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

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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Early in the morning of June the 13th, the HAF’s Farmer-to-Farmer team (F2F) accompanied by the UVA student Costello paid a visit to Demnate Commune, Azilal Province, in order to meet with two agricultural cooperatives.

The first stop was at the Agricultural Advisory Office (ONCA) where we met with a committee who welcomed the idea of joining us in our visit to Wachmat Cooperative. This latter is a newly established cooperative, and it consists of three women and two men. The initial goal of this cooperative was to extract essential oils out of the medicinal and aromatic herbs that grow in the local areas of Demnate. The members of this cooperative also intend to make different products out of carob, but they lack the technical knowledge of dealing with the carob pods.

After a detailed discussion with the members of this co-op, it was agreed that they first need to benefit from initial training that provides further information about the notion of a cooperative.

One of the good things both the HAF-F2F team and the ONCA member noticed about the members of Wachmat Cooperative is that they are looking forward to attending the training as an initial step. “We are still at the start line and need to be competent first, then we can apply for funds,” said the president of the co-op.

Eventually, the ONCA members happily suggested delivering these awareness and information workshops to this cooperative, and reminded the co-op’s team that it is this committee’s job to assist with them during their first steps to success. After the ONCA’s move, comes the team’s task to provide technical assistance in the field they will eventually choose to take.

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The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) organized an exploratory trip to Akrich nursery, in the commune of Tamslouhte, in the Al Haouz province for a new group of visitors. In this event, the HAF presented its tree planting program staff who aim to plant various types of trees in most regions of Morocco and the Dakira-USAID program, which in turn teaches about religious groups in Morocco with the people of Morocco and around the world, including those from the University of Virginia in the United States.

The visit was concerned with discovering the features of this nursery, which was built by the HAF and community partners in 2012, in close collaboration with the Marrakech Jewish community. After that, volunteers and visitors have seen the nursery to find out the types of trees and seeds that are planted, especially carob, pomegranate, figs, etc., and the natural conditions in which they grow to be ready for distribution with farming families in various regions.

The head of HAF, Ben-Meir, provided information about the tomb of Raphael, which is adjacent to the nursery, and the successive visits of Jewish visitors from inside Morocco and internationally, explaining about the history of the cemetery, and some of the religious rituals performed there. The U.S. volunteers in particular expressed their astonishment at the idea of building a nursery to plant fruit trees in Morocco near a Jewish cemetery, especially since a large number of agricultural societies and cooperatives have benefited from these trees for eight years now, explaining that this is one of the manifestations of peaceful solidarity between religions and cultures.

A workshop on the topic of “what is identity” was held inside adjoining community hall, where there was discussion and exchange of ideas on this topic and a briefing on all its aspects historically, religiously and economically. After that, the students were acquainted with the methodology used by the HAF team to monitor trees that are planted every year in Morocco, through a workshop presented by Bennani, the tree planting project manager.

These activities concluded with a visit to a women’s cooperative in the Achbarou village, near the cemetery, where the activities practiced by this cooperative include traditional carpet-making and weaving wool, as well as planting and preparation of some types of medicinal and aromatic herbs. This cooperative was established after a series of vision building and rights-based workshops facilitated by the High Atlas Foundation with these local participants, especially with regard to self-empowerment, the development of personal capacities, and the growth of their cooperative.

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Morocco, as any other country, has increasing energy demands, and electricity demand has been projected to rise by 250% from 2015 to 2030, causing the demand to double. The economic growth, the increasing Moroccan population, and the nation’s industrial sector are all motivating factors that drive the demand for more energy sources.

In the agricultural sector, renewable energy offers irrigation solutions to farmers by using the solar water pumps. This system is allowing them to manage the water in a sustainable and ecological manner in favor of exploiting the radiative energy of the sun. Therefore, farmers will get access to water without the constraint of oil or gas supplies in order to operate.

Most nurseries of the High Atlas Foundation have installed solar panels mainly in order to help with the water pumps and also to make use of cheap, renewable solar energy for the long term.

Maintaining the solar panels does not only keep them clean but it also guarantees longer and more effective performance. Last month, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) Farmer to Farmer (F2F) team welcomed Jan Stenstrom, a US Volunteer who traveled all the way to Morocco in order to share his expertise in the field of solar panels with the caretaker of different communities nurseries. 

The solar panels generally need simple and easy maintenance, which can be done two to four times per year, according to the area where they are installed. For example, if it rains more often in a given place, nature is automatically cleaning the panels. However, periodic cleaning is needed in a place where dirt, leaves and other debris cover the solar panels most of the time.

