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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

I’m volunteering with High Atlas Foundation through a sabbatical option at my not-for-profit organization in the United States. While I’ve learned a great deal here about sustainability, community empowerment, and agriculture, seeing a new nursery take form from the beginning stages has been one of my unexpectedly exciting experiences here.

From July 20 through July 22, HAF's Project Manager and I traveled to the new nursery HAF is establishing in Oujda in partnership with a youth protection center. This new partnership includes about 1.5 hectares of land to use for planting, once cleared of brush and weeds. On arriving at the site, we took an inventory of the work that’s been done already, and what’s to come.

In the short time since starting the partnership, HAF has cleared a small piece of the land and prepared over 20,000 soil bags for both argan and carob seeds. During our visit, we worked to move the nursery forward by purchasing carob seeds, as well as moving the pre-soaked argan seeds into their next stage of growth.

Argan seeds, notoriously hard to crack, take time to grow. Because of that, we’ve taken the seeds and buried them in layers of sand and soil with plastic underneath, to keep them extra moist while sprouting. The new nursery groundskeeper will keep a close eye on the sprouts and move them individually to be planted as they emerge.

The groundskeeper and directors of the youth protection center have involved the children in the process from this early stage. Being involved will empower them with structure, education, and positive role models and leadership, while deriving direct benefits for hundreds of Moroccan families who will ultimately be the recipients of these trees.

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An old Moroccan proverb, “One hand can’t clap,” is one that embodies both the approach to and application of the work implemented by The High Atlas Foundation (HAF). HAF is made up of a team of people dedicated to empowering Moroccans by engaging them in the process of achieving sustainable change for their communities. This year may not even be halfway over, but 2018 has already been abundant with accomplishments due to the collective hard work of HAF staff and Moroccan people. 

In tandem with Morocco’s planting season starting in early January, HAF kicked off 2018 with its annual tree-planting event on 1/15/18, during which 3,000 trees were planted with 57 schools in 10 provinces across the country. The planting season, which lasted through March, has been extremely fruitful—both literally and figuratively. HAF’s founder and president, reflected on this year’s milestones. “We replanted [organic fruit trees] to the maximum extent in HAF’s 11 nurseries and opened three new ones, totaling 1.4 million seeds that were placed in the ground by farming families, children, women, and men—young and forever young.” 

Since January, HAF has transplanted approximately 225,000 organic fruit saplings from its nurseries located in seven provinces (Al Haouz, Azilal, Fes, Ifrane, Moulay Yacoub, Oujda, and Taroudant) into farmers’ fields and schoolyards. HAF also continued to plant seeds and cuttings in HAF nurseries, for which data had been collected since last April to track one year’s worth of planting: a total of 53,000 seeds in Oujda; 462,483 in Fes; 200,000 in Ifrane; 100,000 in Azilal; and 394,700 in Al Haouz. In addition, HAF has distributed 190,872 trees of different fruit and nut varieties to 156 schools (7,341 trees), farmers (183,501 trees), and a Jewish cemetery (30 trees) since December 2017. 

Notably, the value of these figures goes far beyond the raw number of planted and distributed seeds and trees, which are indeed impressive. Rather, the value of planting and distribution intrinsically lies in the empowerment of and unity among local people, eventual economic growth, improved livelihoods of communities, and the offset of severe environmental challenges; the participation of HAF in Morocco’s planting season are undeniably immeasurable. “It took our team and partners 11 years to plant our first million trees and seeds, and to now have planted 1.4 million in a single year shows that passion and good actions spread from person to person, place to place, region to region, world to world,” Dr. Ben-Meir proudly proclaimed. 

HAF has deep gratitude for all of its existing partnerships with government agencies and delegations, universities, associations, and other nonprofit organizations, which help maximize HAF’s impact on Moroccan communities. In particular, the High Commission on Waters and Forests, Project PUR, and Ecosia directly benefit HAF’s agricultural programs. 

