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

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the High Atlas Foundation had the opportunity to participate in a webinar about civil rights in the light of COVID-19. The webinar was organized by Innovation for Change, a global network of people and organizations who work together to protect civic space and overcome restrictions to our basic freedoms of assembly, association, and speech.

Forty members from various Arab countries such as Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Oman, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Mauritania and Bahrain attended the virtual event.

The webinar opened with attendees introducing themselves as well as the organizations represented. This was followed by an overview about the Innovation for Change initiative.  Then, the facilitator of the webinar defined civil rights as those related to the human person, his dignity, existence, development and growth. Civil rights ensure peoples' physical and mental integrity, life, and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, color, age, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion, and disability. Every human being should have these rights wherever s/he is. 

As for political rights, they include procedural fairness in law, such as the rights of the accused. This includes:

  • the right to a fair trial,
  • due process,
  • the right to seek redress or a legal remedy,
  • rights of participation in civil society and politics such as freedom of association,
  • the right to assemble,
  • the right to petition,
  • the right of self-defense, and
  • the right to vote.

The conversation focused on three articles from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These articles are as follows.

 Article 19: 

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, orally, either in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. Respect for the rights or reputations of others. The protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals.

Article 21:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 22:

1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.

The webinar also tackled another important question, which is: Are all Arabs aware of their civil rights?

To answer this question there were two opinions.

The first one emphasized that citizens are aware of their civil rights given that indicators signify heightened awareness to some extent after the Arab Spring.

The second opinion is that, until now, generally speaking, people have no awareness of their civil rights and, specifically, policies related to emergencies. Moreover, they see that in times of crisis, the  government makes major decisions without engaging civil society, 

Several organizations shared some best practices and about some of the activities that have been initiated by civil society during the pandemic, such as raising awareness about staying home during this difficult time, delivery of medicine, and sharing with constituents accurate and reliable information about the pandemic and associated measures for prevention and containment. Morocco was a great example in this regard, as in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been one of the first countries to implement a strict lockdown, including a prohibition on all domestic and international flights as well as ground travel between cities.

Responding to these extraordinary challenges, the High Atlas Foundation intends to start organizing virtual capacity-building workshops as an alternative solution during this uncertain time in the framework of USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program (F2F). Workshops will cover topics such as food safety, business plan development, financial management, and record keeping.

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Is it hubris, that in the face of worry and challenge and fundamental concerns about the future, that we put aside from what we may have, to plant trees for a tomorrow - a benefit for a distant day?

May it actually be our nature to uphold nature, even when we are confronted so suddenly with a threat to ourselves and to people we hold dear?

Yes, we are saying - plant trees. Plant them now. Plant them well and far. Plant with us. Ask others to plant. Plant in the face of our shared trial.

When the same wisdom from a most and least far past, and from places surrounding and furthest – that is, when a specific knowledge from across time and place – is delivered in front of us, it seems an interesting pearl, and one to take to heart.

Planting life seeds is practical and soulful, it is for today and tomorrow, it refines our bodies and mind, it satisfies all senses, it brings a beautiful rest, it is personal and communal for all coming time, it is the epitome of existence, especially when we do it with children.

It is also what we can do right now. Plant with hope in the face of confinement, restriction, and scare about health.

Today, we cannot do it with schools, but a farmer can do it in a nursery and field – a lovely opening for an everlasting good, in the face of a trial.

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The rocky terrains of the High Atlas Mountains are hard to navigate even for the most seasoned motorists, but our driver Hassan, a native Amazigh, knows by heart all their twists and turns. On our way to Tadmamt, he was humming to the relaxing melodies by Johnny Cash on the radio, while guiding the car on the ground with such tenderness as if he were stroking off the wrinkles on Grandma’s face. We chatted on and off. He told me that he was a taxi driver for 25 years until five years ago, when he quit and started working for the High Atlas Foundation. “My life has changed so much since I took this job,” he remarked as he made another turn on the edge of a cliff, “For the better. Everything’s calmer now, and more stable.”

Our first stop was a nursery for walnuts and almonds. The nursery was already perfectly set up; the trip was just a routine check on its progress. There were 200,000 saplings in the nursery. On the higher patch of land grew the newly-planted saplings, still accumulating power to break the ground, while on the lower patch you could already see, here and there, tiny branches sprouting up in the plastic bags. A drip irrigation system was installed on both patches, and there were four technicians to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Amina, our project manager, was talking to the farmers in Tamazight as the rest of us sat down for a tea break. One of the farmers cracked open some walnuts with a stone to serve as snacks. He was clearly skilled at the task, aiming at just the right angle and always succeeding with the first attempt. Over tea, my fellow volunteer Zineb, a young Moroccan with a degree in biology, told me about the incredible biodiversity in the High Atlas Mountains – all kinds of plants grow here, from cedars to kermes oaks. “The mountain bears more treasure than it receives credit for,” she said before we left.

