The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future. The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, to be achieved by 2030. Nations around the world adopted these goals in recognition of the fact that ending poverty must be done in tandem with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and drive economic growth, while tackling climate change and preserving our oceans and forests.
The 17 SDGs are: (1) No Poverty, (2) Zero Hunger, (3) Good Health and Well-being, (4) Quality Education, (5) Gender Equality, (6) Clean Water and Sanitation, (7) Affordable and Clean Energy, (8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, (9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, (10) Reducing Inequality, (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, (12) Responsible Consumption and Production, (13) Climate Action, (14) Life Below Water, (15) Life On Land, (16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, (17) Partnerships for the Goals.
On June 6, 2021, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) held a side event for the 2021 HLPF titled From Science to Practice: Harnessing Research to Build Forward Better. At this forum, a panel of experts from around the world discussed how research often fails to find its way into policy-making circles due to technical, cultural, political, institutional and financial barriers.
Unfortunately, progress on the 17 SDGs lags far behind. COVID-19 in particular has been challenging, and in some cases, the pandemic has exposed the gaps between the latest scientific discoveries and policy-making. While research and innovation alone cannot get us the 17 SDGs by 2030, collaboration across civil and political society can help get us there.
SDG 2’s aim is to end hunger, achieve food security, and promote sustainable agriculture. At the forum, the experts highlighted some of the challenges that SDG 2 faces while pursuing sustainable agriculture. For instance, the overexploitation of resources by industrial farming, exclusion of smallholder farmers, increasing precarity of subsistence farming, shifting consumption patterns, and the role of global trade in creating new nutrition challenges. Some recommendations to address these challenges were supporting farmers, drawing on local and traditional knowledge, and building collaborative networks.
In our increasingly connected world, we must find a way to bring together scientists and experts from different fields alongside public policy specialists and NGOs who can highlight historically marginalized voices. HAF’s Farmer-To-Farmer (F2F) program is an embodiment of this situation. F2F is a USAID initiative which aims to bring volunteers with expertise in numerous phases of the agricultural development value chain, including tree and plant nurseries, irrigation, cooperative-building, food safety, and commercialization of processed products to Morocco and other countries. The F2F program has demonstrated how volunteers can help individuals and organizations build local communities, bring new knowledge, and strengthen existing sustainable agriculture practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic, although devastating, showed how volunteers can even be useful in a virtual scenario. USAID encouraged F2F implementers to pair local volunteers with remote American volunteers to collaborate. HAF’s first partnership happened in the Tassa Ouirgane village in the Marrakech-Safi region. The results of this assignment include the young women registering as a formal cooperative. These women took this opportunity to learn, grow, and challenge themselves and societal norms. As F2F engages small farmers, this benefits both the farmers and the environment. Additionally, F2F builds on traditional Moroccan knowledge with the latest research on sustainable agricultural practices through volunteers. Hence, HAF’s implementation of F2F directly contributes to the pursuit of SDG 2.
Sustainable agricultural practices are sorely needed to protect the environment, preserve and expand the Earth’s natural resources, and improve soil fertility. Unfortunately, promoting industrial agriculture cannot be the answer to achieving food security through unsustainable agricultural practices. Hence, HAF helping small farmers learn and practice sustainable agriculture practices will help both economic development and achieve SDG 2.
On June 4, 2021, Project Manager Said and a group of volunteers visited the Imegdal and Tassa Ouirgane nurseries.
The first stop was the Imegdal nursery, where they met nursery caretaker Hassan on the new nursery land. To date, five terraces have been built on the new land. Three greenhouses have been installed, and a water storage system has also been built. The greenhouses will have the capacity to plant almost 60,000 carob seeds.
The planting and the irrigation system installation should be completed in a two-week time frame. After that, Hassan will plant 20,000 argan seeds. The old nursery also has 50,000 argan seeds and 60,000 carob. The carob and the argan seeds are growing very well but more slowly on the sides that face a lot of wind.
By the end of this year, after transplanting all the saplings grown at the old nursery, Said and the volunteers will move all the materials, greenhouses, and irrigation system to the new land. Hassan was asked to plant as many trees as possible on the old land for when they return it to the local cooperative.
Said and his group hope to visit the nursery often to make sure everything is installed and working well on the new nursery land and to monitor Hassan’s progress. There are now four employees working at the nursery in addition to Hassan, and the plan is to add two more workers to complete the planting process swiftly.
The terrain of Morocco provides the opportunity to achieve tremendous agricultural and environmental results. The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) plants fruit trees across the country with rural communities. In 2021, HAF-community collaboration has planted 700,000 trees of nine fruit varieties, with 6,000 farming families in 39 provinces. In addition, 1.6 million seeds in 13 nurseries located in eight provinces have also been planted.
