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

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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After our team had a traditional breakfast in the town of Asni, we needed to go further into the atlas to help the greenhouse nurseries expand. Our first destination was a nursery in Imigdal. They had one greenhouse and a few terraces. There were approximately 30,000 fruit trees, with a variety of food species. It was challenging for the nursery caretaker to water the fruit trees in the dry season due to the scarcity of water. Our team, including a farmer-2-farmer volunteer from the United States, had a meeting with the caretaker to ask questions and discuss solutions to the water problem. Bill, Our american visiting expert provided 4 solutions to help:

1. Bill first proposed to cover the basin so the water would not evaporate and there would not be any dirt particles that would affect the water, however; the water pressure would increase greatly, but there is a possibility to introduce a water pressure reducing valve for around 400 dollars.

2. The second proposal is covering only ½ or of the basin. This would decrease the amount of evaporation and bad particles, but it would not eliminate them, nevertheless; we would not have a water pressure problem.

The caretaker told us that there is a competition between our NGO and another NGO about the amount of water taken from the basin. I then asked how much water he uses. He could not give me an exact answer so I proposed that he use a flow meter to determine how much water he uses, so we could compare the water usage between the two NGO’s and work out an agreement.

We faced another challenge with water limit: We had to leave a percentage of water to go down to the main river because there’s still an ecosystem the water has to nurture. The NGO’s could not split all of the water in the basin, but they had to split a percentage of it.

A team member gave an idea to implement solar panels on top of the basin, hence this idea would be achieving two objectives at once because it would be creating solar energy and covering the basin at the same time. However, this plan was not elaborated because we had to stay on budget.

These challenges forced volunteers to think outside the box, even though some materials were limited, we still persevered to find a solution.

Furthermore, we then asked the caretaker if his water supply in the wet season is sufficient, the caretaker told us that he had a surplus of water during this season.

1. Bill had thought of preserving this water for the dry season, so he thought of including a second tank to save water for the summer months.

2. The last solution was given by the caretaker: it is a pipe from the basin to the greenhouse. This is probably going to be the most expensive solution, and we would need a lot of machinery and equipment from the municipality.

We continued to discuss each solution in detail, with their pros and cons. Our team came to the conclusion that they would bring in a water expert to see which option meets the needs of the nursery and stays within budget, while supporting the ecosystem.

I enjoyed learning that HAF sells these fruit trees for twenty cents each when the city market sells them for about a dollar. The price symbolizes that revenue is not important for HAF. The truth is that they want to help grow revenue for communities because, after only six years of growth, they could benefit from selling the fruit on these trees. Once the trees are transported to communities, people and soon to be farmers could gain about 7000 dirhams in revenue per tree each year. HAF wants to build a financially stable future for the people in the rural communities and make sure they are able to support themselves in the coming years.

The second nursery we went to was a women's co-op in Ouirgane. After my trip, I talked with the team and they told me that it took them a year to defend women's rights to be farmers and to take over the men's co-op. It has only been a week and the rural women had been working hard in the garden. They expressed their motivation to grow their business; in the meeting, these women were concentrated on Bill’s lesson, they were attentive, and asked thoughtful questions. At the end of his lesson, the women were able to summarize it all. They were asking for a deeper understanding of roles HAF thought they should implement into their system such as president, vice president, treasurer, and agricultural expert. This gave them a sense of order and importance, because it was the formal way of working. I believe this co-op empowers these women because it is a business of their own that they want to grow.

This is a summary of Bill’s mini-marketing lesson that the women learned :

1. Identify the customer

2. Ask what they want and what the problem is

3. Listen to their needs and show how your product can generate income and solve their problem

The team identified earlier that they needed to learn how to cultivate the fruit trees. They decided that they would have the other nursery caretaker from Imigdal come to the women's co-op and teach them how to produce crops efficiently and organically.

I was happy to see the confidence this project gave the women. They were going to become businesswomen and were motivated to grow, their dedication proved that they wanted to be successful, and inshallah they will be.

