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

COVID-19 impeded the Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) due to travel restrictions preventing U.S. volunteers from traveling overseas. As a solution, USAID encouraged its implementing partners to create paired assignments, linking volunteer experts from the United States with those in host-countries - and in HAF’s case, in Morocco. Together, paired volunteers analyze and solve the challenges faced by cooperatives and educational centers. HAF seized this opportunity, and uses its network of local experts to connect with U.S. experts.

The first assignment in the Oujda region, while under unexpected circumstances, proved to be a success. Laura is a U.S.-based farmer who has previously served with Morocco’s F2F Program in early 2020 with two Host Organizations (HOs) in the Oujda region. She was paired with Hicham, who grew up seeing his father manage one of the first nurseries in Morocco. He then studied to become an agricultural technician and now manages his own nurseries.

Hicham and Laura identified the goal to assist three cooperatives in their planning of new fruit tree and medicinal plant nurseries. After agreeing with Laura on how to proceed, Hicham visited the HOs in three different provinces, met farmers, and delivered workshops to people to improve their knowledge on how they can refine their capabilities in nursery design and promoting healthy growth.

As a result, Hicham and Laura developed estimated budgets for the prospective nurseries that help the HOs understand all the financial details, the needed materials, and the quality of seeds and soil. The social enterprise in Germany, Ecosia, a HAF partner, accepted to contribute to starting one of the three nurseries in Guercif province. This new nursery will see the light during the first half of 2021.

With his 15-year plus experience, HAF could not let Hicham go after he finished this assignment in the Oujda region and asked him to conduct other assignments in Beni Mellal and Ouarzazate, to share his knowledge with people who requested his technical and managerial insights. 

Laura and Hicham got along really well and Hicham expressed his interest in visiting Laura’s farm in the U.S. when time and conditions permit. Laura wants to participate in another remote assignment with Hicham to support more farmers and their cooperatives. Laura and Hicham are an excellent example of the potential that these collaborations offer. This experience highlights the efficiency of remote partnerships and the benefits that result.

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One of the High Atlas Foundation’s (HAF) USAID Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) team members, Fatima Zahra, was selected from a competitive pool of applicants to attend the “2020 i-Tree International Academy” —a three- month online training organized by the US Forest Service International Programs, Northern Research Station, and the Davey Tree Expert Institute. This international program was designed to introduce the i-Tree suite of tools to global participants.

The first session of the Academy launched in October, with 80 participants from 26 countries joining in on the discussion across 4 continents.  The session, delivered by experienced members of the i-Tree project team and other guests, proved very useful, as it focused on helping participants learn i-Tree applications. These tools can be used to assess the value of urban forests and green spaces.

Dr. David, an urban forester with an extensive background in urban forest management and landscape design, opened the session. Dr. Bloniarz a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture and a Doctorate in Urban Forestry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Currently, Dr. Bloniarzis a scientist with the Urban Natural Resources Institute, an initiative of the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station. The Institute’s primary focus is the development of new tools and technologies for use by planners, managers, and researchers.

Dr. Bloniarz’s work involves research and technology transfer initiatives related to urban natural resource structure, function, and value.  He serves on the i-Tree development team, providing technical and programming support for this inventory and analysis initiative. He also serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, extending his welcome to all the participants.

Before starting the session, Dr. Bloniarz shared their archiving system, the logistic components, and communication protocols. Then he introduced other experts on the panel including:

Kent: US Forest Service International Programs Assistant Director of Asia Pacific Region.

Liza: Urban Outreach and Partnerships Specialist with the US Forest Service International Programs. Over the past few years, she has co-coordinated the International Seminar on Urban Forestry and Community Engagement and also manages Beyond Trees, an online platform dedicated to urban issues.

Allison: Service International Programs Washington, DC

Krista: Heinlen has worked as a GIS analyst in Philadelphia for over 10 years, and comes to the Davey Institute and the USFS Philadelphia Field Station having conducted both broad and intricate spatial analyses in the fields of environmental science, social science, and public health. Her work includes GIS and mapping support for research at the field station, as well as helping i-Tree tool users better understand and incorporate their urban forest inventories and canopy analyses.

Al Zelaya:   Research Urban Forester for The Davey Tree Expert Company. His primary responsibilities include development, research, training, website administration and providing technical support for urban forestry environmental service projects.

Jason:  Research Urban Forester with the USDA Forest Service and The Davey Tree Expert Company. He has a Ph.D. in Forestry and an M.S. in Statistics from Virginia Tech. Jason has 15 years of experience in teaching and research involving the quantitative assessment and modeling of forest resources.

