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


Smallholder farmers in Morocco are engaged in upgrading their agricultural practices in order to increase income by expanding exports to Europe, the United States, and other Southern countries.  The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has been engaged in that process with several programs such as assisting Moroccan cooperatives in obtaining organic certification for their walnut, almonds, and other products.  During the certification project, HAF, a Moroccan and U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to using a participatory, collaborative approach to assure sustainable solutions, recognized there were seed storage challenges that needed development for continued progress.  

 HAF partners with Land O’Lakes International Development (LOL) to develop a project concept and proposal to address the seed storage gaps in the nut supply chain.  LOL, in turn, partners with USAID’s Middle East and North Africa Farmer-to-Farmer program to advance sustainable agriculture and forestry activities to enhance economic growth.

 Teaming with High Atlas Foundation

HAF staff is a mix of Moroccans and volunteers from other countries, including men and women, young and old, and they manage a diverse mix of local development projects. Members provide a nurturing, encouraging environment. A typical workweek included attending presentations by staff, interns and other F2F volunteers on their projects. The presentations and comments were a means of project quality improvement, as well as team-building. The events also provided insight as to the fit of the seed storage project within the range of other HAF projects.  The daily routine of family-style group lunches was a way to share Moroccan food and hospitality with everyone that was congenial, memorable, and productive.  I found it an energizing and inspiring experience being included in this uniquely Moroccan HAF team.

 

Although the final objective of the assignment was clear from the start, “prepare a proposal to the Ministry of Agriculture for seed storage infrastructure improvement”, it took a week and three layout drafts, to clarify the need, size and nature of the concept plan.  HAF project managers provided guidance in discussions and site visits to help me understand in detail the need to assist farmers with capacity for two types of seed storage: 1) storing harvested nuts for short periods prior to post-harvest processing, and 2) storing endemic varieties of tree and wild medicinal plant seeds for ready access during the planting season, especially varieties under threat of being lost to more commercially viable varieties.  HAF partnering with the Idraren Cooperative had recently developed a business plan to produce 1,000 tons of certified organic walnuts.  Seed storage is essential to meet production potential and market demand for years to come.

Assignment

The assignment provided an opportunity to contribute to development of organic agricultural processing and diversification of endemic seed varieties, benefiting small holder farmers in rural areas. It also afforded the opportunity to use my mechanical engineering experience in agricultural applications and to facilitate the synthesis of a design concept in a cross-cultural setting. In preparation for the assignment, I activated my project engineering network, reviewed professional technical articles on seed storage facilities, and visited a USDA world-class seed storage lab in Colorado. In country, together with HAF colleagues, we visited SONACOS, a large scale quasi-government produce and seed storage distribution center, a large-volume government sponsored agricultural producers’ market, and the recently completed post-harvest processing center at the Idraren Cooperative, located in Asni of the High Atlas Mountains.

 Impacts

The most tangible accomplishment of the assignment was to give HAF a written proposal suitable for presentation to the Ministry of Agriculture. The proposal included a hand-drawn layout drawing, a project narrative describing the need and the proposed solution, a detailed cost estimate and a tentative implementation schedule. It is likely that the highest value of the concept plan will be to stimulate further discussion about the new capabilities needed. The concept plan is undergoing further revision before it is presented to the Ministry of Agriculture, but the plan will help to advance the discussions and can lead to improvements in the current post-harvest processing.

 There were other intangible impacts from the assignment. I will long remember the rhythm of the Marrakech day with the morning and evening calls to prayer, sleeping indoors with the door wide open to the quiet, perfectly cool night air, the excitement about an afternoon rainstorm, even though there was not much moisture; the aesthetic experience of sharing sweet mint tea, poured high above the glass to aerate the tea and the touch of a scorching hot glass. It’s also nice to feel I now have some friends and colleagues in Morocco.

