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

The Azzaden Valley is part of the El Houz region, 70 km south of Marrakech. It is near the Toubkhal national park, which is developed towards tourists. In contrast, the nine villages of the Azzaden Valley are nearly off the beaten tourist track, which is beautiful. We found the Moroccan spirit that you won't find in Marrakech, but rather in the mountains! Nevertheless, the people suffer from fundamental problems like water scarcity, lack of edu cation, medical treatment and transportation. 


One may assume that they have lost hope,but on the contrary, they are the most friendly, hospitable and jolly people altogether! It seems as if the inhabitants of Azzaden Valley live on another planet, one with peace and harmony. When you see the women with cows, sheep, goats wandering down the dry river and next to them, the children of all ages walking around with black lips from the blackberries, searching for medicinal plants, your heart will open! They live with no worries except the struggle for animals and trees, because everyone is a farmer,and support themselves. There is a lot of work to be done, like repairing the waterways, watering (also with pesticides), tying up and harvesting the trees, eating, sleeping and discussing, but nobody is left alone; teamwork is always in order! That is the world of the men as the women are almost completely separated; they don't work on the fields, but take care for the children and the animals, collect food for the animals, wood to cook, and also herbs for the traditional tea. Moreover, they cook and fetch water from the spring as housework. They even eat in the kitchen and not with the guests or men (besides a few exceptions)! 

We were honored to take part in both areas: First of all we had to learn to "fee a tai", the traditional way of pouring in the tea (which is made of a lot of sugar, some green leaves, healing plants that smell very very delicious and grow everywhere like weeds and then some more sugar). There is an equivalent of sweetened coffee, something like a confectionary, but the tea is sipped all day long, at least 4 times a day! The ceremony looks like this: The first three cups are poured back before the first gulp is tasted. If it tastes like sugar you say "imim" and go on with pouring the other cups. But one need a lot of skill and craft to not lose a drop when pouring back, even more to fulfill the task with enough drive and height for a nice arc. It's more or less all about the height because the aim of the ceremony is a gorgeous white bubbling foam that is achieved by lifting the teapot higher and higher while pouring in. 

We tried over and over until Maurice brought it to perfection! The next thing we dedicated ourselves to was the secret of making the traditional bread "arm". The woman of our host Ibrahim showed us how she used to bake it. At this point we needed to learn some words about our accommodation, a gîte d'étape in Tiziane, but we were more like members of the family with a lot of free space. This included a terrace where we could spend a wonderful night under the starshine, only the Milky Way above us, the moon shining and a falling star crossing the sky in front of our eyes. All our wishes were devoted to the valley and to the best of the people who so kindly took us into their rows. We neither felt like strangers, nor as tourists, but as friends, as insiders:D We owe that to Ibrahim who always made us feel comfortable! We were allowed to eat at his home dozens of delicious meals from daily tajine with bread, olives, self made butter, jam, chocolate, diverse fruits over Couscous and lenses to noodles and rice with milk. We had at least 4 meals every day; breakfast (at 11 am because we slept a lot), lunch (at 3 pm), a snack (at 9 pm) and dinner (at 11 pm). Furthermore, we got a lot of extra meals due to our trips around the villages of the valley where the hospitality had no end. When days passed, also the women who normally ate alone in the kitchen joined some meals. The youngest one taught us how to speak Berber and how to dance "afus-afus". It just was a pity that the television was their single amusement! We failed to give the children an understanding of the card game UNO, instead we had even more fun with kicking around a plain basket without touching the ground until one of the girl fell of her chair laughing! The mother laughed at her as well. We felt as snug as a bug in a rug!

Back to the bread: The wife of Ibrahim took us to the kitchen where she had prepared everything. In the bottom of a tajine she mixed warm water with sugar and yeast. Then she added flour and more water with one drop of oil. These were all the ingredients, now it came to the practical application. The dough needed to be literally grabbed, we dug our fingers into the gloop like children and splashed about with childish glee. After it got more tightly it was rolled smoothly from one side to the other until pieces could be teared off which were formed to balls. Each of the balls got with the right technic to a bread. After an hour it was baked in a clay oven directly next to the fire.

