Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

by High Atlas Foundation
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Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

When I first visited the High Atlas Foundation in December 2022 in Marrakech, I knew that it was my first visit but not the last; however, I did not imagine that my next visit would be magnificent. What is special about my second visit to the High Atlas Foundation is my encounter with American university students, which is a new experience for me. I was meant to give two seminars to two different groups of American university students who came to Morocco in a special programme with the collaboration of the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech.

At first I have selected seven topics in relation to the Moroccan multicultural identity focusing on both Jewish cultural components as part of the Moroccan cultural identity. I sent my topics to Dr Ben-Meir, president of the High Atlas Foundation, to choose two that fit to the guest students’ programme and finally we agreed about two.

Accordingly, I met the first group, students of Virginia University in the USA on the 16th June, 2023 at 11h 00 a.m at the High Atlas Foundation new building. And I met the second group, students of Princeton University in the USA, on the 19th June, 2023 at 12h30 p.m.

Once arrived to the High Atlas Foundation On the 16th of June, I was welcomed by two nice members of the Foundation’s staff, Mr Mountassir and then Ms Kaoutar. Once I came in to the foundation there was a group of students who were sitting in a round table, each one of them was working on his or her laptop. At first sight I had a strange feeling. I felt like if I knew them before. I had a positive inner feeling. Then, Ms Kaoutar came and accompanied me to Dr Ben-Meir’s office.  He warmly welcomed me and introduced me to new members of the foundation and informed them that they can attend my seminar if they wish.

Dr Ben-Meir introduced me to the group of students who came from Virginia University in the USA, and then he joined us. As I am interested in the Moroccan multicultural identity mainly the Jewish cultural identity component of Moroccan multicultural identity, my seminar was about the common and shared traditions and cultural practices among Moroccans both Jews and Muslims.

As soon as I started my presentation, I noticed complete silence and an obvious interest to the topic. Their attention to the subject was one of the main causes of the success of the seminar.  There was a rich and fruitful debate among us after my presentation. All students were involved to the discussion. Our meeting had lasted for more than two hours. They asked various questions showing their thrust for knowledge about the Moroccan cultural identity mainly the Moroccan Jewish culture as most of these students are Jewish.

I focused on the shared and common Moroccan cultural practices by both Moroccan Jews and Muslims. The opportunity that the High Atlas Foundation has given to both of us, the group of Virginia University students and I, is a rich and fruitful experience, which is going to improve our cultural encounter and skills.

On the 19th June, 2023, I met another group of students who came with their professor from Princeton University in the USA. It was another different experience from the first one. Arrived at the High Atlas Foundation office, I was welcomed by a young- kind lady, Ms Fatimezahra. When I arrived, the students had a course given by Dr Ben-Meir. When he finished, the students took a short break, then he amiably presented me to the guests from Princeton University in the USA, professor and students. Then he apologised because he was obliged to leave us.

The Princeton University group of students belong to different nationalities and different religious backgrounds. There are Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Their common interest is the study and love of Anthropology. For these reasons, the topic of my seminar was a little bit different. I talked about Moroccan Jews though my mother’s memories.

As the first group, these students were curious to know how my mother is going to represent the Moroccan Jews’ memories through her memories. They were interested from the beginning and at the end of the seminar; they expressed their patience and their gratification listening to my mother in a short video at the end of my seminar.

I am so grateful to Dr Ben-Meir through hosting me at the High Atlas Foundation and for giving me the opportunity to give these rich and fruitful seminars to both groups of students from Virginia University and Princeton University in the USA and also gives me the chance to talk about the Moroccan multicultural identity Jewish and Muslim and present my mother’s memories about Moroccan Jews mainly her Jewish neighbour whom she has never forget. Also, I would like to thank the students who have chosen Morocco and the High Atlas Foundation to enrich their studies’ experiences. Thank you so much.

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The Community behind Couscous, Carpets, and Cherries

Upon entering the Abogholou Cooperative, the cohort of UVA interns and myself were greeted by Rachida, the co-operative's current president, and a plethora of certification papers and plaques in the entryway. Abogholou is one of the eighty women’s cooperatives supported by the High Atlas Foundation, and has worked to obtain a food safety certification that has allowed them to reach a wider market for their selection of couscous products.