Our second stop was also a nursery, and it was run by women. They received training only 19 days ago, yet they already managed to plant 14,022 seeds of olive trees and carob trees in the ground. Before they took up this occupation, these women, some of them as young as 18, were spending most of their time home, doing pretty much nothing. Right now, they have become a trained team of nursery workers and were preparing themselves for the intensive up-coming tree-planting that was no less than a battle against time.

The strategic council that greeted us that day was comprised of one older woman and two young girls in their early 20s. The objective of the day was to devise a plan that would somehow make possible the planting of 15,000 olive trees and 10,978 carob trees within March. It was some sophisticated operations management with many variables: they had to figure out who does how much of what at what time. To make matters worse, the attendance couldn’t be taken for granted – some women were still reluctant about joining, presumably encumbered by certain social expectations.

“We’ll just make two plans. One for when they show up, another for when they don’t,” suggested Amina, our project manager, who was undaunted by the situation. She just pulled out a notebook and drew up two schedules.

Tree-planting takes more than two hands and a good intention. It requires hard work, extensive knowledge, as well as careful planning. The women at the nursery have to procure enough plastic bags, fill them with soil before the seeds arrive, and soak the seeds in water to filter out the empty ones. And this is only the preparatory work before planting. Since all HAF’s co-ops abide by the organic principles, they will also have to prepare compost and hone their techniques in organic farming. But of course, they don’t have to go through all this by themselves; HAF will assist them throughout the process.

What started out as spontaneous workshops would soon turn into a fully-fledged co-op. Amina informed them about the two options: they could either receive compensation at the year’s end depending on the number of trees they successfully grow, or they could opt for a monthly “budget” instead. In either case, HAF would provide them with all the materials needed and conduct regular trainings. Still unsure about their newly acquired tree-planting techniques, the women chose the latter. “Next year we will switch to the first option,” the older woman said with confidence.

By the time we got back, it was nearly eight o’clock. “A demain,” Hassan said to me with a gentle smile. His lined face reminded me of the mountains, of their solemn presence and remarkable radiance. Her strength and grace becomes that of the people she breeds, and through them she lives, with infinite energy and all-encompassing love.

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I am a late career American businessman.  Currently, I volunteer about four times each year with NGOs in developing and middle-income countries.  I assist across a range of business disciplines (marketing, sales, strategic planning, and organizational improvement.) Over the past 10 years, I have conducted 55 volunteer assignments in more than 20 countries.

I am just now completing a 15 day volunteer business assignment in Marrakech, Morocco.  My client is the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a United States and Moroccan NGO offering as its core mission the operation of 11 tree nurseries in Morocco. These nurseries provide fruit and nut trees at no- or low-cost to communities, schools, hospitals, and small farmers. Recipients of the trees earn revenue from the resultant fruits and nuts, use the trees as windbreaks, and, at schools, provide lessons in agriculture for students.

My specific assignment has been to evaluate four of HAF’s tree nurseries, determine their needs – especially blockages to their growth – and propose follow-up activity to address their needs.  Each nursery had its own special set of needs. Some needs are beyond my expertise, so I am developing recommendations to HAF to bring in expert volunteers to support areas where I am deficient.  For example, HAF will need a cost accountant to establish tracking of financial results and to calculate payback of greenhouse construction. Other needs include soil analysis, nursery operations, and cooperative leadership and management.

One of the nurseries I evaluated is being run by a women’s cooperative. This female co-op was granted the franchise to manage the nursery about one month ago without any prior training.  To ensure that this group is not being set up to fail, HAF has already conducted co-op management lessons for the women as well as introductory nursery operations classes.  I did my small part by delivering marketing and sales instruction.

The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture has established a goal of planting one billion trees in the country.  I suspect no one thought to run the numbers to determine that planting so many trees would actually take close to 1000 years.  But on the positive side, it does provide an attention-grabbing aspiration. And HAF is doing its part to chip away at that one billion tree goal.

After viewing four existing nurseries for HAF, I was asked to conduct a site visit to a prospective new nursery.  But there was a special twist to this land.  It is currently occupied by a 300-year-old Jewish Cemetery. The Jewish population of Morocco has dwindled from 250,000 after World War II to about 2,200 today.  The small but active remnant community has discovered that offering old cemeteries to HAF as tree nurseries actually helps to preserve them as historical and memorial sites for diasporic Jews to return to and visit. As long as no gravesites are damaged, the disused cemeteries actually receive refurbishment and ongoing care from a joint nursery/cemetery caretaker.

