Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries
Community Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) makes the third Monday of January a national meeting point for planting trees and the official opening of the tree crop campaign.

During this commemorative day, all HAF staff in collaboration with partners and volunteers dedicate themselves to planting trees in school spaces, agricultural and forestry grounds, the borders surrounding cemeteries, and where communities determine.

HAF volunteers are an integral part of the teams and join them in all areas scheduled in advance for planting.

Our team, which traveled to the province of Al Haouz, consisted of Saman, a volunteer from Austria; Youssef, a volunteer from Marrakech; Mohamed, HAF financial manager; and myself, agroforestry advisor to HAF. Plantings took place in two villages: Ftala and Tadmamt of Asni commune, located in the Al Haouz province.

Two points characterized the day. First, the team was able to find out about the actions taken by the field staff and learned some information about planting techniques and the means that facilitate contacts between HAF and the partners. In addition, It was an opportunity to add other spaces and future partners for planting to be included in HAF’s projects and in particular the carbon offset initiative.

Alongside village community members of Tadmamt and Ftala, the HAF team and representatives of the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture planted trees. The day’s event also provided the opportunity for us to follow the state of the orchards with the farmers, to help them replace dead trees, and to integrate all the plots into the areas planted in partnership with HAF.

HAF will also assess the possibilities of working with the ISHAM cooperative of the Tadmamt village to reinforce the actions in this environment close to the HAF-community nursery in the areas.

Perhaps the most important thing we learned from this outing is the existence of a space conducive to expanding the areas to be planted and a cooperative that is very interested in sustainable agriculture. We commit to analyzing and fulfilling this potential.

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In the Marrakech region of the Kingdom of Morocco, specifically in the village of Akrich in the Tameslouht municipality, there is a 700-year-old Jewish cemetery and shrine. There are six hundred of such Hebrew saints buried in Morocco with adjacent empty spaces where farming families and communities can plant nurseries.

This one is a 12-year-old nursery that is the pilot in the country. Right now, it generates 46,000 trees a year, mostly carob but also fig and pomegranate. 

Abderrahim is the third-generation guardian of the saint that’s buried here, and he also maintains the nursery. The responsibility to manage this area has been in his family for almost a hundred years. 

The basin was paid for 50% by the Moroccan Jewish Community and 50% by the High Atlas Foundation. There's a solar water pump system that was provided by a consortium of Moroccan renewable energy companies called FENELEC.

In one of several greenhouses, there are 7,500 carob saplings growing. A carob tree can live 200 years. The remarkable thing about carob is that the global prices have tripled over the past few years. In Morocco, the domestic price was around $1.20. Now it's actually closer to four times that - it's over $4 per kilogram. A mature carob tree can generate 500 kilograms! It takes 10-12 years for a carob tree to mature, but one can see how one of these trees can generate a tremendous amount. In another greenhouse, there are 14,500 more carob saplings being raised.

In yet another greenhouse, there are medicinal plants--rosemary, sage, and thyme, for example--which are lined between the tree rows. This adds nutrients and so forth, but also, importantly, medicinal plants can be harvested once or twice each year. So whereas the carob takes 10 to 12 years or even up 15 to start generating product in an amount that really makes a profound difference for farming families, they immediately gain income every year through the provision of medicinal plants.

Then you have pomegranate. Pomegranate grows organically in Morocco. They live about 40 years. There’s more than 4,000 hectares of pomegranates in Morocco, and the next step is to be able to implement value-added processing, which allows for the real value of what farmers grow to remain in their village.

The next section is fig. One particular fruit tree sapling has grown from approximately 10 cm to about a meter or taller since January -- about 11 months. In the earlier years, almond and other varieties, which are organic, were grown here, but they required more water, and they weren't as productive as fig, carob, and pomegranate.

What has been learned from this nursery over the last 10 to 12 years? There are 46,000 trees now that are growing. In the earlier years, there were only about half of this. How did the number increase so much? According to Abderrahim, it really was because of the investment in water infrastructure--the containment system, the basin, the way that the water is now retained in the soil, and the way it's being planted and held in place.

