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

In her recent essay, “The Labor of Agrodiversity in a Moroccan Oasis”, Karen Rignall examines the recent history of farming in the Mgoun valley in southern Morocco in order to explain how agrodiversity, labor, and tradition interact in current small-scale agrarian systems. Rignall emphasizes lines of thought that highlight the large extent that agricultural biodiversity is protected by small landholder farmers. She argues that certain kinds of agrodiversity may in fact be a new product of recent transformations or rejections of agricultural traditions. She emphasizes that, to a large extent, agrodiversity is protected by these farming households because what may appear as traditional agriculture may in fact be a new method that has emerged in response to the changing commodity markets that in turn transform labor regimes.

Farming practices are not simply a persistence of tradition, but rather an intentional practice in response to changing social, economic, and agroecological conditions. Thus, as the times change, farmers are forced to experiment with the cultivation of a wider variety of plants, promoting agrodiversity. Additionally, Rignall points out that this increased agrodiversity represents a privileged position for certain households that are located in water and land-rich areas.

In her case study that consisted of twelve months of ethnographic research in rural Morocco, agrodiversity was promoted through a reconfiguration of labor regimes, however, many households lacked access to the necessary resources, capital and labor that facilitated this transformation. Many farmers' crop regimes were limited to corn and maize simply because they could not afford the labor required to include crops such as tomatoes and vegetables. This is illustrative not only of the strong barriers that prevent people from escaping poverty, but also how these transformed labor regimes can highlight and enhance the current inequalities that exist in communities. 

The situation in the Mgoun region of Morocco is not unique to just this farming community, but is the reality for millions of Moroccan farmers trying to make a livelihood in rural locations throughout the country. The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has recognized these intractable barriers the communities are facing and has taken steps to help them overcome these challenges. HAF aims to promote agrodiversity and aid in the transformation of farming communities towards new methods of agriculture through the creation of nurseries and the planting of dozens of varieties of fruit trees and medicinal plants. These plants are native to the region and the demand for these goods on the market makes them both a sustainable and reliable source of income.

Beyond providing supplies, HAF supports the formation of cooperatives that allow community members to work together so that they all may benefit from these new crops and methods of farming. The social, political, and economic spheres are rapidly transforming both within Morocco and around the world, and agriculture will continue to be heavily influenced by it. Through facilitating the process of transforming agricultural traditions for rural farmers, the High Atlas Foundation is both promoting agrodiversity and helping to empower all members of these communities.

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On Tuesday, April 6, the Mimouna Association hosted a virtual event titled “Celebrating Mimouna: From a Feminine Perspective.” The Mimouna Association is a non-profit founded in 2007 by Muslim students aiming to promote and preserve Morocco’s Jewish heritage and reclaim the cultural diversity of Morocco. The April 6th event is an example of one of the organization’s efforts to engage and educate youth about Moroccan-Jewish heritage. 


Mimouna itself is a unique tradition in Morocco which is a result of its rich cultural heritage. On the last night of Passover, Jewish families in Morocco invite their non-Jewish neighbors into their homes for a large celebration. Traditionally, the neighbors bring bread, butter, and other foods that are forbidden during the week of Passover. In this way, the non-Jewish neighbors help the Jewish families readjust and reintegrate back into regular life. Mimouna is a shared celebration of prosperity, fertility, the coming of spring, and the growth of new life between people of different faiths and backgrounds, a powerful symbol of Morocco’s cultural diversity. 


There are many theories about the origin of the word “mimouna”, which remind us of Morocco’s rich multiplicity of cultures and faiths. “Mimouna” may come from an old Hebrew word for money or an Arabic word for faith. It may also be linked etymologically to the Jewish philosopher Maimonides or to the name of a Berber goddess. 


At the virtual event, the Mimouna Association showed a brief video created by Moroccan-Jewish singers Suzanne and Maxime on the Mimouna celebration. Afterwards, the organization invited Dr. Vanessa, a singer and researcher of Moroccan-Jewish heritage at the University of Cambridge, to speak about the unique and vital role of women in Mimouna. 


Dr. Vanessa discussed how the Mimouna celebration emphasizes women’s role as creators. This begins with the creation of a space for social and cultural exchange on the night of the Mimouna. The eight days of Passover are celebrated within the closed, private space of the home with only the family, but on the last night – the night of Mimouna – the door is opened to outside guests and neighbors. Traditionally, women were confined to the private space of the home and would only see their neighbors from the terraces of their houses or when they would go outside to fetch water. However, on the night of Mimouna, the women would invite their neighbors inside of the home, creating a new, sacred, celebratory space of “porosity” and exchange. 


The food, traditionally prepared by the woman, also symbolizes creativity, prosperity, fertility, and the creation of new life. The woman of the house often makes a sponge from flour and yeast, representing creativity and growth, that would serve as the starter to make bread and create sustenance throughout the entire year. Moreover, in many households, the woman will lay out an uncooked fish on the table as a symbol of fertility, a cup of oil with five coins to represent prosperity, and a bowl containing five fava bean stalks and five eggs to symbolize fertility, new life, and new growth. The woman traditionally feeds each guest lettuce dipped in honey, wishing them a sweet year to come, and sometimes the woman will put her hand in flour and stamp each guest’s shirt as they walk out, imprinting them symbolically with this spirit of creativity, creation, and prosperity. 


Mimouna is a beautiful tradition that illustrates creation and the cultural diversity of Morocco. At the end of her discussion, Dr. Vanessa underscored the importance of passing down the unique tradition to younger generations. She emphasized the need to educate Moroccan youth on the practices, recipes, and music associated with Mimouna in the hopes that this custom will continue for generations to come. Her presentation at the Mimouna Association’s event was an important step to spread knowledge and appreciation of Mimouna and the rich Jewish heritage that lives on in Morocco.

