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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

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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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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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
$27,627 raised of $36,000 goal
 
299 donations
$8,373 to go
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