HAF does more that grow and distribute trees.  It provides social services to poor communities.  For example, one small village in the High Atlas Mountains has no nearby source of clean drinking water. Consequently, the village girls (but not the boys) spend 16% of their time fetching water from a distant source. Of course, such a time-consuming daily task cuts into their education.  In fact, not a single girl in the village attends school beyond the sixth grade. HAF has offered to pay for and organize a clean water source in the village.  Just one caveat: every household in the village must sign a contract that they will send their daughters to school beyond primary school.  All families must sign on before HAF will pay for the water. As of my writing, HAF is expecting their collective response any day now.

And now as I wrap up my volunteer assignment I thank HAF for 15 pleasurable and professionally satisfying days.

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On Monday, 20 January, the High Atlas Foundation commemorated the annual day of tree planting when most of the members of the Foundation came out with Moroccan and foreign volunteers to plant organic trees in the various Moroccan provinces: Al-Haouz, Agadir, Youssoufia, Rabat, and Fez. This day saw the distribution of about 11,350 almond, pomegranate and fig trees.

The question arose as to why it took place on that specific day, and the answer is that it is Martin Luther King’s Day, celebrated annually on the third Monday in January. King is best known for his struggle and his call for solidarity and brotherhood between whites and blacks in America. Previously, Dr. Yossef, the president of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), has said, "The aim of this day is to improve a spirit of cooperation by planting organic fruit trees and medicinal plants in Morocco." The symbolism of this annual event is to commemorate King’s mission with the coming together of HAF staff, volunteers, local community members, and others in this same spirit for the betterment of Morocco.

As a member of HAF, I had the good fortune, accompanied by my co-worker, Sanae, to leave my fingerprint on this day by helping to plant 1,000 pomegranate trees produced by the nurseries of the High Atlas Foundation in partnership with Ecosia in Lalla Takerkoust commune.

 Headed by Mrs. Naima, Al Elefa Cheese of Lalla Takerkoust Cooperative is the meeting place for farmers and some active youth in the region to work together in solidarity.

I will not say that it was easy to talk with people with more agricultural experience than I, but I told myself that I was representing our foundation in this region. This was no place for fear, and I needed courage and self-confidence to speak and lead the discussion between the attendees. It is really a beautiful feeling.

Indeed, I succeeded in talking about the Foundation and the projects it promotes for sustainable development and to help the fragile, needy villages in Morocco. I spoke in particular about the annual day of afforestation and announced that 1,000 pomegranate trees would be distributed to the farmers of the region on that day.

Before we started planting trees, we loved getting to know more about the cheese cooperative. Mrs. Naima is a saleswoman in the pharmacy and always at the service of the village women, helping. The establishment of a cooperative was the way to ensure a stable income for the nearly 20 widowed and divorced women, a number that is increasing. This cooperative sources milk from seven other cooperatives that specialize in raising 300 goats. Since they are suffering from marketing problems, they are joined by the Farmer-to-Farmer project, which aims to work with these cooperatives and develop them in several areas, including marketing and production.

I also took this opportunity to discuss with them the Imagine workshop that aims to empower women to discover their own capabilities. In fact, that workshop played a big role in enabling me to speak today with courage and without fear in front of people I have just met and assume the task of representing HAF and carrying on the annual day of tree planting.

The partnership between HAF and Ecosia ensures that this year almost 300,000 organic fruit trees will be planted from among the eleven HAF nurseries. The fruit trees include argan, carob, olive, almond, walnut, pomegranate and fig, among others. These nurseries will be working every day toward our target goal of planting almost 1,222,000 trees in all the regions and provinces of Morocco, in partnership with more cooperatives and associations to help farmers. In addition, HAF works with schools to encourage our youth to be faithful and interested to their country.  

We have resumed the planting process with the farmers of the region who previously prepared the land and pits for planting. Mr. Hassan Charrouf came back from Casablanca and Mr. Mohamed came from Safi to learn more about HAF and attend the planting day in Lalla Takerkoust commune. I was very pleased that they have traveled long distances in order to participate in this day. Also, I will not forget their efforts with us in facilitating the process between the nurseries and most of the farmers who benefited from the trees.

Tree planting day on the 20th was a special day for me: I had the opportunity to talk and do what I like to do in this life, to plant trees and help in the development of my country.

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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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