Rural communities are transitioning away from traditional crops such as barley and corn and are placing more emphasis on planting fruit trees and taking advantage of medicinal herbs and spices. The work being done by HAF is driven by the people themselves, which is why community tree planting has been a priority project.
By involving community members through the participatory approach, HAF assists Moroccan families in generating greater revenue and food sources, but also propel themselves into a sustainable future. With that said, community tree planting has many other benefits that will only further the sustainable development Morocco seeks to achieve.
The first and most evident benefit of tree planting is its environmental impact. Climate change has gained traction in recent years as an issue that will be irreversible if people continue with their harmful practices. Mass tree planting is one way in which climate change can be combated as it has the ability to absorb solar energy and reduce air temperature which has been steadily rising. A key factor in climate change is greenhouse gases which are released through activities such as driving a vehicle, operating certain equipment, and the burning of fossil fuels.
Luckily, trees are adept at reducing the amount of CO2 and harmful toxins that exist in the air. These are the two main ways tree planting can be beneficial to the environment - but it also assists in the improvement of soil and water quality, another major issue that Morocco faces. Ultimately, tree planting is an activity that has undeniable environmental benefits which should be taken into account by Morocco as well as other nations.
It is important to acknowledge the social benefits of community tree planting. Planting trees with other members of the community reinforces a sense of belonging and a degree of empowerment that radiates beyond environmental responsibility. This increases social capital and can lead to improvements in other areas of Moroccan society such as education, employment, and infrastructure.
It has been shown that when people are included and participate in activities such as this, they are more likely to branch out and provide better insight to their needs, which is a tremendous asset in development. Overall, the value of community. is instilled in those who are asked to come together and perform a task that will provide positive results for the greater good.
Community tree planting has proven to be beneficial to human health. The World Health Organization has tagged Morocco as moderately unsafe on regard to air quality, as its mean particulate matter concentration is approximately three times higher than the globally accepted average. Poor air quality correlates with respiratory and chronic illnesses such as asthma, which can be fatal. The presence of more green spaces, which includes tree nurseries, decreases the prevalence of mental health issues. Community tree planting can also contribute to the solution of issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such isolation and lack of human interaction.
Depression and anxiety are diseases that are known to be curbed by the access to green spaces, as well as the participation in activities in such areas. Some have cited the increased appearance of certain settings as a result of tree planting to be a motivating factor in their improved wellbeing. This bodes well for the provinces of Morocco that have been working with HAF, and it can inspire other regions in Morocco to pursue the same course of action.
In conclusion, community tree planting has benefits that affect various factors of human life. For Moroccans, the project will lead to improved social capital and environmental conditions, as well as the potential to increase the biodiversity of the nation. Sustainable development is the primary mission of HAF, and community tree planting exists as a catalyst for Morocco’s future success. As of right now, the plan is to grow 10 million fruit trees by 2025. Surely, the future is bright for Morocco as it is on the verge of a beautiful breakthrough.
Fieldwork in the Toubkal community
On Tuesday, 25th of May we started our journey to the Toubkal community. We went together with the project manager Amina, program assistant Safae and volunteer Youssef. Although we did not know each other, I easily joined the group of highly motivated, knowledgeable and smiling people. The way to Toubkal was marked by many bends, small villages on the way and beautiful views. Millennial relationships between humans and nature have shaped the landscapes of the High Atlas Mountain and this is certainly breathtaking.
After we arrived at our accomodation Dar Amsouzzart we met with a group of women from the local cooperative from the village called Aguerzrane. The women with the support of HAF and the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program recently started a cherry tree nursery. The tree nursery is set in the terraced area of the Atlas Mountains. During the workshops women learned how to plant trees, watering plants, managing the field etc. and this helped them to independently manage the tree nursery which gives women the monthly income. That day highly motivated women were also discussing with us about their future plans and how HAF can support them.
During the fieldwork we met a lot of happy faces of the locals, those faces are definitely proof that HAF projects are achieving their purpose. As director of the project Amina said to me: “As long as I see the result, nothing is too hard to do.” Gratitude was repeatedly expressed to us by invitations to traditional Moroccan tea, coffee or to homemade delicacies.
Afterwards, we were warmly welcomed by the president of the village called Missour. The Foundation would like to help the women of this community to build new terraces for agriculture in order to support their cooperative and the local economy. HAF staff checked the area where they could build new terraces and plant more trees in the future.