The tight-knit group of women were quick to welcome us and share their excitement about the accomplishments of their cooperative, including their recent participation in the Meknes agricultural conference (SIAM). After receiving a warm greeting filled with tea and sweets, we were able to sit down and chat with the women.

Following an initial introduction to their process, the women posed a question to our group: how do we get into US markets? Although the women have a fully functioning kitchen and a working process for couscous production, they share the frustration of inconsistent work: sometimes they’ll have orders keeping them busy for a few days, but then a dry spell of work can follow for weeks on end.

Their goal is to make it into American stores, which will allow their homemade couscous to be enjoyed by people worldwide. When we asked the women what they are most proud of, the answer was unanimous: the relationships they have formed with one another. 

The value of relationships was echoed by a cooperative about an hour away in a small village, Anamer, that is home to another group of artisans. Instead of couscous, however, the women specialize in making carpets and other textiles, such as the knitted poncho I was given upon entry to keep me warm. While only one of the eight women leading the co-op is literate, the tide seems to be turning with the next generation.

The daughters of the women in the co-op are attending school nearby, and hope to become teachers and police officers. While the women find comfort and companionship in the co-operative, it seems it is not in the futures they envision for their daughters — ones of higher education beyond the village. 

Our final stop of the day was Tadmamt, a village high in the mountains where the farmers we met specialize in cherry, almond, and walnut crops. The land, previously controlled by Morocco’s Agency for Forests and Waters, is now managed by local farmers who purchase trees from HAF.

Now, many have their own plots and control their own crops, a source of independent income for those in Tadmamt. We were kindly hosted by Abdultif with tea and fresh-picked cherries and nuts, and left with a newfound appreciation for the process of developing tree nurseries on this land. 


After spending time with women from the Abogholou and Anamer cooperatives, I gained an appreciation for the importance of relationships in community development in terms of both financial and emotional support. The women demonstrated a strong desire to achieve a collective project, forging closer personal ties and developing a business model that provides them with increased financial stability.

Visiting Abdultif in Tadmamt allowed us to discover the value of planting more sustainable, profitable crops in these villages, and how that has built communities and livelihoods in remote areas. It ends up that couscous, carpets and cherries are much more connected than initially believed.  

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On March 16, 2023, the High Atlas Foundation hosted students from the UVA Darden School of Business on a day trip to visit the Akrich Nursery in Al Haouz province outside of Marrakech. As a remote intern with HAF based in Rabat, I had the opportunity to attend this trip alongside the students and see the work of HAF in person for the first time. The Akrich Nursery was established in 2014 as the first of several fruit tree nurseries HAF has built on land adjacent to Moroccan Jewish cemeteries as part of its House of Life program. During our visit to Akrich, we learned about the history of Akrich nursery, its current operations, and the intersection of sustainable agriculture, cultural preservation, and human development.

We began the day at the fruit tree nursery, where we heard from caretaker Abderrahim, whose family has been looking after the Jewish cemetery and its land for three generations. We also saw the carob and pomegranate saplings currently growing in the nursery and heard from HAF President Yossef about the challenges and opportunities that these tree varieties present to the families who receive them from a financial perspective. Yossef then took us into the room housing the 700 year-old tomb of Rabbi Hacohen, where we continued the discussion on the connections between cultural preservation, environmental sustainability and human development, and how HAF works at the center of this intersection. Before departing the nursery facilities, we stopped by the community event space that houses a yearly celebration of Jewish pilgrims to the Rabbi’s tomb, among other interfaith community events.

We then walked to the site of the Achbarou Cooperative, which is close to the nursery. This women’s cooperative was established after a series of HAF empowerment workshops, and the members specialize in the traditional craft of carpet weaving. Students had an opportunity to hear more about the women’s work and their experience forming a cooperative before sitting down for a communal lunch prepared by the cooperative members. After lunch, students expressed their appreciation for the women sharing their experiences with them, and the women in turn thanked students for their attention and care during the visit.

