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

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has been working with farming families in Morocco since 2000 to plant trees for sustainable agricultural development. The first question we are often asked is “Why plant trees?” Let us address that question as well as exploring other questions about tree planting in Morocco: who, where, what, when, and how.

Community-managed tree planting is of vital importance to the nation. As noted by former-volunteer and HAF Director of Projects since 2014, Amina El Hajjami, all nurseries that HAF supports are created and managed by members of local communities. When we grow trees in this inclusive way, we engage with everyone in the community: the youth as well as the men and women. When we plant with a participatory approach, we are also planting the “seeds” of dialogue, collaboration, and eventual financial independence. As noted by HAF President Yossef Ben-Meir, this can result in projects that do not involve trees: clean drinking water, school infrastructure, building a cooperative, preventing soil erosion, and more.

Typically, HAF works with communities in remote mountain regions, places where they experience marginalization, social and environmental difficulties, where they have minimal infrastructure, lack of opportunities, and have not benefited from outside assistance. We begin by asking not which types of trees, where they will be planted, or who will be responsible, but first asking community members about their daily challenges and their hopes and dreams for their future. Because these are traditional areas, we might initially sit in gender-separated spaces, but this can change as time passes.

We begin with an empowerment workshop over a period of days even before deciding on projects - something we call an “Imagine Empowerment Experience.” This is important because many rural people, especially women, are uncomfortable communicating their ideas publicly, so we must address this first and empower the residents to understand and assert their voice. Most of the women have not attended school, thus being unaware of their rights. The 4-day, 32-hour empowerment workshop includes seven areas of daily living: emotion, relationship, money, body, work, sexuality, and spirituality. In all these areas, women need to have clear visions of how to be stronger and develop themselves: for instance, the relationship between their personalities and money, developing a closer relationship with their bodies, often used for a lot of heavy work. Through this, the women learn how to contribute their ideas. We then find that most of these women want to create projects, cooperatives, or associations. At that point, they are ready to participate in the multiple follow-up sessions.

When we follow-up with community planning meetings, we prioritize, map, and visualize the future that the participants seek. We create an action plan. One strategy is mapping the natural resources in the region - water, trees, and so on - and then adding social mapping of the local infrastructure, such as hospitals. Another technique - dream mapping - allows the men, women, and youth to talk about their different visions for the community and to create a map or picture of what that will look like in reality. We draw because of the low literacy rate pervasive in these communities. We also have many strategies for determining the community’s needs and priorities. From this, we plan how to support them and write proposals for our funding partners.

All of these workshops and meetings occur before we know about the role of tree-planting in the community. The process involves self-discovery, confidence-building, building our sense of belief, assessing all of our options, analyzing our challenges, doing it collectively, building consensus, and sharing information. By the time the trees get into the ground, imagine how many days and weeks and hours and energy and the people and thoughts and partnership and all these things have to happen for this one tree in one place to get into the ground.

So, why do the rural people of Morocco consistently prioritize fruit trees as an important initiative for them. The answer is, in part, that 80% of their income is based in agriculture. Seventy percent of agricultural land is covered by corn and barley, yet this only generates 10-15% of agricultural revenue because of the low price and the importing of these staple crops to meet demand. This is no longer as viable for them as it once was. In the past, people mostly worked for survival, but now they have new priorities, like supporting their children’s pursuit of education to enhance their life situation. People who add fruit trees on their land have more income than those who plant only subsistence crops, but they cannot give up arable land while seeds take a few years to mature, which would leave them without even the low income they earn from their crops, so the nurseries on land lent in-kind by public, civil, and private agencies are needed. It is a mercy - Rahma - to make the transition gradual. It also requires a lot of water to coax a tree sapling from a seed, water that is often scarce in places without reliable irrigation systems.

We also plant trees because of its positive environmental impact. The trees reduce erosion as rain moves soil down the mountain and water drains directly into the rivers. With trees, the soil absorbs and retains the water. It also cleans and strengthens the environment more than barley and corn could ever do by sequestering carbon dioxide. All the trees that we’ve planted from December to March are organic - walnut, almond, pomegranate, fig, grape, carob, argan, and more - a total of 13 varieties. We see that communities allow land to regenerate without using it for their herds, giving it the chance to revitalize. In places like Ouezzane, this allows the natural growth of different varieties of fig, as much as 10 endemic types.

HAF uses donated land in rural regions nationwide to plant seeds in our 11 nurseries, which are run by community partnerships and cooperatives. HAF has different partnerships that enable us to use land at no cost: agreements with the Center for the Protection of Children in Fes and in Oujda; the Departments of Water and Forests in Marrakech and Tetouane; a cooperative and an association in Al Haouz and Azilal; one in the Salam school in Ifrane; with a women’s association in Toubkal of Taroudant province; with the Moroccan Jewish community in Tamsloht and Ouarzazate; and also with University Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah in Fès. Truthfully, we have more land than we have finances to plant.