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On a sunny, winter morning, our team leaves the HAF office for Al Haouz province. Today, we will visit two nurseries with an American business expert – a USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer – who will devise a plan for each cooperative to help improve productivity. Our team includes our driver, the project manager/translator, the management and evaluation officer, the business expert, and me. I am here to observe only and to give my impressions. What I see is people from small villages who are earnestly trying to improve their lives and those of the people in their community. They are open to receiving help and advice. They want to do their best.

For the caretaker of the nursery in Imgdal, Hassan, the issue is water. They have moved plantings from the traditional, uncovered terrace method to a temporary greenhouse of pipe-and-netting construction with an irrigation system he designed. The carob, argan, almond, pomegranate, walnut, cherry, and grape saplings are thriving in this new setting, but the plan is to create a more stable structure with plastic walls. The supplies are starting to come in. The rich, organic compost is set aside. His biggest concern is how to secure a reliable supply of water for irrigation from the river below. The river water is free for their use, but the pumping process will cost money.

The eight-woman cooperative in Tassa Ouirgane has a different story. Theirs is a more lush, verdant area with plenty of water. It is an idyllic setting as we exit the vehicle to the 2:00 Duhr call to prayer. Walking to the nursery of healthy olive, fig, and other trees, I notice two shy little girls watching and giggling from behind a large tree trunk. The women admit that they have only taken over management one week before from the men’s co-op, and what they most desire is training for how to market the already-growing plants. They want to expand to include medicinal plants, and though there are challenges for them, they are committed to making this work.

As we return through the mountains to Marrakech, making our way along the switchback roads, I think about these people and what they are trying to accomplish. What makes it worth it? How does one measure the intrinsic value of a tree? I am reminded of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater, beside the white chickens.” So much depends upon the wheelbarrow next to the greenhouse, the tool held in a woman’s hand, the water from the spring or the river. So much depends upon a tree.

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A new day, a new trip! After our visit on the Ouarzazarte nursery land Amina, Said and me traveled to the Toubkal commune in order to check the progress of expanding the nursery there.

The journey itself definitely wasn’t one of my favorites – the road was very curvy, and I felt kind of sick for the whole time. I was relieved when we finally arrived and dropped our car. We expected to walk 20 minutes to our guesthouse, but plans changed as we found out that the road was closed due to construction. So, we got picked up by a jeep and had to drive through a river to reach our destination. The skills of our driver were impressive. I had never experienced something like that before and my sickness was quickly forgotten over the excitement for the trip.

Spending the night in a beautiful guesthouse I got the chance to chat with the owner who had been beneficiary of HAF trees in 2008. My objective for this field visit was to clarify the approach of my Master thesis. My research will be to prove the positive influence of tree planting on the likelihood of poverty. Therefor I will compare two villages – one which received trees and now benefits from the increased agricultural revenue and one which doesn’t. In order to do that I will conduct a household poverty survey which I’m developing at the moment. So, my nightly chat was a first try to approach the topic and to find out which villages could be suitable for my purposes.

The next day I was able to conduct two more interviews while my colleagues were working with responsible persons of the nursery and the developing women’s cooperative.

After the probably greatest breakfast in Morocco we started our trip to the nursery. Because no transport was available, we had to hike there. I really appreciated the walk, as it gave me the opportunity to discover a bit of the area and enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Arriving at the nursery we saw the expanding in progress. 5 or 6 men where taking out earth and moving stones to build a new terrace with their bare hands. The nursery already consists of 3 terraces and now 3 more are built to achieve a capacity of 30.000 saplings growing at the same time.

I talked to the proud nursery caretaker Si Ibrahim, who is at the same time head of the association for mountain development. Poverty is still a big issue in his village and deeply connected with a lack of education and unemployment. Some villagers received trees only a few years ago but many of them are suspicious towards innovations and Ibrahim is sure they could benefit much more if they were just open to it. It was interesting to get an insight in his personal thoughts about the life in the neighborhood and it could be a suitable place to do a detailed survey.

The next person I talked to was HAFs new staff member Si Ismail. He is president of his village’s association and at the same time president of the federation of associations. He seemed to be the ideal person to talk to for getting an overview of the municipality. I got a lot of information about the area and challenges different villages are facing. He as well named education as a major problem with less than 20 children finishing high-school in the whole commune and some not even primary school.