Specifically, the High Commission of Waters and Forests and their regional administrations—particularly the Marrakech and Ouezzane regional managements—have been exemplary in their partnership and contributions to community tree planting by contributing trees and land. Their generosity provides farming families opportunities to plant and better secure both their livelihoods and environment for many decades to come. Project PUR is another valuable partner as they provide fruit trees for communities in the Ourika Valley of the Al Haouz province. Additionally, they assist with monitoring and registering for securing carbon credit certification. HAF is grateful for their close teamwork that has built capacities to track planting accomplishments. Last, but certainly not least, the German social enterprise Ecosia has made HAF’s and its community partners’ planting season in Morocco “one that we will never forget,” described by HAF's President. “They enabled us to create new nurseries, to plant as expansively as possible, and to respond to the organic fruit tree needs of people and schools wherever they are in the nation. That kind of support has been the greatest gift of 2018.” 

Yet, this year is far from over and there are plentiful prospects of agricultural development—both known and unknown at this time—for which HAF will certainly undertake. As Moroccan farmers consistently voice their desire to transition to cash-crop farming and also identify agriculture as a major Moroccan employment sector, tree planting as well as establishing fruit tree and plant nurseries are two ways in which HAF supports farming communities. These ongoing agricultural projects will contribute to continuously increasing the impact on tens of thousands of Moroccans and rural household incomes. 

Further, it is never too early to identify goals for the upcoming planting season in 2019. As HAF's President reflected, “The end of planting seasons seem to always end with a sense of relief and fulfillment as well as with thoughts of what could have been.” He eloquently deliberated, “What if we were to plant in every land grant that has been so kindly given to us? What if we planted with every family that asked and would most welcome this opportunity that keeps giving for generations? What if we would have planted as much as what is really possible and absolutely needed by the people, in order to overcome harsh conditions of poverty?” The aim of every subsequent planting season is to address such open-ended questions—to identify sustainable solutions for organic agriculture and environmental development. “We do all we can to ensure the next planting season results in every field filled, and every need embraced and allowed to exist no more,” HAF's President explained. Considering HAF staff’s tenacious work ethic and genuine passion, it is without a doubt that the organization’s mission will continue to be fulfilled for not only the remainder of 2018 but also for many years to come.

 

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The Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program is a USAID development initiative that is implemented throughout the world. During the past 20 years, I had the opportunity to volunteer for 80 assignments in 14 countries. In Morocco, the F2F program is administered by Land O’Lakes International Development (LOL), a U.S. agricultural cooperative, who provided me with the opportunity to volunteer in Morocco for the first time.

My assignment title was (Improvement of schools tree nurseries) and was hosted by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Marrakech.  HAF is a US non-profit organization founded in 2000 for the purpose of advancing sustainable development in Morocco and assists communities in achieving their projects in agriculture, education, health, and multiculturism. HAF is headed by Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir and very dedicated staff members.

SAMI’s PROJECT enables students to thrive in a healthy school environment. The Project spreads the culture of planting among students so that they may discover and practice innovative agriculture techniques. HAF assists primary schools through to universities to develop and establish plant nurseries and wild gardens. These school nurseries provide students with hands-on learning opportunities in organic green culture and sustainable income development.  The Project also promotes school infrastructure, such as building classrooms, bathrooms, and clean water systems.

The High Atlas Foundation has eleven nurseries in five provinces of Morocco, where they produce varieties of organic fruit trees, forestry trees, and herbal and wild medicinal plants. Trees include; almond, Argan, carob, cherry, fig, grape, lemon, olive, pomegranate, quince, and walnut.  Plants also include Calendula officinalis.

Since 2003, HAF planted approximately 3 million seeds and trees with farming families and schools, which impacted thousand household incomes. During this 2018 planting season (January through March), HAF’s SAMI’s PROJECT planted 15,000 trees with 155 schools engaging 18,000 students in 23 provinces.

During my assignment I visited middle and high schools, met with staff and observed students while they planted trees in their schoolyards. School boys and girls worked together, were full of energy and enthusiasm, and expressed connection with the environment.

Planting trees helps the environment, builds forestry, produces food and a source of income for families, connect students and communities with nature, and promote organic green growth. HAF provides a good model that is transferable beyond Morocco for green organic growth and development.

 

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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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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Gueliz, Marrakech, Morocco
$27,674 raised of $36,000 goal
 
303 donations
$8,326 to go
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