The i-Tree International AcademyThe program's purpose is to develop a global network of individuals who can use i-Tree to complete assessment projects, advise others, and advance new i-Tree integrations.

The goals were as follows:

  •  Learn how to use several core i-Tree assessment tools including Eco and Canopy.
  • Understand fundamental concepts behind the i-Tree tools including ecosystem services and their relationship to tree and forest structure.
  • Explore how i-Tree Database can be used to integrate new global cities in i-Tree.
  • Know the advantages and limitations of i-Tree when used internationally.
  • Apply new learning to develop an ‘action plan’ for using i-Tree or advancing integration in their home county.

Over the course of two hours, panelists presented the i-Tree International Academy program along with the instructors, resources, experts, and i-Tree software toolkit. They introduced online resources and systems used during the course. In addition, they discussed the international issues and challenges global cities are facing.

Session one focused more on demonstrations, learned the framework of the academy, plan overview, I- tree concepts, keys website, and online resources.

What is an i-Tree?

It is a great tool to be used for data gathering for trees. According to the organization, i-Tree is

The i-Tree team’s journey started in 2006, putting USFS urban forest science into the hands of users. They started their initiative in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India.

The i-Tree application is a free public domain software package developed by USDA Forest Service and partners, which really takes collections of many different tools and puts them under one umbrella. Though the i-Tree umbrella is based on peer-reviewed research that goes back to the 90s,it has been available to the public since 2006. With each year, the model continues to be improved.Today i-Tree includes a variety of tools that are used globally and encompass trees on all urban and rural lands.

During the session, participants learned that there are many tools such as landscape, county, design, My Tree, planting calculator, hydro, species, and projects. However, the focus in track 2 was on database, Eco, and Canopy, as these three tools are primarily used internationally.

i-Tree Tools
i-Tree tools allow users to look at that data and assess the values that are being provided, the ecosystem services, carbon sequestration, pollution, capture redaction, and energy redaction.

i-Tree Hydro
Hydro simulates the effects on hourly streamflow and water quality due to changes in tree cover and impervious cover within a watershed. It contains auto-calibration routines to help match model estimates with measured hourly streamflow. Hydro can be used internationally but they have found that it is often very challenging to obtain the necessary input data outside the US. There are hydrology related summaries available in i-Tree Eco that may address some of the climate and sustainability issues

i-Tree Canopy
Canopy allows users to easily photo-interpret Google aerial images to produce statistically reliable estimates of tree and other cover types along with calculations of the uncertainty of their estimates. This tool provides a quick and inexpensive means for cities and forest managers to accurately estimate their tree and other cover types. Canopy can be used anywhere in the world where high-resolution, cloud-free Google images exist (most areas). Use of historical imagery can also be used to aid in change analyses. i-Tree Canopy on the other hand requires users to help assess the amount of canopy cover which is used to estimate benefits.

i-Tree Eco
This is a data collection system designed to work with newer web-enabled mobile devices.i-Tree Eco requires that users input measurements on individual trees such as stem diameter and tree species. i-Tree Eco has a mobile data collection tool built-in. i-Tree Eco produces outputs related to tree health in terms of either tree condition or tree dieback. The pest component of Eco is currently limited to USA issues but outside the US i-Tree Eco is the best tool to determine carbon sequestration and carbon storage of trees.

Both i-Tree Eco and i-Tree Canopy will both estimate annual sequestration and the total carbon stored in your trees.

How Does i-Tree Work?
i-Tree’s basic premise starts with assessing structure, which is the physical characteristics of the tree and forest resource based on direct measurements or statistical estimates. Structural data is used with local environmental data including hourly weather and pollutant data to estimate functions (e.g. gas exchanges). Functions are converted into services, such as pollution removal, and then monetized

Trees provide numerous benefits to society. Trees cool air temperatures, reducing energy use in buildings and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). They also improve air and water quality, mitigate rainfall runoff and flooding, enhance human health and social well-being, and lower noise impacts. Trees not only benefit the environment, but they also benefit the livelihoods of Moroccan communities. TheHigh Atlas Foundation (HAF) manages 12 organic fruit tree nurseries in 8 provinces of Morocco, with the capacity of 2.44 million seeds. HAF has a rigorous monitoring system. The monitor in each region helps to ensure the continued health of trees and to evaluate our implementation strategies, allowing us to achieve enhanced tree survival rates and sustainability.

HAF currently uses an application called Akvo Flow and i-Tree tools are very important for NGOs such as the High Atlas Foundation not only to monitor and improve its tree program effectiveness but also to increase funding opportunities.