On the 26th we spent mostly in the fields of the nearby village Amosart. HAF in collaboration with Credit Agricole Foundation helps local farmers to secure organic certification. In order to apply for the certification for mainly walnuts and almonds we measured the sizes of each farmer's lands. Farmers recognize the added value of organically grown plants and they were proud to tell us that they do not use any chemicals for their trees. We could hear farmers saying many times: “here everything is bio.”
The day was spent by tracking the farmer’s land with the accompaniment of a local farmer. Despite walking a lot up and down the terraced fields, we still had a chance to sweeten up with nicely ripe cherries, and refresh ourselves with water from springs.
The third day we continued tracking the farmer’s land sizes. Farmer Lachen received us and took us through the terraces of Agadir village. Farmers here seem to feel very comfortable in the mysterious Atlas mountain. They deftly overcome the ascents and valleys of this hilly area without much difficulty. They also find themselves very well among the fields, which are intertwined with various waterways, water springs, terraces and trees.
Despite being inspired by the amazing work of the project director Amina, I was also fascinated about the passion and joy of local farmers. Devoted volunteer Youssef and always smiling project assistant Safae also contributed to the smooth running of the fieldwork. Even though the terrain in the Toubkal region is not easy - we have seen villages that are facing lack of water, the terrain is difficult, the chances of landslides are high - people still find amazing ways to grow vegetables and plant fruit trees. Green terraces into rocky slopes and countless waterways, give the villages a unique view. This is proof of a strong will and connection with nature.
As someone who grew up on a high mountain farm myself, I was able to identify extremely well with the locals. At the same time, a visit to the Toubkal community inspired me for new projects in my home community. Above all, I recognized the tremendous importance of planting trees, which is important not only for the local economy but also for the environment.
What is meant by climate change?
The concept of climate change is generally defined as the changes that occur at the level of the climate with a rise in the temperature of the planet as well as the change that occurs at the level of natural phenomena, which often results in damage and degradation to the environment and biological diversity.
In other words, climate change is an imbalance in the usual climatic conditions, which is attributed to human activity that leads to a change in the composition of the atmosphere.
Climate change and afforestation: Morocco as an example
The whole world has recently witnessed unusual and unprecedented climatic phenomena that have produced countless effects. The number of people at risk due to the increase in water stress grew to about 75 million in 2020, according to the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change. This number is likely to rise in the following years, and many parts of the globe are drier today due to the lack of rain. This imbalance in rain across the globe is attributed to sudden climatic changes, which prompted countries to move to alleviate the impact of this phenomenon by holding several conferences and meetings that prompted the study of global warming and the awareness of countries regarding its impact that threatens the future of life on the planet.
Specialists believe that human activities are the most prominent cause of climate change and global warming, as the industrial activities on which modern life depends have greatly raised the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially with the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The decline of forest areas is also one of the main causes of climate change, as people cut trees in most regions to create space for agriculture and construction. Morocco, for example, has a depleted forest area of more than 30,000 hectares annually, according to the Moroccan High Commission of Water and Forests (HCWF).
If one of the main causes of climate change is the earth losing, in general, a large proportion of plant species and living organisms, then the solution to overcoming this dilemma is to rebuild this land with trees, which is what most countries of the world have been involved in. This is the case in Morocco, whose goal has been to move forward in overcoming or mitigating the phenomenon and the consequences of climate change.
The High Atlas Foundation is a Moroccan-American organization, and it has been one of the contributors to this process since 2000. Since then, it has devoted all its activities to the long-term alleviation of rural poverty and the promotion of agricultural development, especially afforestation. Additionally, HAF works toward the empowerment of women and youth through capacity-building efforts, strengthening confidence, skills, and livelihoods.
The efforts made by HAF enabled a significant increase in the area and rate of afforestation in Morocco. It has been able to accomplish this by working in partnership with the Department of Water and Forests and some other partners (i.e., ECOSIA, F2F Farmer-to-Farmer). The rate of trees distributed by HAF has continued to increase each year. This year alone, HAF planted approximately 700,000 trees throughout the regions in Morocco. The trees were transplanted from the HAF’s 11 nurseries. HAF takes into consideration the quality of the trees, the appropriate conditions in which seedlings are prepared through the introduction of modern techniques that are compatible with a healthy environment, and the safety precautions enforced by the Moroccan Ministry of Health.
What distinguishes the trees grown in HAF-community nurseries is that they are of high value compared to other agricultural crops. Fruit trees contribute to environmental awareness and food security. They also reduce soil erosion while providing fresh air.
This has inspired HAF to pursue its work passionately and persistently, as it aims to contribute to the reversal of climate change that threatens the future of humanity, by increasing the quality and quantity of trees grown and planted within the Kingdom of Morocco.
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