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

During the shut-down and uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID encouraged Farmer-To-Farmer (F2F) implementers worldwide to support local Volunteers, paired with remote U.S. Volunteers, as they collaborate with agricultural cooperatives and education centers in achieving their goals. The High Atlas Foundation (HAF)-F2F team and USAID launched the first local-U.S. Volunteer assignment in Morocco, with Rachida, President of Aboughlo Women's Cooperative, working integrally with former Peace Corps and F2F Volunteer Mark. Together they evaluated a new agricultural project managed by a group of six young women in the Tassa Ouirgane village in the Marrakech-Safi region. The women grow fruit trees and sell them to farming families.

The results of this assignment include the women registering as a formal cooperative. The women carry tremendous energy and potential, and they are aiming to develop a unique model in the region. Despite not being given the opportunity to continue their education after primary school, they embraced the experiential learning workshops on empowerment and self-discovery, as well as participatory planning of their projects and growth. Further, they seized chances to grow, took risks, compromised, challenged norms, and persisted. The F2F program promotes this initiative with expertise and follow-up, and volunteers Rachida and Mark provided the managerial and technical support to help the members formalize the creation of Women of Takhrkhourt Cooperative. The registration allows the members to create a bank account, benefit from government initiatives, receive investments, and expand.

The Cooperative’s members still face many challenges, however. During the initial visits by local volunteer Rachida, data was collectively gathered about the members’ immediate economic conditions and goals, and responsibilities and roles were defined. Rachida, Mark, and F2F staff consulted together and multiple recommendations were identified, including how to expand their membership and approaches to resolving competing points of view.

HAF continues to follow-up with the Takherkhourt Cooperative on such issues as locating work space, developing a beekeeping project that will further enhance their tree nursery and give incentive to creating a medicinal plant nursery, building financial management capacities, visiting other nurseries to strengthen technical skills, and collaborating with the local men’s association. Sustainable agricultural development is a long-term commitment, and Rachida and Mark seek more F2F assignments with Takhrkhourt and other women’s and youth cooperatives in Morocco.

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Morocco’s Need for Trees

According to Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture, one billion fruit trees and billions of medicinal plants are needed as one of several essential contributions in order to overcome poverty in rural areas, which afflicts approximately 80 percent of its people. In addition, drylands cover 97 percent of Moroccan land, being one of the world's best long-term carbon sinks it requires immediate action to halt irreversible degradation of soils.

Obstacle to Transition

Farming families in Morocco are economically compelled to transition toward fruit tree agriculture and away from traditionally growing barley and corn. These staple crops are currently cultivated on 70 percent of agricultural land, yet only generate 10 to 15 percent of agricultural revenue. To address this obstacle to sustainable livelihoods, rural communities must build nurseries to grow from seeds the fruit trees and medicinal plants they need to cultivate in their localities. However, farming households cannot dedicate their land to build nurseries because their survival requires sowing and harvesting every year. Therefore, the in-kind contribution of land for people’s nurseries is vital to meet the demand for trees of rural families.

Partners for Land In-Kind

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) receives land lent in-kind for the nurseries of farming communities from government agencies, universities, and civil groups, including the High Commission of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, the Ministry of Education and Professional Development, University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fes, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, the Moroccan Jewish community, and cooperatives. 

HAF Nurseries: Millions of Trees

Currently the High Atlas Foundation manages twelve tree nurseries in seven provinces of Morocco. At maximum capacity, they can currently grow 1.6 million organic fruit saplings grown from native seeds. In addition to these twelve locations of community-managed nurseries, the High Atlas Foundation has also been lent land without cost from the above agencies to build 13 new nurseries of relatively large size, that if planted to their capacities, includes the generation of approximately 10 million trees per year.

Carbon Sequestration

Based on HAF calculations in consultation with carbon offset experts, the planting of 10 million fruit trees will generate approximately 425,000 verified carbon units (VCUs). To secure these units, monetize their value, and account for their CO2 offset benefit, the trees require monitoring twice during the first five years. While VCU’s are usually stored up to 150 years in living trees, due to the unique climatic conditions of Morocco, carbon is transformed into stabilized hummus, remaining in the soil for up to 1,000 years. The HAF commits to sustainable long-term carbon storage, providing the wrap-around service of constructing and maintaining the nurseries, transplanting them with farming families, cooperatives, and education centers, while monitoring and registering the data, for the cost of $0.55 per tree. Ten million trees impact approximately 40,000 rural households, including 200,000 people, while cooling the climate globally. 