We are grateful to the partners who help us finance this work. ECOSIA is maximizing planting in these nurseries and supporting monitoring. The National Initiative for Human Development helped fund a mountainside nursery at a thousand-year-old Hebrew saint’s burial site, land donated by the Moroccan Jewish community. We are excited about a newly-signed partnership agreement with an innovative, new business - Moroccan Trees - and also solar panels and water delivery systems funded by National Federation of Electricity, Electronics and Renewable Energies. The USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program is absolutely critical in providing technical and capacity-building support for the cooperatives. The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Research in the U.S. State Department’s environmental education division, and many private donors, have helped serve Moroccan communities as we are currently able.

It took the foundation 11 years, from 2003 to 2014, to plant its first one million trees. To symbolically mark that achievement, we began our annual planting day that now takes place on the third Monday in January each year. On planting day, most of us at HAF work in groups of staff and volunteers (international and Moroccan) to plant trees with the communities and associations, schools and cooperatives in all the provinces where we work. On that first, glorious day, people were planting until 2 or 3 in the morning. It marks the New Year and Martin Luther King day, which is known as the day of volunteering, giving, unity, diversity, peace, compassion, mercy, and love. It’s a joyful day for planting. This year, in those 11 nurseries, with community partners, 1.4 million seeds were planted, and we are supported by the partners.

Why plant trees? The High Atlas foundation is dedicated to valuing, processing, certifying organic, building cooperatives, and all the entire value chain. We are with the young people who are part of these environmental education activities. As we plant trees, we see life-long memories that are powerfully informative to school children all across Morocco and the cooperative members. We are here to be of service to the farming families, rural communities, and urban neighborhoods that invite us to be part of their development experience.

Anyone can now participate in tree planting by buying online from our e-store as a donation or in honor or memory of someone - even one tree can make a difference. We are not a private entity to generate revenue or profit but to supply trees to farmers and be able to have a seed to plant anew, for a bright, healthy future.

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There are a number of reasons that explain the ascendency over decades, and now the mainstream, of participatory approaches to meaningful development. We often see that when people decide upon the project or change that they most want, that they will give their energy and time to help ensure its continuity and success. We widely appreciate that each local context has comparable similarities and differences from the others. Environments, relationships, and many other factors come together to make each location special and unique, and in regards to what is specifically appropriate and desired by its people.

But there is another indelible quality to participatory action for enduring change: that is, the experience and process itself helps to reveal the bound connections between the project sectors of life and how they impact our different social and economic groups.

For example, it sadly remains so that clean and accessible drinking water remains the most common priority that rural communities in Morocco determine for themselves. We certainly need to acknowledge that in recent decades there have been important improvements, but we also cannot deny that girls’ participation in education is seriously undermined by the lack of water and sanitation systems at rural schools and that the harsh burden of fetching water from kilometers away primarily falls upon girls and women. Accessible clean drinking water not only reduces infant mortality and enhances quality of life with less disease, but also directly and measurably (up to 16% according to the World Bank) enables girls to study with basic comfort and without shame. Thus, water access and girls’ education are positively linked.

Here is another example: Let us consider the enormity of the national demand for fruit trees, and in requiring an effective investment. What is the plan on the national level to generate trees as farming families transition from traditional barley and corn to organic fruit that can be cultivated and sold in lucrative markets, particularly as raw products are processed? It takes two years for a seed to grow into a sapling, and farmers must sow and grow crops each year in order to make most basic ends meet. The provision of land for farmers to build their nurseries as a contribution where rural communities cannot meet their needs, is one essential criteria for overcoming poverty conditions.

Partnership with government agencies that can provide land in-kind for farming communities is therefore vital for the nation to achieve its goal of billions of trees. The Department of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, provincial authorities, public universities, and thoughtful civil society groups are all in a position to grant the use of land for communities to build their nurseries. At regional levels, all these agencies have done so, which underscores the point that the interplay at all sectors, faiths, administrative tiers, and components of society, together have an inescapable and undeniable role within the sustainable development process, without which, the most critical needs of the people cannot be met, even when they are empowered, determined, organized, and committed to achieving change. Unity of all strata and sectors, when combined with the community’s own unity and consensus around their plans for actions and projects, are essential to the building of better days that we need.