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The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) celebrated the inauguration of a solar irrigation system in the Akrich nursery in the rural commune of Tamslouht, Al-Haouz province. The nursery produces seedlings intended for later distribution to regional farmers and schools.

The new irrigation system via solar photovoltaic is a donation from the National Federation of Electricity, Electronics and Renewable Energies (FENELEC), while the land housing the nursery is a contribution from the Jewish community in Morocco.

The inauguration ceremony, which took place in strict compliance with the health protocol in force to stop the spread of the pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19), was attended by members of the Board of Directors of FENELEC, representatives of the Jewish community of Morocco, and local authorities.

“This system will allow us to reduce the cost of pumping irrigation water, contribute to the development of clean energies, and ensure sustainable development for this nursery. Since its opening in 2013, around 180,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon tree seedlings have been distributed to nearly 1,000 farmers and 130 schools,” said the President of the Foundation, Yossef, in a statement to MAP.

Dr. Yossef, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco (1993-1995) noted that this House of Life project is an innovative initiative facilitating the free loan of land adjoining Jewish burial sites and that it establishes tree nurseries and organic medicinal plants for neighboring Muslim farming communities. He welcomed the commitment of the various partners to ensure the initiative’s success in aiming to plant one billion fruit trees and aromatic and medicinal plants across the Kingdom.

For his part, the Director of FENELEC, Mr. Ali, expressed the pride of the Federation to be associated with this project of the High Atlas Foundation by offering solar pumping systems, including pumps, solar panels, control cabinets, drip systems, and more.

“We are extremely delighted to have participated in this project, which contributes to the socio-economic development of farming communities in Morocco, and we are ready to take part in similar projects in the future,” commented Mr. Ali.

As part of The House of Life initiative, the  Akrich nursery is the first to be developed around a 700-year-old Jewish cemetery where the tomb of revered Rabbi Raphael HaCohen is located.

This site is one of the many plots of land loaned to HAF over the years by various stakeholders, including individuals, public bodies, municipalities, schools, cooperatives, women’s associations, and cultural organizations, notably the Jewish community of Marrakech-Essaouira.

Since 2000, the High Atlas Foundation has contributed to human development through education and environmental protection.

Based in Marrakech with representations in Oujda and Boujdour, the HAF manages a dozen nurseries distributed between Taza, Fès, Meknes, Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Tadmamt, and Taroudant.

In 2014, HAF launched its “Campaign for a Billion Trees” to continue and accelerate its successful project of planting one million trees with the new aim of planting one billion such trees and plants throughout Morocco.

The species planted are indigenous, and the nurseries are managed entirely organically by the local communities. Trees are part of a larger chain that includes securing organic certification, strengthening cooperatives, and processing and delivering products to markets.

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On Friday, March 26, 2021, Cadi Ayyad University (UCA) President Professor Moulay Lhassan and myself, HAF’s President Yossef, signed a partnership agreement at the Wilaya of Marrakech-Safi. Also in attendance were Dr. Driss, the Minister Delegate in charge of Higher Education in Morocco, and the Wali of Marrakech-Safi, Mr. Karim. 

HAF and UCA are dedicated to providing university students with experiential learning opportunities in sustainable development, including facilitating participatory planning, project management, partnership building, program evaluation, gender and youth empowerment, community-based natural resource management, and human rights and other legal areas for advocacy. 

We seek together opportunities to uplift rural and urban communities and implement self-discovery and vision-building workshops in order for women and girls to affirm and achieve their development dreams. On behalf of the High Atlas Foundation, we sincerely thank President Hbid and Vice President Professor Fatima Zohra Iflahen for their confidence in our partnership and for our shared belief that learning by doing with university students is a vital measure for the nation to achieve its sustainable development potential.  

On a personal note, it was a joy to meet Minister Driss, the former President of Al Akhawayn University, whom I got to know when I was a professor at that wonderful Higher Education Institution. His heart is of service to education in Morocco, and we at HAF wish him great and complete success in his essential responsibilities.

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The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) continues to develop its projects relating to the creation of organic tree nurseries by using the arable land belonging to the Moroccan Jewish community. 

Nearly ten years ago, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a Moroccan-American association, launched its project called The House of Life, which establishes a link between Muslim families and the Moroccan Jewish community.

It is indeed an agricultural initiative that utilizes the land adjacent to Jewish burial sites, establishing tree nurseries and organic medicinal plants for the benefit of neighboring Muslim communities.

The Akrich nursery in the province of Al Haouz was the first fruit of a partnership between the HAF and the Jewish community in Morocco. It was developed within a 700-year-old Jewish cemetery where the tomb of revered Rabbi Raphael Hacohen is located.

A few days ago, the HAF and its various partners inaugurated a solar irrigation system, thanks in particular to a donation from the National Federation of Electricity, Electronics and Renewable Energies (FENELEC).

“This system will ensure sustainable development for this nursery, which has produced, since its opening, 180,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon trees that are distributed to surrounding villages,” explains Hajiba, project manager within the Foundation. 

Appointed manager of this nursery, Abderrahim is also the guardian of the cemetery, which still welcomes Moroccan Jews from elsewhere. In this small village, the annual Hiloula attracts hundreds of people from Morocco and abroad.

“It’s a place that was managed by my ancestors. My grandfather told us that Rabbi Raphael HaCohen was passing through this village, and then he died and was buried here,” he recalls.

In November 2020, a similar project was launched in the province of Ouarzazate. The High Atlas Foundation has set the goal of establishing nurseries within the 600 sites belonging to the Jewish community in Morocco. 

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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
$15,910 raised of $28,000 goal
306 donations
$12,090 to go
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