The F2F team and the US volunteer visited three nurseries, two in the Marrakech-Safi Region and one nursery in the Beni-Mellal region. Mr. Stenstrom started all the training by talking about the right materials to do the cleaning, and it is important to note that abrasive soap or sponges are dangerous and might scratch the panels, which therefore leads to less effective production of the energy.

Another important advice for the nurseries’ caretakers to remember is to start the cleaning at an early time of the day before the sunrise or later in the day when the sun sets. Wetting the panels when they are warm might harm the panels and cause damages. That is why the cleaner shall go for the maintenance when the solar panels are cold.

As for the directions, Mr.Stenstrom explained that it is always preferable to start by mixing a biodegradable soap with water in a big bucket, and then dipping in a soft rag and beginning to gently wipe the solar panels. In case there is any grime or dirt that has built up on the panel, it is better to use a soft, wet brush. Last, use a hose for water to rinse the panels and, just as importantly, use a soft wiper at the end. At sites where the panels are very large and difficult to reach because of height as well as enclosure, it is preferred to install a pipe with holes, two centimeters apart, along the top edge of the panel structure, connected to the water system. This would allow for a safe, and easy cleaning of the panels, like the rain would do and it does not present an additional cost to the nurseries’ caretakers.

As you can see, the maintenance steps are simple and easy to implement. However, the person cleaning the panels should be careful and use only soft materials to avoid scratching them. 

The nursery's caretakers were reassured that following these steps will definitely guarantee a great, long-term efficiency of the panels.

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At first glance Mrs. Mesbahi, Mrs. Nadir look no different from any other rural women in Morocco. They live in a far-away area called Lakdirate in Al Youssoufia Province, about 90 km from Marrakech, and lead a mundane country lifestyle, looking after their households. But that is what appears on the surface. Unlike most of the rural women in the region, they are now more independent and proactive in many ways. Above all, they enjoy a degree of financial independence and can support their families.

Their lives changed when a women’s cooperative was established in their area in 2021 after they benefited from an IMAGINE workshop last June 2021 filled with reflection, discussion, and exercises that allowed them to open up on topics that may have been previously uncharted. Providing a structure for discussion went a long way in creating bonds between the women, who had not previously interacted with one another but who have experienced both success and failure and found comfort in common exercises that ultimately helped them create their cooperative. What started as a small initiative involving just a few women has grown into a business employing 30 women from Lakdirate village.

Led by Mrs. Mesbahi, the president of the cooperative, all women who work here have different stories to share but one common goal: to make a living for themselves and their families and create employment opportunities for other women in their community.

Konouz Lakdirate Cooperative aimed to increase agricultural revenue for Moroccan families after growing a fruit tree nursery. However, they needed capacity-building support so that they could achieve their aim.

On December 25th, the Farmer-To-Farmer (F2F) team launched an assignment (O-H-40)  in order to enrich the women’s cooperative Konouz Lakdirate and to help guide their planning, decision-making, and human and material resources allocation.

Boumargoud, the local F2F volunteer, and Klimas, the paired remote U.S volunteer, worked together with the HO members to deliver to them the essential tools for building their business plan on the establishment and management of the tree nursery.

Recently, HAF and its partners helped by launching a pilot project of a tree nursery and  decentralized renewable energies for the benefit of the Konouz Lakdirate cooperative.

Mrs. Douirani says: "Our cooperative was created in a rural area suffering from poverty and drought. The cooperative gathered poor women from the area and gave them jobs. We are producing different types of traditional couscous. And we started recently working in the nursery to produce fruit trees thanks to the project."

Under the project, the cooperative's members benefited from Solar panels installed both at the  Aljoulane school and within the nursery and three wells: two for irrigation and community use and another for the  school. A water tower is also being built for the benefit of the entire village.

Ms. Khalouk, one of the youngest women at the cooperative, says: "I had to stop my studies. But I have been working at the cooperative. And during this period, I attended numerous training , and was also able to gain experience by attending a number of workshops. With the cooperative’s help, I believe I will be able to complete my professional education and earn an income to support myself and my family members. The cooperative and the project are playing a very important role in this dry and poor area."

Currently, their main activities are growing and planting fruit trees with the farming families in the province, they are working to plant Argan, carob,Fig, pomegranate and almond trees.

Konouz Lakdirate co-op is the first one in the community that runs a fruit tree nursery using an irrigation system and Solar panels. The members are seeking to have more and better tree production and to expand their capacity for their future nursery that would allow them to start growing other fruit trees. 

The women of Lakdirat exhibited energy to work in order to support their families and participate in the progress of their community and the F2F program continues supporting them by launching another assignment (O-H-46) of a training workshop on Solar PC maintenance.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Marrakech, Morocco
$40,972 raised of $50,000 goal
528 donations
$9,028 to go
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