At the end of the session, the presenters opened the floor for questions. It was an exciting opportunity to bring together the creators of i-Tree to answer our pressing inquiries about the tool and its application globally.

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Morocco’s Need for Trees

According to Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture, one billion fruit trees and billions of medicinal plants are needed as one of several essential contributions in order to overcome poverty in rural areas, which afflicts approximately 80 percent of its people. In addition, drylands cover 97 percent of Moroccan land, being one of the world's best long-term carbon sinks it requires immediate action to halt irreversible degradation of soils.

Obstacle to Transition

Farming families in Morocco are economically compelled to transition toward fruit tree agriculture and away from traditionally growing barley and corn. These staple crops are currently cultivated on 70 percent of agricultural land, yet only generate 10 to 15 percent of agricultural revenue. To address this obstacle to sustainable livelihoods, rural communities must build nurseries to grow from seeds the fruit trees and medicinal plants they need to cultivate in their localities. However, farming households cannot dedicate their land to build nurseries because their survival requires sowing and harvesting every year. Therefore, the in-kind contribution of land for people’s nurseries is vital to meet the demand for trees of rural families.

Partners for Land In-Kind

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) receives land lent in-kind for the nurseries of farming communities from government agencies, universities, and civil groups, including the High Commission of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, the Ministry of Education and Professional Development, University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fes, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, the Moroccan Jewish community, and cooperatives.

HAF Nurseries: Millions of Trees

Currently the High Atlas Foundation manages twelve tree nurseries in seven provinces of Morocco. At maximum capacity, they can currently grow 1.6 million organic fruit saplings grown from native seeds. In addition to these twelve locations of community-managed nurseries, the High Atlas Foundation has also been lent land without cost from the above agencies to build 13 new nurseries of relatively large size, that if planted to their capacities, includes the generation of approximately 10 million trees per year.

Carbon Sequestration

Based on HAF calculations in consultation with carbon offset experts, the planting of 10 million fruit trees will generate approximately 425,000 verified carbon units (VCUs). To secure these units, monetize their value, and account for their CO2 offset benefit, the trees require monitoring twice during the first five years. While VCU’s are usually stored up to 150 years in living trees, due to the unique climatic conditions of Morocco, carbon is transformed into stabilized hummus, remaining in the soil for up to 1,000 years. The HAF commits to sustainable long-term carbon storage, providing the wrap-around service of constructing and maintaining the nurseries, transplanting them with farming families, cooperatives, and education centers, while monitoring and registering the data, for the cost of $0.55 per tree. Ten million trees impact approximately 40,000 rural households, including 200,000 people, while cooling the climate globally. 

Low Cost Offsets

HAF is able to provide tree planting, monitoring, and the required data to secure CO2 offsets at the low cost of $0.55 per tree due to these contributing factors:

  1. We grow the saplings from seeds, which allows us to retain significant value, spending only 16 to 25 percent of the private sector price per tree, depending on the variety.
  2. The lending of free land by public and civil agencies further reduces costs and price-per-tree unit.
  3. The utilization of local fruit seed varieties not only significantly enhances biodiversity, but enables seed procurement in close proximity to the nurseries, reducing transportation costs and increasing survival rates.
  4. Nurseries are maintained by local community members who receive from the HAF a fair salary plus benefits, including health insurance and social security, with seasonal workers also coming from the neighboring vicinity. Thus, labor costs are relatively modest with a high level of commitment and satisfaction.

Finally, the trees are distributed to the farmers, where capacity building workshops on effective tree planting and care play a key role in maintaining the HAF’s outstanding tree survival rate. Farmers pay $0.20 per tree, and the entirety of that amount is reinvested in seeds in order to replenish the nurseries, provide for their caretaking, and continue the generation of young trees for subsequent years.

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Upon hearing the words “Hamdullah wa inshallah,” Mark is transported as if in a time capsule to the many times he and Yossef, President of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), uttered them in gratitude for the food set before them or in hope for something good to come of their efforts as Peace Corps Volunteers. “It makes you more mindful of the moment,” he remarked in a recent interview conducted by Yossef for HAF.

Mark was born in France, son of an airman, whose family returned to the U.S. where he grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two months after graduation from Penn State in 1982, he joined the Peace Corps and came to Morocco. There, he was able to use his degree in environmental resource management and specialization in wildlife management as a fisheries volunteer. He had originally aspired to be a veterinarian, but his keen interest in wildlife, parks, and protected areas led him to this more holistic discipline.

