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
HAF representatives on arrival
HAF representatives on arrival

Located within the Jewish sector of Marrakech’s Al- Haouz Provence, about 30 kilometers west of the city, lies one of the High Atlas Foundation’s most inter-religious nursery projects to date. Raphael Cohen, the honored Saint of the nurseries’ location, was a highly active and well-traveled Chief Rabbi of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbek during the late 16th century. He’s notoriously remembered for his activism to fight against modern culture, being documented to have refused participation in excommunications and wearing his hair in cues (Revovly, 2013). Although Raphael has long since been deceased, his passion for pushing religious boundaries and active modernism lives through the spirit of the High Atlas Foundation’s current nursery project.

In 2012, a small group of predominantly Jewish members from the Akraich community first reached out to the High Atlas Foundation (HAF). A decision was made, between local villagers and officials, to make effective use out of vacant space within the Raphael Cohen cemetery for HAF fruit trees guilds. The cemetery had been abandoned in the 1940’s and not since utilized until 5 years ago. Although this project was initiated by Jewish community members, Muslim and Christian members are now fully immersed within the project as well, creating an inter-faith dynamic that is unique and highly honored by states throughout Morocco.

Often referred to as one of the most successful nursery projects in the foundation, the Akraich Nursery is now home to a variety of trees including fig, almond, olive, pomegranate and grape. In March 2017, a total of 23,460 trees were planted as a result of hardworking villagers and diligent donators. Of the trees supplied, the pomegranates ranked at number one with a total number of 10,950 cuttings planted. Then, followed by fig at 6,050, olive at 4,250, almond at 1,260, and finally grape trees at 950.

Once these trees begin to bear fruit, after a year of production, offspring from the trees are then distributed to other nursery site locations around Morocco, to replicate the tree production process. Although seed distribution occurs after a year of bountiful harvest, all fruits provided stay within the community, and are used to feed the village families. This system, thereby successfully decreasing food access barriers for hundreds of villagers in the Akraich district, provides a munificent agricultural economy within Akraich. All maintenance, technical support, and general labor are performed by the Moroccans residing in Akraich. Overall, providing strong Moroccan bonds in the school, mosque, synagogue, and homes of the residents. By working together on the nursery, they not only receive positive reinforcement through bountiful fruits from their labor, but are given the opportunity to work with integrity alongside one another.

 

This nursery has been celebrated by government officials throughout all of the Al- Haouz Province, including Essaouira’s and Marrakech’s Jewish house representatives and HAF’s very own Dr. Yossef Ben- Meir. During January 2016, the President of Marrakech’s Jewish community, Mr. Jacky Kadosh, beside other government administrators held an opening ceremony, bringing together the local citizens celebrating a common goal, increased food security for all Moroccans.

Further information on previous excursions to the Akraich nursery project can be found here (involving women’s involvement for the project) and here (multicultural agricultural development).

 

  The High Atlas Foundation is committed to improving food security efforts throughout Morocco by subsiding fruit trees to create localized sustainable economies. For more information regarding our community empowerment efforts, please visit the High Atlas Foundation’s Nursery page for a full list of ongoing projects.

A room dedicated to the life of Saint Raphael Cohe
A room dedicated to the life of Saint Raphael Cohe
A synagogue and mosque rest on a foothill
A synagogue and mosque rest on a foothill
A mix of fig, grape, olive and pomegranate trees
A mix of fig, grape, olive and pomegranate trees
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One clear example that is occurring within Morocco where cultural preservation and advancing the well-being of people work congruently is regarding the national project launched in 2012 to rehabilitate the Jewish cemeteries.  There are approximately 600 Hebrew “saints” that are buried in all parts of the kingdom.  Many have laid in rest a millennium or more, and 167 of the sites have been part of the national preservation effort.  Importantly, the Jewish community (starting in Marrakech) also began in 2012 to lend land to the High Atlas Foundation, a U.S.-Moroccan nonprofit organization, nearby seven of the sacred burials in order to plant organic fruit tree nurseries for the benefit of farming families and schools.  Initial local efforts to preserve the Jewish cemeteries and lend land for community tree nurseries began in the 1990s, and has since been building to scale. 