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Figure 1. HAF's Walnut and Almond Tree Nursery
Figure 1. HAF's Walnut and Almond Tree Nursery

 

 

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Morocco is using innovative approaches to tackling poverty in this North Africa country,  as well as addressing the challenge of climate change.  HAF is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the livelihoods of rural households. The Foundation was established in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers and registered in both the USA and Morocco.  It set an ambitious goal to plant one million trees and successfully met that challenge in 2014. HAF is not stopping and has agreed to support the Government of Morocco to reach its target to plant one billion trees, and has created model nurseries and partnerships to achieve this transformative milestone.

At the HAF’s headquarters is in Marakesh, the office is constantly buzzing with the enthusiasm of young volunteers from Morocco, Europe and the USA committed to make a positive impact on Morocco.  HAF is at the center of the wider global initiative to address climate change.  The United Nations’ climate change conference was held in the city in November 2016. HAF’s goal is to empower people to improve their livelihoods and the climate through community action. For HAF, it all starts with the establishment of its eleven nurseries in seven provinces. HAF partnered with several organizations both government and non-government and from inside and outside Morocco to establish these nurseries. A German organization, Ecosia, provides funding for five of these nurseries.  At the same time, HAF continues to evaluate the possible addition off our new nursery sites.  In some cases, a nursery site was provided by the High Commission of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Education, the local council and cooperative or even a religious organization.  This reflects buy-in from a wide spectrum of the stakeholders in the donor community.

HAF’s nurseries are in different ecological zones which offer a diversity of trees and plants to meet the needs of rural households and schools in different planting zones (see Figure 1). Most of the nurseries are in the hotter, drier zone having a continental climate. Temperatures can exceed 40 celsius and a dry season lasting three to four months. Tree and aromatic seeds are collected locally for the nurseries for better adaptability to growing conditions. Some popular tree species are walnut, almond, pomegranate, olive, and fig. A few nurseries produce aromatic plants (Verbena, mint, sage and thyme) which are popular items added to tea. Aromatic plants are planted by women to be grown for both home-use or sold fresh or processed in the local markets to provide additional income for women. Water availability in this drier climate is a challenge, and HAF promotes the use of drip irrigation systems conserving scarce water.

HAF’s mission is to address challenges along the value chain facing producers, and it invests in value addition activities in processing and marketing, not just planting trees.  In the town of Asni, HAF supported the establishment of a walnut processing facility with the local government and the Idraren Cooperative. HAF purchased some of the equipment (funded by OES, U.S. Department of State) installed in the plant and helped to train the staff. The cooperative with the help of HAF will find markets for producers’ nuts and bottled walnut oil.  The market plan is to develop branded organic walnut products which are sold in both the domestic and international markets.  In the first year of operation in 2016, the cooperative 10,000 kilograms of nuts, as well as 1,000 liter bottles of walnut oil for cosmetic use.

Where possible, HAF works to build the capacity of women cooperatives to empower them for positive economic and social change in their communities (the National Endowment of Democracy was an early supporter of this initiative). HAF teamed up with the French cosmetic company, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté (YSLB), and Project PUR to contract with the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative in Ourika Valley, which is approximately 30 kilometers southeast from Marrakesh. The Cooperative has 39 women, and they grow the flower, Calendura officinalis (marigold), used by YSLB for the manufacture of their cosmetics. HAF and YSLB supported the women with training and made initial start-up investments in a small building with a bathroom, irrigation equipment (see Figure 3), a well and a water tank for storing water during the dry season to extend the production season when water levels fall.The women have learned how to collect seed from nearby fields, propagate and transplant seedlings (see Figure 4). The women then harvest the flower, transport in the local basket (see Figure 5) to their homes where they dry the petals and then pack and ship them to France. These value-added processes allow the women to be paid 1,000 MAD (approximately U.S. $100) per kilogram for dried petals. The women expect their first shipment of 60 kilograms of dried petals in 2017, reinvesting and sharing the new revenue among members of the Cooperative.  On the 14th of November 2017, the Coop’s members and their nursery were visited by 90 YSLB team members, celebrating empowerment (see Figure 6).  