Initially having applied for a position in sub-Saharan Africa in wildlife management, he was surprised to be offered the position in Morocco, a country about which he knew little. Yet, he accepted the offer right away because he was eager to serve. This involved two-and-a-half months of rigorous fisheries training in Oklahoma. “It was like boot camp, pretty much under the direction of an autocrat,” he recalled. However, he acknowledged that it instilled a good sense of self-reliance and ability to figure things out and institute a good program in Morocco. He added, “Compared to that training, though, the language and cross-cultural training once I arrived was a piece of cake.”

After two years as a fisheries volunteer in Ouarzazate, when, just as Mark was prepared to leave, he was made aware of the need for a wildlife volunteer by Youssef Alaoui, an engineer with the High Commission of Water and Forests. He remembered that his “ears perked right up” upon this news, and he vowed, “If you guys get a parks and wildlife program going here, I’ll stay,” knowing that this was another two-year commitment. As a result, he became part of the very first cohort of volunteers to serve in wildlife, a field that was still nascent in Morocco in the 1980s. About the opportunity, he humbly stated, “I was in the right place at the right time.”

When Yossef asked during the HAF interview whether Mark could offer any explanation for the tendency in Morocco for things to fall into place just at the right time or just when needed, to this, he replied that he frequently thinks about this notion because, as he put it, “It has actually manifested that way multiple times in my career,” including the position he currently enjoys as Environmental Coordinator with Cochise County in Arizona. He explained, “If we put a certain amount of psychic energy into creating our destinies, especially if it’s in the service of others or contributing to the world in a way, it just happens. I have felt very blessed over the years in that way.”

This is also how he ended up in Arizona, some years after returning from his Peace Corps work in Morocco. His first position there was working for the Nature Conservancy on a nature preserve. He remarked, “It’s a matter of visualizing in your own mind what you would like to be doing.” Coming out west with a new wife into a very remote area was a major shift in thinking, and it required adapting to living conditions very unlike the urban life of Philadelphia, yet not too dissimilar from the circumstances of life in Tassa Ouirgane in the High Atlas Mountains.

During his second two-year commitment in the Peace Corps, Mark was given the freedom to shape the new program and to choose the subject of his projects. He selected the Takherkhort Reserve for the mouflon sheep, concentrating all his efforts on compatibility between the people who lived in Tassa Ouirgane and the conservation and protection of the mouflon in the reserve. Disappointingly, it did not manifest as he would have liked at the time. Though he was able to secure a grant for that purpose, the local government would not give permission for the project because of a history of water disputes with the outside authorities and fears of being taken advantage of. He is grateful, though, that it is happening now through the High Atlas Foundation and an eco-lodge that is there.

By 1986, Mark was ready to return to the U.S. He chose to attend graduate school at Ohio University, which had a high concentration of former Peace Corps volunteers. He found this experience very gratifying. He was able to secure a position with the National Parks service despite a six-month delay due to a federal hiring freeze. He describes that moment as “the launching pad” for his career. His responsibilities were in the Wild and Scenic River Program of the Mid-Atlantic States region studying the Great Egg Harbor River in southern New Jersey. “People think of New Jersey as this industrial state. But, in south Jersey, it is very rural and can be very wild, and you get back on these little rivers and tributaries, canoeing or kayaking, and it really is an amazing place.” That position also introduced him to a lot of other people in the conservation and environmental world. He had the opportunity to go to conferences, including an Open Space one in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Seeing the places and meeting the people there convinced him that he could live out in the Southwest. Arizona and New Mexico, he feels, are very similar environmentally even if they are not so politically and culturally.

In 1994, Mark became an environmental consultant in a small Arizona town on the San Pedro River, and that is when he met Yossef for the first time. With each visit, Mark’s relationship to Morocco has continued to grow in a “deep and abiding love and respect for the people of Morocco,” though this has taken time. He has enjoyed witnessing and hearing of subsequent generations of Peace Corps Volunteers who have devoted their services to engaging communities in environmental education and park conservation. “To come back and contribute to that as a trainer was satisfying.”

This relationship eventually drew Mark back to Morocco as a Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer with HAF. Though there had been some factors, such as the treatment of women, that put him in a frame of mind to be ready to leave Morocco at the end of his Peace Corps work. Serving in this new capacity with F2F, he has been heartened by notable cultural shifts, HAF’s women’s empowerment training, and the women on staff. “That is really going to be the salvation of our planet.”