Given that most poverty in the nation (and in the world) exists in rural places, and that Moroccan farmers are transitioning from traditionally growing barley and corn, the demand for more profitable fruit trees is therefore very significant.  Growing fruit trees from seedlings on land lent by the Moroccan Jewry and distributing them in-kind to marginalized rural communities not only meets a development priority, but is also an act of interfaith.  The reinvigorated relationships between the Muslim farming families and Jewish community members leads to deepened appreciation among the beneficiaries of these historic religious places (even as the burial sites have been respected ever since their beginning).  This multicultural initiative lends towards more goodwill due to the sustainable development results, and in turn increased social unity and actions of preservation. What maximizes the measure of solidarity (and sustainability), however, is that the farming communities themselves identified fruit trees and their varieties as a development priority.  Therefore, the project responds to the expressed needs of the people and helps to deliver the outcomes they seek, illustrating how cultural benefits can be maximized when participatory human development is fully incorporated into their processes. 

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Several thousand tree and medicinal plant nurseries need to be created for the kingdom to generate the billion plants once estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture that are required to break the poverty cycle.  Farming families face a barrier to transition to more lucrative cash crops and grow nurseries, because of the two years necessary to grow seeds into young trees.  Therefore, lending land for nurseries is essential to overcome these concerns as farmers will not risk reducing the amount of their arable land available to them during the two-year period.  Contributing land for community nurseries - to which the Jewish community of Morocco has committed - can be extremely helpful therefore in overcoming rural poverty.  HAF's interfaith Project can plant 2 million organic fruit tree nurseries and medicinal aromatic plants on land at these locations in the provinces of Al Haouz (2 locations), Azilal (1), and Ourzazate (1).  HAF and its partners are grateful to receive in-kind contributions of land from many public and civil agencies, including the Education Delegations in Ifrane, Temara-Skhirat and Moulay Yacoub; the Department of Waters and Forests in Marrakech; universities; cooperatives; and associations.  

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What makes for a great development project?  Which qualities imbue an initiative with longevity and sustainability, enabling it to meet a whole range of interconnected material and emotional needs?  Is there a single concept applicable to a specific geographical location that - exceptionally – embodies those qualities?  

Yes!  Allow us to introduce what we term a Paradigm Project – shovel-ready, with the potential to be inaugurated in the Kingdom of Morocco.  In this context, a particular dimension of sustainability is germane.  

The fact is that the more partners there are to a well-managed community project, the longer the project life.  A greater number of partners means a higher number of interests and goals likely to be met, with more interested parties and contributors, lower risk, greater adaptability and efficiency and a higher level of beneficiary knowledge and ability to reinvest.

The Paradigm Project in question is indeed a unique case, involving the Moroccan Jewish community playing an indispensable role in meeting Morocco’s need for one billion trees and plants and thus aiding in the dissolution of the harsh burdens of rural poverty.  The initiative could inspire the world since it combines Muslim-Jewish collaboration with local-to-international and private-public partnerships.  

The Paradigm Project’s multi-faceted nature and unique features have enabled it to meet the criteria for becoming a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action.

Is it agricultural? Environmental?  Multicultural? Does it empower women, youth and marginalized families?  Does it advance democratic procedures, civil society and businesses?  Does it increase domestic and foreign trade and jobs? Does the project invest in human development and address causes of rural poverty? Does it develop highly employable and nationally imperative skills?  Does it further food security, carbon balance and Morocco’s goals?  

Yes, to all of the above!

Origins

A full 23 years have passed from the project’s conception to the consensus for expansion of the resoundingly successful pilot.  In the Ouarzazate region, is a barren, eroding mountainside with majestic, ancient white structures nestled at its base.  This site houses the thousand-year-old tomb, one of hundreds of Moroccan tsaddikim – Jewish saints.   Other structures have been provided to accommodate the hundreds of visitors arriving every year.

While farming families need desperately to grow fruit trees, as one of a series of measures necessary to end systemic rural poverty, they find it impossible to give up their existing land for two years in order to establish nurseries.  The input of new land in the interim, before transplanting, is therefore vital in order to break the deadlock.  The Jewish community of Morocco, with over six hundred rural sites, could be a potential partner in this enterprise.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a U.S.-Moroccan nonprofit organization founded in 2000 with other former Peace Corps Volunteers, works with farming communities ‘from farm to fork’ - from the setting up of nurseries to the sale of certified organic product and carbon offsets.  

Our model is to engage in partnerships with communities and utilize participatory methodology to determine and implement an initial project before utilizing revenue thus obtained to invest in students and schools, women’s cooperatives, drinking water, irrigation, and training - the priorities expressed by those communities.   

The Government of Morocco has made the preservation of cemeteries of all faiths a matter of national importance and has established the connection between Moroccan multiculturalism and human development.  