HAF is making a significant difference for large numbers of rural households in Morocco through tree planting, and it is turning producers into entrepreneurs evident by the success in establishing the walnut cooperative in Asni and the Calendula cooperative in Ouirka.  These business models will be replicated in other villages and towns in Morocco and will directly increase rural incomes and at the same time address the threats of climate change facing Morocco.  By mobilizing communities to plant trees and aromatic plants, HAF is helping rural Morocco on its path to economic sustainability.

Figure 2. Walnuts at the Asni Idraren Cooperative
Figure 2. Walnuts at the Asni Idraren Cooperative
Figure 4 Mature Calendura plants ready for harvest
Figure 4 Mature Calendura plants ready for harvest
A basket of Calendula being transported
A basket of Calendula being transported
Team members of Yves Saint Laurent Beaute
Team members of Yves Saint Laurent Beaute
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On Monday the 9th of August, we went with Amina, Project Manager at High Atlas Foundation, to Oukaimeden, a little village in the mountain Atlas, close to Marrakech, to assist to the meeting with the represents of the different villages nearby and the response of the different associations. The aim of these periodic meetings is to talk together about the principal problems that villages are facing, trying to find the best solution for everyone.

The topic of the day was related to the places to choose for planting new trees. The participating have identified 4 villages that have more urgencies, but considering the different conditions of the villages, different plants are needed.

The participants of the meeting discussed the principal problem, which is represented by the soil erosion: it is a huge problem because it reduces the productivity of the lands and contributes to the pollution of rivers, lakes, and water in general. One solution to fight against soil erosion is, precisely, planting trees because they help saving water and to make the soil more stable. For these villages, the represents decided to plant both carrots and cactus.

Another solution is to build some terracing, with the help of cooperatives and benefactors. The terracing put near rivers can avoid water to overflow. In this way, farmers can use their resources in the most efficient way possible. By working on the soil productivity, farmers can plan to increase the level of agriculture activities and ensure a better level of life quality for the whole village. Together with terracing, also basins can help regulating the water flow and reaching results in agriculture.

A second important project discussed during the meeting regards the recycle of wastewater, that will be collected all together in order to save it and use it in a proper way.

What has been discussed regards also the future of the villages and of the whole area: the associations and the represents of the villages want to start planting trees and plants that can help not only with the soil erosion and with water saving, but that can also help the region to grow and produce more. In order to do so, it is fundamental to understand which types of trees are more suitable to the need of the people and of the soil and how High Atlas Foundation can help the communities to reach this goal.

Considering this, during the meeting they have identified two areas: one in which the focus will be to plant trees for agriculture and a second one in which the focus will be to solve the problems related to soil erosion and water saving.

One of the most amazing things about this meeting is that we had the opportunity to see how the different responses and represents are working together to improve the conditions of the villages, even though they have a different point of views. We understood how the foundation is helping these villages to grow in a sustainable way, having a real impact on the local reality and enhancing the living conditions. The action of cooperatives is fundamental for the agricultural development in these areas:  they give local people the opportunity to collaborate and do something good and useful for themselves and their villages.

After the meeting
After the meeting
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The green hills that used to surround the Moroccan cities of Fez, Ifran and Oujda have turned amber. Years of intensive grazing have depleted the soil of its nutrients. Only the oldest villagers remember that their home used to be green, and cooler.

The absence of the ancient forests is so real, so striking, that it’s almost a presence.

 

One of our planting sites, adjacent to the Jewish community of Ouarzazate.

We travelled to Morocco two weeks ago, in search of a solution. Here’s what we’ll do: your searches will fund six new tree nurseries around Fez, Ifran and Oujda. These nurseries will yield, in a first phase, 1.3 million fruit and nut trees. Thanks to the solar-powered wells, the nurseries will be entirely self-sufficient.

Tanzania

 

This nursery in Fez will be managed, in part, by school children.

Tanzania

 

The Before of the Before-After picture. Our biggest Moroccan nursery is located on the grounds of the Al Akhawayn University.

The fruit trees will, in time, restore the hills of Northern Morocco to their original fertility, and they will do so sustainably: fruit trees are an economically attractive alternative to goat farming, one of the main causes of the region’s ecological decline.

 

The farmers from Taroudant have largely transitioned to fruit tree farming.