Part of natural resource management is about gender and youth empowerment, just as agricultural growth is tied to social solidarity, and actions that are in unison. Financial independence of women’s cooperatives is as much bound to markets as it is to water and self-discovery, justice, and participation. The High Atlas Foundation embraces the participatory approach and participatory activities for development, because it reveals these interconnections and the multifaceted plans required to bring along all sectors, individuals, groups, and layers toward a shared fulfillment.

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The High Atlas Foundation & USAID kick-off the very first Farmer-To-Farmer virtual assignment in Morocco, which will be served by former Peace Corps Volunteer and F2F Volunteer Mark, working integrally with Rachida the president of Aboughlo Women's Cooperative. The assignment aims to follow up on an agricultural project managed by the Tassa Ouirgane Women's Cooperative in the Ouirgane municipality, Al Haouz province, where they grow organic fruit trees and provide them for farming families and schools in the region. Together, we continue to build as ever the capacities and opportunities of agricultural cooperatives in Morocco.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) & USAID kick-off the very first Farmer-To-Farmer (F2F) virtual assignment in Morocco, that will serve the Tassa Ouirgane Women's Cooperative, and help them evaluate their organic tree nursery project in order to move forward and spread the culture of planting.

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Bill served as a volunteer consultant to the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) through the Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) for two weeks in January 2020. Originally from New Mexico, now residing in Boston, Bill collaborated as an F2F volunteer with four of HAF’s tree nursery cooperatives in southern Morocco. He was tasked with improving their productivity. One immediate benefit of his visits with Moroccan farmers at these sites is that he was able to share not only his technical and business skills but also to find ways for the four individual cooperatives within the same province to share their own specialized skills with one another. 

Farmer-to-Farmer responds to the local needs of host-country farmers and organizations like HAF in developing and transitional countries. It leverages the expertise of volunteers from U.S. farms, universities, cooperatives, agribusinesses, and nonprofits. As an example, during Bill’s visits, he offered guidance to sustainably maximize the quality and quantity of organic fruit trees. This directly coincided with the goals of HAF, the current F2F-implementer in Morocco, to develop project plans with donor partners that local communities determine and manage.

Bill’s assignment was fortuitously timely, as it was during Morocco’s planting season, when partners are driven to plant as much and as well as possible. Early in the season, cooperative members consider the number of seedlings to plant along with the expected returns from their plantings. In response to this need, Bill supported them in their cost-benefit analysis that, along with a reevaluation of tree pricing, informed the nurseries’ operational budgets.

Bill’s work on pricing trees was immediately utilized by the cooperatives in order for them to meet the rigorous project criteria of their donor organization, Ecosia (a German search engine that finances reforestation around the world). As a result, Ecosia now supports planting 150,000 seeds of almond, carob, olive, and walnut trees at the nurseries of the four cooperatives where Bill provided assessments: Tassa Ouirgane, Imdoukal Znaga, Akrich Village, and the Adrar Cooperative. At the latter, he also instigated a soil analysis for the nursery caretaker, who complained of substandard planting soil. 

The groups he worked with acted upon Bill’s observation and coordinated capacity-building workshops. For example, the members of the Women’s Cooperative of Tassa Ouirgane, since Bill’s work with HAF, have participated in monthly technical trainings facilitated by Hassan, a father of two in his thirties who is the caretaker of a nearby nursery cooperative. Bill had met Hassan when they identified a more efficient water delivery system for Imdoukal Znaga Nursery. That collaboration led to the identification of system material needs and related costs. The local F2F-HAF team communicated this information to FENELEC, a federation of Moroccan companies, who then funded the solar pumping components and training needed for the improved the water system.

These lasting outcomes are deeply relevant to worldwide F2F programming today. The current global pandemic makes it extremely difficult, even impossible, to field volunteers on F2F assignments. Until the pandemic lifts, needy host-country organizations will not receive assistance from foreign volunteers. It is profoundly helpful for the emerging agricultural cooperatives that in all thirty-five of the United States Agency for International Development’s F2F-country programs we are currently able to, for example, enable local experts like Hassan to complete new F2F assignments. Bill’s connection-making has benefited several cooperatives in this way, illuminating its necessity in our new global reality.

That F2F Volunteers excel in Morocco and around the world speaks to their being exceptional people. A testament to this is not only Bill’s diverse and vast knowledge-base (technical, financial, and managerial), but also his wholehearted generosity. However, it must be said that volunteers also require a conducive context that enables the potential of their work to be achieved. Through essential participatory dialogue, cooperative members are able to attain consensus on their goals and are ready to act on the agricultural project plans that they have themselves created well before F2F volunteers arrive in country. By laying groundwork in advance, HAF can ensure that the volunteers’ recommendations are directed toward what is most needed and wanted. In truth, cooperatives more often consider recommendations and accomplish their objectives with new partnerships that are contributive – in both directions – as was the case with Bill’s successful assignment, assisting Moroccan people to advance transformative initiatives.