In 2014, the HAF pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was established at Akrich, located on the northern side of the High Atlas in Al Haouz province, around 25 kilometers south of Marrakech.  Since that time we have planted 120,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon seeds which have reached maturity and now are maintained by about 1,000 farmers and 130 schools.  

Making the Paradigm Project a reality

Were the Paradigm Project to be implemented, the first year would see the construction of 26 nursery terraces supported by stone taken from the surrounding, crumbling mountains.  The new arable space created would encompass half a hectare (5,000 square meters), upon which would grow 300,000 one-meter tall organic trees of walnut, carob, fig, pomegranate, cherry and almond, as well as dozens of varieties of medicinal herbs.  On maturity they would be given without charge to local associations, 5,000 farming families and 2,000 schools in provinces across Morocco.  Together with our partners, HAF would monitor growth as part of carbon offsets sales, the revenue from which would be invested in further planting.

After four years, there would be more than one million trees and herbs grown from seeds and then transplanted to communal orchards and plots. As the plants mature, they would have an increasingly powerful social and environmental impact.  Almost undoubtedly the project as a whole would initiative replication across the Moroccan Jewish community, providing hundreds of parcels of land adjacent to sacred sites throughout the kingdom.  At scale, tens of millions of seeds would be planted every year and a better life afforded to all.

To bring the Paradigm Project to fruition, we need $300,000, which would cover the entire cost, including training communities in organic practices.  

Every day we feel grateful to work for sustainable development in Morocco, where national frameworks enable the implementation of projects to national scale.  Here is where the House of Life project, sits so naturally.  Implementing the Paradigm Project as part of this initiative would make manifest those partnerships that seek the people’s prosperity, opinion and participation and, ultimately, the greatness of Morocco.

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A Paradigm Project for the Future – Location: Morocco

 

By Yossef Ben-Meir

Marrakesh

 

What makes for a great development project?  Which qualities imbue an initiative with longevity and sustainability, enabling it to meet a whole range of interconnected material and emotional needs?  Is there a single concept applicable to a specific geographical location that - exceptionally – embodies those qualities?  

 

Yes!  Allow me to introduce what I term a Paradigm Project – shovel-ready, with the potential to be inaugurated in the Kingdom of Morocco.  In this context, a particular dimension of sustainability is germane.  

 

The fact is that the more partners there are to a well-managed community project, the longer the project life.  A greater number of partners means a higher number of interests and goals likely to be met, with more interested parties and contributors, lower risk, greater adaptability and efficiency and a higher level of beneficiary knowledge and ability to reinvest.

 

The Paradigm Project in question is indeed a unique case, involving the Moroccan Jewish community playing an indispensable role in meeting Morocco’s need for one billion trees and plants and thus aiding in the dissolution of the harsh burdens of rural poverty.  The initiative could inspire the world since it combines Muslim-Jewish collaboration with local-to-international and private-public partnerships.  

 

The Paradigm Project’s multi-faceted nature and unique features have enabled it to meet the criteria for becoming a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action.

 

Is it agricultural? Environmental?  Multicultural? Does it empower women, youth and marginalized families?  Does it advance democratic procedures, civil society and businesses?  Does it increase domestic and foreign trade and jobs? Does the project invest in human development and address causes of rural poverty? Does it develop highly employable and nationally imperative skills?  Does it further food security, carbon balance and Morocco’s goals?  

 

Yes, to all of the above!

 

Origins

A full 23 years have passed from the project’s conception to the consensus for expansion of the resoundingly successful pilot.

 

In my mid-twenties, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, living in the Tifnoute Valley on the south side of the High Atlas Mountains.  Passing through the Ouarzazate region, I noticed a barren, eroding mountainside with majestic, ancient white structures nestled at its base.  

 

I was both curious about the buildings and cognizant that the mountainside could be terraced, providing arable land for much-needed nurseries.  Later I learned that this site houses the thousand-year-old tomb of Rabbi David ou Moché, one of hundreds of Moroccan tsaddikim – Jewish saints.   Other structures have been provided to accommodate the hundreds of visitors arriving every year, particularly during the fall, for the Rabbi’s hiloula (commemoration of the passing of his soul)that occurs straight after the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

 

I saw an opportunity.  While farming families need desperately to grow fruit trees, as one of a series of measures necessary to end systemic rural poverty, they find it impossible to give up their existing land for two years in order to establish nurseries.  The input of new land in the interim, before transplanting, is therefore vital in order to break the deadlock.  The Jewish community of Morocco, with over six hundred rural sites, could be a potential partner in this enterprise.