A project this ambitious, and this new needs a manager as experienced as The High Atlas Foundation. The Moroccan-American foundation’s 17-year track record leaves no doubt of its integrity and talent.

In Tadmant, we saw that no amount of rocks can stop The High Atlas Foundation from building a thriving nursery.

 

In the village of Taroudant, where The High Atlas Foundation launched its first project, we understood how fruit trees can help a community help itself.

 

At the Hasan II University, we learned how The High Atlas Foundation shares its knowledge with Morocco’s youth.

 

The High Atlas Foundation convenes a course on participatory management of environmental projects.

A nursery in Ourika, run entirely by women, reassured us of The High Atlas Foundation’s ability to empower marginalized groups through environmental projects. ‘Two years ago these rural women would not have dared to be photographed,’ Amina, the project’s manager, told us. ‘Being in charge of such a big nursery, and becoming economically more self-sufficient, has made them confident of their potential’.

 

One of the nurseries your searches are funding has left a particularly vivid mark on our minds. You can find it on the edge of the Ben Driss Youth Centre in Fez – a home to children who have dropped out of school, who have been rejected by their families, who have been in conflict with the Law, or who have fallen victim to violent crimes.

We would never have thought that there could be so much joy, so much hope, in such a sad place.

As well as being housed and fed, the children of the Ben Driss Centre continue their education and are given the opportunity to learn a craft.

The nursery that The High Atlas Foundation has imagined, and that your searches have turned into reality, initiates the children into fruit tree farming. After nursing the saplings for a year, the children will donate them to local farmers. They thus integrate into a community by helping that community thrive.

 

Our nursery at the Ben Driss centre has been prepared for sowing.

 

A nursery, it turns out, can provide so much more than trees. It can turn outcasts into full-fledged community members. To even the most vulnerable, it can give a second chance.

 

Such successes are your successes, too. The saplings growing in our nurseries in Fez, the well that is being dug in Ourika, the apricot tree that will be planted in Ifran: they are your searches bearing fruits.

 

 

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 Some say that capacity building is the best investment. There are certainly cases that support this idea. This is an example where a technical assessment of four tree nurseries shows the importance of focused training.

  Foremost, evaluation would focus on identifying problems and rectifying them. The common problems are the best place to start. This highlights an unspoken aspect of training and capacity building. This is that the simplest solutions should not be overlooked.

  One issue is uneven tree growth brought about by uneven watering. There is a simple solution. For all nurseries, drip lines should be periodically cleaned. The other option would be to install water filters. The latter is expensive and, given the relatively small size of each nursery, cleaning the lines would the cheapest option.

  There is yet another aspect to nursery management, one that rises high in importance. This the relative cost of an action or option. At the least, this is worth mentioning within a training session. Better yet, this should be a key part of the training.

  This leads to the notion of objectives, both of the training and of the organization. Non-profit groups do not profit from their work. Instead, they provide those in need with a service or product. The product is fruit trees. The means of production are the nurseries and, as with the profit sector, costs are not to be overlooked.

  The goal of HAF is to offer trees to local farmers. In doing so, these are strived to be of good quality and capable to surviving the riggers of on-farm life. For HAF, this means the best product at the lowest cost. This translates into the cost, per survivable, on-farm tree.

  Capacity building will stress the means via the goal. Turning back to the nursery problems, the situation complicates as local problems are addressed.  Where water is plentiful and free, space is often limited. Again, the issue was viability when the possibilities for expansion are severely limited.

 Concentrating production would lead to economies of scale and a hoped for lowering of costs. On the capacity front, this requires training fewer people and, with concentrated production, the possibilities for more uniform nursery.

  The goal is, first through evaluation, later training, to evolve into a standardized system for raising trees. This could be a system where the trees are raised in the ground, dug up, and given to farmers. The other option is to grow the seedlings in soil-filled bags. The in-ground method is inherently cheaper but, unless transplanted quickly, survivability in reduced. The bags can be a bit more costly but more reliable in regard to survivability. 

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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
$38,052 raised of $50,000 goal
 
467 donations
$11,948 to go
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