The work with the Farmer-to-Farmer program gave him the chance to return and finish the work he felt he had left unfinished in Tassa Ouirgane. The president of their village association expressed gratitude for Mark’s work on grafting in the fruit tree nursery and work with the community to protect the agricultural fields near the river and the gabion walls against erosion. Mark noted, “It was a privilege for me to be able to come back and try to affect some good service and help them anyway I could. I feel that I accomplished more in the two months I spent there with HAF in the F2F Program than in a year and a half when I volunteered in that village with the Peace Corps. It was very satisfying to be able to go back and have a do-over.”

“But I don’t think anything has cemented my abiding appreciation of Morocco and its people than my coming back in 2017 and 2018 as a Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer with the High Atlas Foundation, and now volunteering again virtually in 2020 . There were some amazing cultural and social transformations that have been taking place in Morocco that really just astounded me,” Mark reflected.

During one of his F2F assignments, Mark wrote an article that focused on women and trees. In it, he describes how women’s empowerment is the solution, not just for gender equality, but for the entire world’s sustainability. The article, and the process behind it, offered him both an epiphany and, with it, some long sought after closure as he recognized positive efforts pushing forward toward progress for the greater good of the global, and Moroccan, society. “HAF and so many others around the world recognize that empowering women is the key to salvation of the planet. The article was cathartic for me and satisfying knowing that others felt the same way.”

For years, Mark had felt incomplete in his feelings regarding Morocco, stemming in some way from the difficulties experienced by Moroccan women. Then his F2F experience embodied advancing tree planting and women’s cooperatives. Today, as Yossef reflected in the interview, there is now a tree nursery managed by young women in Tassa Ouirgane village, where Mark served as a Peace Corps Volunteer years ago. This village, and the nursery, is now the location of a new project funded by UNDP as a direct result of an analysis that Mark completed over multiple visits as an F2F Volunteer decades after his first service there. This full-circle could not have been planned better or more poetically. That such a sense of accomplishment was established after so many years of dedication to the people of this very specific place goes to show that good things happen, but with time.

His message to returned Peace Corps Volunteers who are contemplating a return to service through the Farmer-to-Farmer program, is simply: “Don’t hesitate. Just do it.” Though Mark himself at first hesitated at returning for a shorter-term service in 2017, not knowing whether he would have sufficient support and skills to navigate his assignment and daily life, his fears quickly subsided as soon as HAF-F2F team members Hassan and Rachid picked him up at the airport. “I felt like I was home again.”

Mark highly encourages RPCVs to apply to serve as F2F volunteers in Morocco with HAF: “This idea of former Peace Corps Volunteers coming back to Morocco with HAF as F2F Volunteers is a wonderful thing. You do not have to be a farmer. It is much more than that. I came back and was able to conduct an assessment of sustainable indicators and interview members of women’s cooperatives. These are opportunities that I never had in the Peace Corps – to sit with women and ask them questions, and that they felt open and free to say what they wanted to say. It was an incredible experience.” The F2F opportunity might also fulfill the arc of other RPCVs’ experiences and relationships regarding Morocco, just as it has with Mark’s.

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Reference: Allison et al. 2017. Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world. Global Environmental Change 43, 51-56.

Forests capture more than carbon. While through the mechanism of photosynthesis, plants are experts at retrieving carbon dioxide from the air, they have also perfected strategies to retain water in their natural surroundings. When thinking of the benefits of future forests, it is crucial to think beyond the tree level. Tree roots loosen the soil, and by creating macropores, they drastically increase infiltration rates and help recharge groundwater levels. The effect of just one tree on those soil properties can be measured within a radius of 25 meters around the tree crown. So, by planting just a hundred trees, an area as big as 32 full-size football fields can be restored.

Reforestation reduces the risk of ecosystems drying out in a warming climate by keeping water in the soil. But that is not all. Through their roots that hold onto fertile soil, they prevent erosion and reduce the risk of flooding. Especially in mountainous areas, these properties are essential to keep farmland fertile. And because healthy soils lead to thriving communities, trees planted with the High Atlas Foundation provide a promising future for farming communities in Morocco.  

The much-needed positive effects of newly planted forests go far beyond the local scale of villages, cities, and countries. Researchers have recently discovered that forests are the main link for oceanic precipitation to reach the drier continental regions. By releasing water vapour through tree leaves, forests create clouds and cool the climate dramatically. Through this recycling of rainfall, water gets transported over long distances, and the release of microorganisms and organic compounds triggers rainfall along the way. Hence, investing in trees means the containment of carbon, retention of water, support to livelihoods, and, most importantly, the creation of  a green link into our future.

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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
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