 

At the time of writing I am president of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a U.S.-Moroccan nonprofit organization which I cofounded in 2000 with other former Peace Corps Volunteers.  We work with farming communities ‘from farm to fork’ - from the setting up of nurseries to the sale of certified organic product and carbon offsets.  

 

Our model is to engage in partnerships with communities and utilize participatory methodology to determine and implement an initial project before utilizing revenue thus obtained to invest in students and schools, women’s cooperatives, drinking water, irrigation, and training - the priorities expressed by those communities.   

 

My father, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, is a writer and activist for peace in the Middle East. Looking back, it seems natural that I sought to establish community nurseries for a predominantly Muslim society on land lent by the Moroccan Jewish people, adding an element of unity in a region burdened by catastrophic divisiveness.

 

I express sincere appreciation to His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco.  The king has made the preservation of cemeteries of all faiths a matter of national importance and has established the connection between Moroccan multiculturalism and human development.  

 

Pilot project at Akrich

In 2014, the HAF pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was established at Akrich, located on the northern side of the High Atlas in Al Haouz province, around 25 kilometers south of Marrakech, at the site of the 700-year-old tomb of the healer Rabbi Raphael Hacohen,

 

Since that time we have planted 120,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon seeds which have reached maturity and now are maintained by about 1,000 farmers and 130 schools.  

 

The project’s cost of $60,000 was graciously given by Wahiba Estergard and Mike Gilliland, owner of Lucky’s Market, and Jerry Hirsch and the Lodestar Foundation.  The then-Governor of Al Haouz province, Younes Al Bathaoui, showed fantastic leadership and coined the initiative’s name, House of Life.  Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish Community of Marrakech-Essaouira, together with his wife, Freddy, provide essential support, as do community members Isaac and Bloria Ohayon.  

 

In 2016, the first trees from the pilot were handed to local children and farmers by the Governor joined by the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush, Sr.  Earlier, Ambassador Bush hosted a reception for House of Life at his residence in Rabat, at which advisor to the King, André Azoulay, and former Peace Corps Director in Morocco, Ellen Paquette, spoke about the years of dedication and benefits for Morocco embodied in our work.  

 

Making the Paradigm Project a reality

Were the Paradigm Project to be implemented, the first year would see the construction of 26 nursery terraces supported by stone taken from the surrounding, crumbling mountains.  The new arable space created would encompass half a hectare (5,000 square meters), upon which would grow 300,000 one-meter tall organic trees of walnut, carob, fig, pomegranate, cherry and almond, as well as dozens of varieties of medicinal herbs.  On maturity they would be given without charge to local associations, 5,000 farming families and 2,000 schools in provinces across Morocco.  Together with our partners, HAF would monitor growth as part of carbon offsets sales, the revenue from which would be invested in further planting.

 

After one year, a sign made out of fallen organic walnut wood would be installed in loving memory of Julien Raphael Berdugo, a young, sadly deceased son of Arlette and Serge Berdugo, the Secretary General of the Jewish Community of Morocco.  

 

After four years, there would be more than one million trees and herbs grown from seeds near the site of Rabbi David ou Moché burial and then transplanted to communal orchards and plots. As the plants mature, they would have an increasingly powerful social and environmental impact.  Almost undoubtedly the project as a whole would initiative replication across the Moroccan Jewish community, providing hundreds of parcels of land adjacent to sacred sites throughout the kingdom.  At scale, tens of millions of seeds would be planted every year and a better life afforded to all.

 

Achieving the vision

To bring the Paradigm Project to fruition, we need $300,000, which would cover the entire cost, including training communities in organic practices.  On November 17th HAF is hosting a Carbon Offset Auction at COP 22 in Marrakech, sequestered by the local community orchards we plant.  With our community partners, we currently have more than 500,000 saplings in twelve nurseries around Morocco.

 

Every day I feel grateful to work for sustainable development in Morocco, where national frameworks enable the implementation of projects to national scale.  Here is where the House of Life project, sits so naturally.  Implementing the Paradigm Project as part of this initiative would make manifest those partnerships that seek the people’s prosperity, opinion and participation and, ultimately, the greatness of Morocco.

 

 

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

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
New York City and Marrakech, Morocco
$15,940 raised of $28,000 goal
 
309 donations
$12,060 to go
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