I had the pleasure of accompanying Said, HAF Project Manager; Hassan, an assistant; and Tobi, a teacher at United World Colleges, on two nursery visits in the Marrakech region. As someone who has always been passionate about agriculture and the environment, the nursery visits had a positive impact on my choosing the High Atlas Foundation to continue my professional career, after obtaining a master’s degree in biotechnology and sustainable development of agro-resources.
The Imegdal nursery is under the supervision of Hassan, a skilled technician also competent in the manufacture of compost made from hay and manure. Hassan spoke to us about transplanting the tree saplings and watering techniques. This nursery - initially funded by the Global Diversity Foundation and the Darwin Initiative - includes several types of plants such as: argan, carob, cherry, almond, and walnut because of its agricultural, economic, environmental, and health importance. Additionally, the High Atlas Foundation wants to protect the agricultural heritage of Morocco and provide a sustainable environment for the growth and development of these plants. Further, these varieties keep the soil fertile while avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers that cause adverse effects both on the quality and health of groundwater.
The Tadmamt nursery is the result of a partnership between Morocco’s office of High Waters and Forests and the High Atlas Foundation for tree planting; its initial funding came from the United Nations Development Program. This nursery, which mainly cultivates almonds, cherries, and walnuts, is under the supervision of Omar. Daily maintenance of the nursery organized by Omar, as well as the grafting technique utilized here, is the best solution to ensuring high quality fruit and profitability of crops.
These nurseries contribute substantially to the sustainable development of local areas. Specifically, they provide a significant number of carob, argan, and walnut plants throughout the year to the inhabitants of the region including landowners and farmers as well as new and old agricultural cooperatives. Ultimately, the nurseries help local communities, particularly those involved in agricultural activities, while keeping our agro-resources.
ABOUT TWENTY-FOUR HOURS AGO, I planted a tree. It was already taller than the other tree sprouts lined up next to it, looking like the leader of a small pack of children, still a child itself. I bent down and carefully grabbed it, brought it back to the freshly dug square hole in the ground, and looked to the four men standing around me for the next instructions. First, remove the plastic covering the soil. Next, into the ground. Then, move the dug-up soil back into the hole. No need to move carefully here, just use a shovel or your feet or your hands to quickly move large piles of tanned dirt back into the earth. Pack the soil in, walking around the tree with your guide, a man who has worked on the commune for over forty years, like you two are dancing. Finally, water it, and feel the weight of the large bucket suddenly come down on your arm. If you can’t hold it up on your own, someone will immediately step in and hold the bucket with you, helping you guide the flow of water.
This is what guides the progress of the rural commune of Setti Fadma: ritual, support, and action. The challenge of agricultural development hinges on fostering a sense of community, the feeling that no matter the project, it is driven, managed, and controlled by a larger purpose. To plant this tree, I had to take the initiative to volunteer my time and the farmers stepped in to support me every step of the way. To propel agricultural development into new frontiers, we must ask ourselves what we can do for each other as much as we ask what we can do for the earth.
Time works differently in the rural communes of Al Haouz. There is enough awe with the present, wonder with the future, and curiosity about the past to push our agricultural development efforts somewhere new, somewhere better. For now, you cannot spend your entire day in the shaded breeze of the mountains. For now, there is work to be done.
On Wednesday the 14th of May, members of the High Atlas Foundation’s team visited Tassa Ouirgane to conduct a women’s empowerment meeting and pay a visit to the foundation’s nursery there. The team consisted of Amina El Hajjami, HAF’s Director of Projects, and Hassan Ait Ouatouch, HAF’s Project Assistant, as well as me. The field visit started in the morning by meeting first with some local farmers in the village next to the nursery. The plants there include pomegranate, olive, and walnut, and have grown rapidly—particularly the pomegranate plants. Amina supervised the work in the nursery and the technical aspects of irrigation, and the United Nations Development Program is financing the multi-faceted program. We engaged with the farmers who were present in conversation about the nursery and farming in the village in addition to both its challenges and promising factors.
We later met with the girls and women of Tassa Ouirgane’s new Cooperative for Medicinal Plants. Amina discussed with this group of women the name they chose for the cooperative as well as their previous conversations regarding the cooperative’s activities. In addition, the members addressed the type of plants they brought, their uses, and names in Tamazight, including “Tikida” and “Timija.” Most importantly, Amina opened a discussion about the legal and administrative procedures to finish establishing the cooperative. Notably, most of the women need to first organize prerequisite documents of their own, such as their national ID, in order to have the right to collect the cooperative’s legal documents. Further, Amina discussed the organizational side of the cooperative: abiding by the internal law, embodying its values, assistance, democratically electing the office members of the cooperative, having a fixed price for their products, and selling profitable products were among the emphasized topics for which members had to agree upon.