Since it began in 1985, the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program of USAID has supported volunteers from all 50 states in their completion of over 15,000 assignments in more than 115 countries. It is an honor for the High Atlas Foundation to implement this program in Morocco, and this program is made even more meaningful as HAF was founded by former Peace Corps Volunteers. Bill’s good effects are rippling onward. Upon their reflection we can see that the global positives of F2F – and of Peace Corps fielding more than 235,000 volunteers since 1962 – are incalculable.

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is president of the High Atlas Foundation and a sociologist.

The High Atlas Foundation is a Moroccan association and a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2000 and committed to furthering sustainable development. HAF supports Moroccan communities to take action in implementing human development initiatives. HAF promotes organic agriculture, women’s empowerment, youth development, education, and health. Since 2011, HAF has Consultancy Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

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Climate change is one of the major issues that humans face in this day and age. It is a phenomenon that has social, economic, and political impacts. As the progress of a community is directly correlated with the advancement of women and their capability to participate in economic, social and environmental development, women around the world are contributing to  the reduction of climate change and its effects.

Moroccan women play a crucial role in the development of the community on a local and professional level. They support the reduction of climate change, for example, by working in agriculture. The High Atlas Foundation works with two groups of women in Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas Mountains who are engaged in planting organic fruit trees--almond, walnut, olive, and cherry trees-- in two separate nurseries.

Working with women in the High Atlas Mountains

Thanks to a project financed by the United Nations Development Program, the High Atlas Foundation facilitated the creation of an organic tree nursery, the implementation of a new well, and the organization of a participatory meeting and training concerning environmental protections with the farmers and the men’s association in the village of Tassa Ouirgane in Al Haouz Province. The project incorporated a crucial gender approach that is both encouraged and supported by the National Coordinator Microfinance Program UNDP-FEM Morocco.   

After the project was completed in October 2019, HAF and Ecosia committed to the vision to plant 40,000 almond, walnut, and olive seeds and cuttings in 2020. The nursery is managed by the High Atlas Foundation and five members of the women’s cooperative in Tassa Ouirgane. The women have also benefited from a participatory approach meeting as well as empowerment workshops. They have established cooperative policies and procedures, and participated in democratic voting for decision-making in the cooperative. They also learned more about cooperative management, how to plant seeds and irrigate fruit trees, and how to create and implement a strategic plan. In addition, they received visits and workshops about the needs of the nursery by  an American expert that is part of USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program.

In January 2020, the High Atlas Foundation, with Ecosia, helped 27 women in Aguerzrane village in the Toubkal commune of the Taroudant province to create a nursery of 30,000 organic almond, walnut, and cherry trees. The women in this village benefited from participatory approach meetings, empowerment workshops, and training about creating cooperatives and how to plant seeds and cuttings.

This project, in which women plant organic fruit trees,  aims to:

  • Create an income for the women to enhance their quality of life and for the girls to complete their studies;
  • Learn how to plant several types of organic fruit trees;
  • Support the reduction of the effect of climate change by planting trees;
  • Provide fruit trees to Ouirgane commune, Toubkal commune, and for other Morocco communities;
  • Exchange knowledge and experiences with other women in other villages and other provinces in Morocco; and
  • Create a strong personality for the women and the girls and create a great relationship between the women in the villages.

Witnessing Women’s Transformations

Even though the women started work in the nurseries just four months ago,  and even though they are from rural areas, they have already learned a lot about agriculture for the first time in their lives. They are very happy to work together, and they are starting to feel small transformations within themselves--step by step.

Each time I visited with these women, I witnessed a slight change in their personas. They are more positive and they want to know more. Instead of investing their time and thoughts into the opinions of others,  they now focus on their own personal and professional visions.

One of the women was very timid during our first empowerment workshop. When I asked her to share her story with the group, she started to cry. She shared with us that she is divorced and has a daughter. She felt that society viewed her as a bad woman because of this. She admitted wanting to work but allowed her fear of what other people might say about it interfere with pursuing a job search.

After one year of workshops, meetings, and follow up, she is now the leader of one of the groups working in the nursery.  Not only that, she is also responsible for the management of the nursery along with her colleagues as well as the payroll for male caretakers. She is very happy about the way her confidence and self-image have improved through this experience. Through her involvement in the tree nursery and the empowerment trainings, she has begun to claim the power she has always harbored within her and feels more comfortable with who she is.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Marrakech, Morocco
$40,952 raised of $50,000 goal
526 donations
$9,048 to go
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