It's so important that interfaith relationships result into human development. That's Moroccan policy and way. And that's how cultural preservation and the connectivity between diverse groups remains solid and is cemented.

--

This text is adapted from the partial transcript of a video tour of the Akrich nursery, delivered by the HAF President and featuring Abderrahim the guardian. The video was filmed on November 27, 2022.

 

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On July 21, HAF’s President Ben-Meir spoke at the United Nation’s Series of Webinars on Landscape Restoration in the Arab Region during their Second Webinar entitled The Target Plant Concept and Ecosystem Restoration. President Ben-Meir provided the event with a case study that further emphasized the importance of utilizing the Target Plant Concept in lieu of other traditional methods of planting. 

When focusing on ecological restoration, the process of planting seeds is not to simply decide there is a need and start a nursery. Instead, the event highlighted that you need a model that includes other factors for success. The Target Plant Concept includes six factors: objectives, type, source, limiting factors, timing, and tools. During Ben-Meir’s presentation, the High Atlas Foundation was shown as a groundbreaking example of how to utilize each of the factors. 

An example of how HAF utilizes the Target Plant Concept is through the  type of seeds planted. HAF put much consideration into what kind of nurseries should be created. Ben-Meir pointed out that many farmers in Morocco rely on corn and barely and do not have the land to focus on other agricultural pursuits. However, fruit trees provide a new agricultural mission for the country that could benefit many stakeholders in the country. By receiving land through the government, religious groups, education centers, women’s cooperatives, and other groups, this obstacle is solved and fruit trees can create new possibilities for farmers. 

The event also showed the importance of monitoring the seedlings that are planted. Monitoring can be implemented daily for climatic data and irrigation. It can also occur periodically for fertilization and seedling growth. Ben-Meir added that when seedlings are monitored, they have the ability to become certified carbon offsets, creating a unique environmental, social, and economical impact. 

HAF has developed a system for planting seedlings at tree nurseries that can be used as a template for other nurseries that want to optimize their impact through the Target Plant Concept.

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We spent two days this week in the mountains of Ourika Valley on vast plots of land. On Tuesday, we were more engaged with the tree planting team, and I genuinely felt I was helping further HAF’s mission, but Monday presented me with an invaluable learning experience.

Abdeljalil introduced us to the farmers working in the area and informed us that we would learn about the specific irrigation practice used on the plot of land and how fruit-bearing carob trees are produced. This was my first in-person exposure to farming, a vocation I knew required diligence and dedication, but the level of precision I saw on Monday’s trip amazed me. 

When we reached the top of the hill where the trees were being planted, the terrain was rocky and dry, so the young carob and almond trees were hidden from my sight. It took the trained eye of the community partner to point out the holes with saplings in them, waiting to be watered and grafted. The farmer squatted down next to a carob tree and explained that it had grown for about three years without any fruit, an indicator that the plant was male.

He then pulled out some branches cut from a female tree and a clunky handheld tool. At first glance, it reminded me of a can-opener, but I soon realized the purpose of the device. I squatted down in the dirt to get a better view, disregarding the cleanliness of the slacks I carefully laid out the night before.

I noticed how the device pierced the plant as the cut was made and asked to take pictures of the tool to understand how it worked. I was enthralled as he removed a triangular piece of the branch then made a corresponding incision was made on a branch of the plant in the ground. The cuts were clean, and everyone in my group audibly “WOWWW”ed when he put and taped the two parts together; they fit like puzzle pieces. 

When I first heard that we were grafting trees, my mind went back to my medical summer camp during high school when I learned about various surgical techniques and practiced dissecting pigs. Most people would say that being a surgeon is a job that requires more skill and attention than farming, and before this trip, I would have, too. However, the day in Ourika Valley opened my eyes to how trivial of a comparison this is.

Surgery or farming? Spending the day in an operating room or in the intense Moroccan heat? Instead, it is more productive to consider the similarities between the occupations. Both require a skill set of physical stamina, attention to detail, long-term planning, and adaptability. A field of trees could flourish despite inadequate environmental conditions. A patient having undergone multiple unsuccessful surgeries could make a shocking recovery.

Both rely heavily on careful forethought and monitoring of their practice but have elements of chance – or possibly miracles. 