I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to attend this trip and see the tangible results of HAF’s work in the Al Haouz province. It was interesting to see how HAF works at the intersection of agricultural development, women’s empowerment, and cultural preservation through its fruit tree nursery program, and how the combination of these different concepts furthers holistic human development. It was also interesting to see that HAF programs do not work in silos; rather, each component of their work—from the distribution of fruit trees to local farmers to the creation of a community event space—complement and sustain each other to have a long-lasting positive impact on the community. Additionally, hearing directly from women of the Achbarou cooperative was a powerful way to witness the impact that HAF has had on individual lives in the region. All in all, the visit demonstrated to me the capacity of local communities to drive human development, not just in Morocco but in the world as a whole.

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On February 21, Executive Director Tomer and Chief Technical Officer Cohen from the not-for-profit organization called Cultivaid visited the team members of the High Atlas Foundation and community tree nurseries that HAF supports.

We started with the nursery at the Jewish cemetery in Akrich, where we saw the different types of trees and how tree seedlings were planted. We also heard about the history of the nursery, its creation on land lent by the Moroccan Jewish Community as part of the House of Life Program, and its full integration with the local community.

Then we went to Tadmamt, where we met the caretaker of the nursery, Omar, who told us about its history. He said his favorite part about running the nursery is planting the tree seedlings every year. He was very grateful for HAF´s efforts to empower farmers, associations, and cooperatives across the country. We also met a farmer from the area, who received trees from HAF three years ago. This is one of the many ways in which HAF assists rural farmers in achieving their goals.

During our visits, the guests from Cultivaid asked the caretakers of the nurseries many questions about the planting time and grafting of the trees and which types of trees suit the climate of each nursery. They were also interested in learning when and why the greenhouses at the nurseries were covered. The answers to their questions varied depending on the location of the nursery.

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This week, we had the great opportunity to visit one of the High Atlas Foundation’s 15 tree nurseries as well as the town’s women’s cooperative. We were joined by Nancy and Lucy, two friends of HAF who came to Morocco from the United States and were enthusiastic to visit the countryside and meet HAF’s partners.

Our first stop was Akrich’s Jewish Cemetery and tree nursery, located in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. As the location of a Jewish saint’s tomb, Rabbi Raphael, and the resting place for many Moroccan-Jewish people, this 700 year old cemetery is an especially peaceful and beautiful place.

More than 10 years ago, HAF had the wonderful opportunity to develop its organic tree nursery project by partnering with the Jewish Community of Marrakech-Safi and creating an agricultural space adjacent to the burial site. This partnership was the first of many between Moroccan Jewish and Muslim families with HAF to develop inter-religious community relations through tree nursery projects.

The location’s wide empty terraces provide the perfect place to grow saplings and plant trees. Due to the elevation and colder and drier climate, the nursery mainly grows trees for the southern and mountainous regions of Morocco. We happened to come there when they were preparing to transplant carob and olive trees to nearby farmer families, both species that thrive in the Atlas Mountains.

On the second leg of our tour of town, we stopped by Aboghlo Women’s Cooperative and learned about how the cooperative uses their artisanal knowledge to develop their business and hone their weaving skills. It was really impressive to see that all of the rugs are completely handmade and the materials, such as wool and dye, are all sourced from local places and 100% natural.

While the women are working at making rugs, their time at the women’s cooperative provides a time for self care and socialization as well. The women explained that they take care of their households at home in the morning, come to the cooperative in the afternoon, and then take care of their children when they come home from school. The cooperative gives them a moment to meet each other and take some time for themselves during the busy day.

Aside from their artisanal craft, these women spend time learning at the cooperative. In the past, they had benefited from one of HAF’s IMAGINE women’s empowerment workshops. With that boost of confidence and self-reflection, the women continue working with HAF to learn entrepreneurial skills, take literacy classes, and discover themselves further as individuals. It is always impressive to see how such a simple concept, like taking an introspective empowerment course, can lead to such growth and long term benefits in any community.

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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
New York City and Marrakech , Morocco
$16,627 raised of $28,000 goal
349 donations
$11,373 to go
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