Both developmental projects of the nursery and the newly established women’s cooperative have an effective impact on the beneficiary groups in Tassa Ouirgane. The nursery, for which the village’s local association is responsible, provides various trees for planting each year. The women’s Cooperative of Medicinal Plans will also have a sustainable outcome, not only for its members but also their families and school children whom they will be capable of supporting financially. The two aforementioned projects can in fact lead to achieving multiple developmental goals at the same time.
On Thursday, the 28th of March, the team of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) visited with HAF Board Member Martine Roberts the nurseries of Akrich, Imegdal, and Tadmamt. Our first stop was the Akrich nursery where HAF planted over 30,000 almond and fig seeds.
All seeds and cuttings in the nursery are covered with black plastic to increase soil heat and moisture, which enables them to grow faster. Furthermore, all seeds and cuttings are watered regularly using drip irrigation, which provides exactly the right amount of water for every sapling and thereby conserves the precious water resource.
The wonderful aspect about this nursery is its cultural value. While being a nursery, which provides much needed tree saplings to communities all over Morocco, the place is also a Jewish cemetery, where the saint Raphael Ha Cohen is buried. Many pilgrims visit regularly to pray for good health for themselves and their loved ones at the tomb of the Saint, who was known for his healing powers.
After our visit to the nursery and cemetery, we enjoyed a homemade breakfast and then set out for the next nursery in Imegdal. On our way to Imegdal we admired the beautiful countryside along the Ouirgane Dam.
At the Imgdal nursery, HAF planted over 30,000 walnut and 6000 almond seeds as well as thousands of medicinal plants (sage, pelargonium, rosemary, and Cyprus). In addition to walnut, almond, and medicinal plants, the Imgdal nursery is also specialized in the germination and plantation of argan seeds. Hassan, the nursery caretaker, showed us how to prepare the argan seeds for germination in a greenhouse, which is necessary to protect the seeds from harsh weather conditions and to provide the necessary heat.
We also talked to Hassan about the irrigation system. He showed us the water storage on top of a hill, which is connected through pipes to the nursery. It was very clear how committed he is to the nursery and how much care he gives, much like a father for his kids. He proudly explained to us that some plants in the Caddi Ayad University are named after him.
Afterwards we headed to the last nursery of Tadmamt, which is one of the biggest HAF nurseries and currently keeps over 1500,000 seeds of almonds, walnut, and cherry.
After spending the whole day exploring these three beautiful nurseries, we gained good insight into the techniques used in the nursery to ensure successful germination and growth and we experienced the dedication and care that is given to each individual seed and cutting. Our field visit finished with a feeling of sincere appreciation of HAF’s work, which creates life and hope with every single sapling given to a community member.
Yesterday, I had another great experience as part of the HAF volunteer team. We left the HAF office around 1:00 p.m. and headed toward the mountains. We arrived in the Setti Fatma commune and the landscape was even more beautiful. It was possible to have a great view of the snow on top of the mountains.
We walked a bit until we reached the planting area. Some holes were already dug. I confess that I even tried to start digging a hole, but a farmer seeing my work came politely and asked me to let him continue digging the hole ... maybe it was better .
After a few minutes, OCP volunteers arrived to plant the trees too. They distributed gloves to help with planting and then began. You could see the smile on each one's face, as every person placed her or his knee on the ground, picked up the seedling and put it in the hole. I took some photos of the moment and talked with the volunteers. The question was always the same: "Where are you from?" "How long have you been here?" "Are you enjoying Morocco?"
After planting the trees, it was time for rest. Underneath a tree, delicious tea was prepared by the community and OCP volunteers brought some food. Everyone was sitting and talking, enjoying the moment. With the sun went down we picked up the things from the picnic and left the planting area.
We headed toward a home of a community member. There, we were welcomed by several women, the farmers and a old man. There were several children in the house and they all looked at us with their eyes shining. We took some photos with the people that were there and we went back outside to return home.
While we waited for the car, I discovered that old man in the house owned the land we planted. The land is three hectares long and he ceded it to the community. I also discovered that there is an association of farmers who care for this land. I think that attitude was very noble.
Finally, when asking the farmers about the future, the answer was that with this they hope to be able to help the children and women of the community to have a better future. Then our car arrived. We said goodbye to everyone and headed back to Marrakech.
On the way, I came to think about the attitude of all those people. The way the farmers are dedicated to the community is so noble. It was lovely to take part of that day and get to know more about the history of the local people of Setti Fatma.
Thank you HAF for this opportunity!
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