I’ve spent the majority of my life in an academic bubble. While eternally grateful for the gift of a formal education from primary school to university (and graduate school, Inshallah), I’ve realized that I comparatively have much less knowledge of life outside the classroom. Besides limiting the breadth of information I have access to, not having these experiences also prevents me from making connections between ideas and practices that span across different spheres of life.

Despite learning about how plants can be manipulated to produce fruit in my introductory biology class, I would not have made the connection to surgery without examining the shears and seeing the care the farmer took when he placed the two branches together. Perhaps the most important similarity between these two fields is the ultimate goal to serve their community.

While there are practical differences between these two fields, this is a unifying and leveling idea. Everything else falls away when you realize sustaining life is at the center of farming and surgery. Keeping this simple fact in mind will be crucial to grounding myself as I pursue a career in medicine by emphasizing that I should not value my hard work over someone else who is working towards a similar goal of serving those we care about.

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There is a great horror and a curse that can sometimes overwhelm me while doing development work. It was maybe at its greatest when HAF visited Al Haouz province to plant trees with the community members: the beginning of a project to plant eighty thousand olive, carob, and almond trees, and water them all with solar-powered pumps. Halfway through the day, I stepped back from the work and just stood there and stared. It was a shadeless hillside over the valley that was all rock and dirt. The forty or fifty volunteers and community members were toiling against this landscape like a colony of little ants in the dust under the cruel and indifferent eye of the sun. 

Back home, in Charlottesville, Virginia, it often feels like the sun is angry, like it is a malignant force attacking everything beneath it, but in Morocco, the sun is not even angry. It simply hangs fixedly overhead, a flat disc in a sky the color of shattered glass. There is no thought of resistance because it entirely dominates. All that can be done is to obey. And in the middle of that field, after planting trees for several hours, I was overwhelmed with anxiety over such a powerful force. 

I looked out and thought about how long it would take to plant eighty thousand trees, and how it can take fifteen years for a carob tree to bear fruit, and how the global temperature is rising by something like two degrees Celsius, and rising and rising ever-faster, and I wondered with alarm what this hillside would even look like in fifteen years. Would it provide shade and comfort and protection? Would it be a paradise of carob and olive and almond? In fifteen years, would there be children running between the trunks?

Or would it be a landscape still dominated by the sun? Would the trees wither and die from drought? How could a sapling that could fit easily in the palm of my hand — and be crushed in it — even hope to survive in this landscape? Would they be beaten down and dried out until only those that clung to the uphill shadows remained? Would not just the trees but even the shade be eradicated? Alone away from the tree planting, I had to suppress my nausea at the prospect.

I was reminded of a biblical passage: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2: 11).

I was reminded that this problem is not new, though it is so daunting that it feels insurmountable and world-ending to everyone who comes across it. It is the meaninglessness of building sand castles at the beach, knowing that the tide may come and wash it away. It is the meaninglessness that frightened even wise King Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Trying to make the world a little better can feel meaningless in the face of challenges that are monstrously crawling closer. The horror of development work is that you can work from dawn to dusk in the field trying to improve the world, only for this work to be erased as if by the spirit of some vengeful god. 

Yet, alone there away from the tree planting site in Al Haouz, I found strength. I thought about the generations of authors who have written about meaninglessness. I remembered the Book of Ecclesiastes, I remembered the Buddhist texts I’ve read, and I remembered The Myth of Sisyphus, who is perpetually rolling that rock up that hill. Even more importantly, I considered my own experience in Morocco.

I thought about the people I've met, the ones who live every day working tirelessly (through pain and resistance and doubt) in projects like this. I thought about those workers and volunteers and community members who will not bow even to the power of the sun, who stand up with pick and shovel and sapling and work every day. 

These trees are not immortal, and this project will face numerous and overwhelming challenges in the future. We do not work to shape the earth for all of eternity. We do not work for some timeless monument; we work because the work is good. If there is even a tiny chance that these trees can improve people’s lives, that in a generation from now there will be children running in the shade of the forest we have planted, then we must work. In fact, we must not just work; we must travail.

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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
Marrakech, Morocco
$40,952 raised of $50,000 goal
 
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