Sounds like we did only women's  work? Not at all, most of the time we hiked around to visit the different villages to gain knowledge and personal sight on the problems and needs of the communities and the rest of the time we helped Ibrahim with his work. Well that's not the whole story: We struggled a lot with completing a chess set out of wood...with 2 knives and 1 saw we carved all 32 figures just for fun between the work.

The work we did: 

  1.  Watering apple trees

Sounds easy, but the waterway was handmade out of mud and constantly needed to be repaired. More problematic was the condition of the pipes because of the uncountable holes that needed to be taped with plastic pieces. A big amount of our time was spent  laughing, sitting in the sun and enjoying the amazing view over the mountain range, drinking tea as well as having lunch. Another aspect one should know, that if there is work to do, the farmers decide when and how long they want to work, after all after today is tomorrow where you can do the rest. That's the way of thinking, the way of living: Do what you have to do as long as you want. Eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're sleepy, enjoy what you have. If everybody was living this way...

  1.  Watering trees

Not the same at all! Before, we were in the mountain, now we acted in the flatland. The genius construction of watering bases on wholes around the trees so that the thirsty soil won't take the water away too fast before the trees got enough (the trees never ever get enough water but like this they survive). Therefor we hacked a deepening around the trees. Maurice' effort was honored by blisters all over his hands and Jana's attempts ended up with children in her arms. All in all very successful, wasn't it! At least a great experience of a farmer's life.

  1.  Tying up trees

Climbing on apple trees fits better as a description of what we did or were supposed to do. In fact Ibrahim's son replaced us after the first tree. We started to collect all the rosy apples that fell down while the action. Rapidly, we had too much to carry by ourselves and cleared off with the apples. We only left behind an arrow made of old apples we found underneath the trees. The issue reveals in the huge amount of bad apples that cover the ground. Still, we made our way back collecting wood to boil the fallen apples to purée. We thought that would be a good use instead of letting them rotten. Unfortunately, it took far too much time, required too many resources and wasn't the highlight in its result. For us it felt very ancient to cook on a clay oven with gathered wood from nearby, sitting on the ground with no light except the fire and the children around who joined us.

  1.  Gathering information

The hardest part! It combined hiking (one village took us one and a half hour to get there) with a lot of body language to deal with (and a lot of tea and food of course). The difficulty looked like this: The inhabitants spoke Berber, Darijap and Arabic. We on the contrary speak German, English and French. Nevertheless we got along; we just watched wherever something came into view, touched and tested it afterwards. An example: We caught eye of some farmers who didn't water the trunk but the leaves. So we took it ourselves (it smelled strange), afterwards we wanted to try some apples but weren't allowed to. The gesture was hand over throat and the tongue outside. Any guess what that means? 

In many cases we just visited the beautiful agricultural plantations, ate a lot of fruits (apples, plums, walnuts, passion fruits, prickly pears), scribbled down the needs the inhabitants could communicate with finger pointing (mostly about lack of water and destroyed water paths) and admired the big tomatoes, potatoes, onions, zucchinis, beans, hot peppers and other stuff we weren't accustomed with but looked like grown out of nothing (in one village it wasn't some vegetable that astounded us most but a 113 year old guy, sitting in the corner still alive!!). To our luck we discovered two English speaking people who could answer some of our questions. However, looking, taking pictures and walking around was the best strategy! 

We really saw a lot! Accidentally even the cemetery (a normal house) with all the dead people laying under blankets. We saw schools, painted kindergartens, mosques, Hammams, children jumping into brown water basins, future olive oil production, ...

Last but not least we experienced the seldom honor of taking part in a traditional dance with a traditional band and customs! Than, we really felt acquainted, when after ten days our adventures ended. Just one last adventure waited for us on the next morning! We had to get up at 5 am, took all our luggage to the road and waited for the truck to take us back to Marrakech. A Christmas train appeared out of the dark, bright front lights that blinded us, red lights on both sides rattling directly towards us. The best end for such an adventure; a truck full of boxes with apples, goats, luggage and people crowded together on the loading space. Vehicle documents that were passed from an approaching truck on our way and a winding road that was more a hiking path than anything else, everything rumpling upside down. That was fun! 

That was amazing!

That was unique!

Thanks to HAF which enabled us to go there and even more thanks and cheers to Ibrahim who let all the experiences come true! 

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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!


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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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
$16,604 raised of $28,000 goal
346 donations
$11,396 to go
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