Still in both interviews it was difficult to get a sufficient answer to one question: I tried to find out how rural poverty looks for the concerned in their daily life – besides education and employment with regard to health, food or housing. Somehow this question seemed to be hard to comprehend for both of my interview partners – even though Said who was translating for me tried to put it in different words and explain it. I didn’t expect that but probably I will have to talk to some of the poor families directly to get a more precise idea about their living conditions.

Time management is another thing which can be tricky conducting interviews. As we tried to ask the same question in different words again and again, we spent a lot of time talking around the same subject.

Regarding the selection of a village I got a lot closer but still I didn’t find the “perfect” village to conduct my survey. Probably I will have to talk to some more people to finally decide. Our trip and my interviews were a great opportunity for me to get some first ideas exploring the field. Now, I’m really excited to start my research!

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Last week, I had the chance to experience part of developing our new HAF tree nursery. Together with my colleagues Amina and Said, I traveled around 200 kilometers from Marrakech to Ourzazarte, to meet relevant stakeholders of the new project at the governor’s office. The new HAF nursery will be the 11th of its kind and the second built on Jewish community land. Like in Akrich the nursery will beside a sacred burial ground of a Moroccan Jewish saint and therefor stands as an example of interfaith collaboration.

Our meeting took place in order to identify the necessary steps that still need to be taken for starting the work on site. Besides the technical director of the governor, it was attended by representatives of the province’s administration, the planning and the building company, the National Initiative for Human Development (the Moroccan program) and the High Commission of Waters and Forests. I was excited to participate and I felt really honored when they spoke French from time to time just for me to be able to follow the conversation. Also, Amina and Said did their best to keep me updated and towards the end I could even bring in some of my own questions.

It turned out to be a very long session though. They discussed all the necessary steps and technical details which I could sometimes hardly follow. I also had a quick look at the building plans - I didn’t know that building a nursery is so complicated! Finally, we finished our meeting three hours later with everything being prepared for starting to build the nursery in early January.

Most important is the extension of the current well because it is too small for using a big pump which can lead to problems in the future. Also, building the greenhouse has priority in order to start planting end of January and not lose a planting season. The land needs to be ready and plans need to be validated by the Moroccan Jewish community. It is this collaboration with the Jewish community I’m most interested in and so I took the chance to ask the officials about how this partnership exactly looks. I wanted to find out how it effects the perception of the Jewish religion in the daily life of the Muslim community.

In discussions with my colleagues I found out that there aren’t any Jews living in the area anymore and also the cemetery is been taken care of by a Muslim family. But every year lots of Jewish people go on a pilgrimage to the burial site and celebrate a big festival. The governor and his representatives had also participated before and highlighted that it’s not the first time that there is a collaboration between the Muslim and the Jewish community in Ouarzazarte. The province’s administration ensured us their full support and said that they will do everything possible to assist HAF in realizing the project. They are sure that this form of sustainable development helps to bring people closer together.

After we finished our meeting, we headed towards the nursery site. When we arrived there, it was almost dark so I could just get a glimpse of the area. My first impression was moving. Surrounded by mountains the nursery land is located on a steep hill. There’s a lot of work to do in order to build terraces and all the necessary infrastructure to get the nursery working.

Even more impressive however was the cemetery itself. White gravestones nestled like a small town on the hill and the beginning darkness was illuminated by candles at the entrance of the cemetery. The place exuded an almost mystical atmosphere. What a great place for a nursery, I though. Life and death are only two points on a straight line and are inseparably connected. So, it is a great metaphor to grow trees next to a cemetery. The name “House of Life” - which was given to the project by the former Governor of the Al Haouz province, Younes El Bathaoui, and is also the English translation of cemetery from Hebrew - gets a whole new dimension when you add this philosophical component.

 I was glad to go on this trip and experience the magic of this place myself. May it be a fruitful collaboration and bring life to a great many of trees.

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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
$40,972 raised of $50,000 goal
528 donations
$9,028 to go
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