Low Cost Offsets

HAF is able to provide tree planting, monitoring, and the required data to secure CO2 offsets at the low cost of $0.55 per tree due to these contributing factors:

  1. We grow the saplings from seeds, which allows us to retain significant value, spending only 16 to 25 percent of the private sector price per tree, depending on the variety.
  2. The lending of free land by public and civil agencies further reduces costs and price-per-tree unit.
  3. The utilization of local fruit seed varieties not only significantly enhances biodiversity, but enables seed procurement in close proximity to the nurseries, reducing transportation costs and increasing survival rates.
  4. Nurseries are maintained by local community members who receive from the HAF a fair salary plus benefits, including health insurance and social security, with seasonal workers also coming from the neighboring vicinity. Thus, labor costs are relatively modest with a high level of commitment and satisfaction.

Finally, the trees are distributed to the farmers, where capacity building workshops on effective tree planting and care play a key role in maintaining the HAF’s outstanding tree survival rate. Farmers pay $0.20 per tree, and the entirety of that amount is reinvested in seeds in order to replenish the nurseries, provide for their caretaking, and continue the generation of young trees for subsequent years.

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A new fruit tree nursery terrace of one hectare in size built on the mountainside above the tomb of the Jewish saint, David-Ou-Moshe. This community project is funded by Morocco’s National Initiative for Human Development (2020).

Harnessing the experiences and the history of religious and ethnic minorities in Morocco must be a priority before the holders of that knowledge are lost to time. Moroccan-based civil associations, with the right support, are in an ideal position to gather and disseminate this knowledge for mutual understanding and human development.

Morocco is intrinsically a multicultural society. Preserving the stories of its symbols, its places, and its people is of vital importance in promoting educational awareness about the nation’s cultural journey. Today’s youth have rarely had the opportunity to sincerely consider this indelible part of Morocco’s past and character, and how that past could inform its present and its future.

Morocco is at a crossroads in its opportunity to gather information about its religious, ethnic, and cultural past. The unique cohabitation of the Abrahamic religions as recollected by the Moroccan people represents an exceptional history, and collecting such stories would expand cultural understanding and serve as a global example of social cohesion. The generational landscape of Morocco will soon change, and this historic and immediate opportunity will no longer be as viable. In other words, the time is now to embark on such an initiative for the nation and the world.

Representatives of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in Morocco have eagerly engaged in interfaith dialogue to build productive, positive relationships. They actively collaborate to pursue public education that improves religious solidarity, meets priority human needs, and counters messages of intolerance and disharmony. Likewise, Moroccan civil groups seek to engage in these dynamic interreligious and interethnic processes of unity. Educational workshops, community activities, school engagement, entrepreneurship, and public awareness campaigns, among others, meet a core priority of all Moroccan sectors.

Utilizing multicultural dialogue as a bridge for human development and the promotion of employability is a stated goal of King Mohammed VI, as noted in his remarks at the 2008 Alliance of Civilizations. The Moroccan model, as stated by His Majesty the King, requires more than celebrating multiculturalism, more than upholding and embracing multifaceted identities, and more than ensuring fulfillment of religious and ethnic minority groups as they are constituted. It requires creating jobs, increasing incomes, improving schools, regenerating the environment, enabling gender justice, furthering the participation of youth in decision-making, and more, as a result of such dialogues and celebrations.  The preservation of heritage must be fully integrated with sustainable human development and the promotion of all people’s livelihoods.

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A recent interview of researcher Imane Ismaili Alaoui by High Atlas Foundation President Yossef explored the ways in which colonialist British diplomats’ writings about their travels to Morocco justified the imperialism of the time. The perspective of writers such as Walter Harris (in 1889’s The Land of the African Sultan and 1921’s Morocco That Was) revealed a view of the world in which inhabitants of Africa and Asia were considered less civilized and educated than those of Europe. These writers’ descriptions of Morocco followed the style referred to as “Orientalism” - the imitation or depiction of aspects of the Eastern world as imagined by Westerners or framed through a Western lens based on cultural background and upbringing, or colonialist bias.

In this way, Morocco was viewed as cloistered and rigid, and its governance systems constructed on fear. Moroccan cuisine was deemed “exotic” and its literature as purely entertaining. It was these British writers who fostered the notion of “Moorish hospitality” that permeates our expectations about Moroccan people even today regardless of a locale’s openness or level of cooperation. The term “Moor” itself came to refer to all Moroccans, ignoring the distinct ethnicities of Morocco’s inhabitants and collapsing them under one label, or worse, the use of “Black Moor” to further dehumanize inhabitants based on skin color. 

One of the problems with this view of white dominance is that, while there are some accounts that describe Morocco’s people and culture in positive terms, the “Orientalist” perspective is one of ambivalent or mixed feelings about the subject of Morocco and does not allow for reconciliation between the Eastern and Western spheres. Under this view, they remained separate and in contrast to one another. According to Alaoui, the travelers could find some cultural element unique or charming, but ultimately rejected this element as unacceptable for themselves, since they constantly needed to represent the other as an antithesis to justify the logic of imperialism.

Upon reflection of this conversation with Ms. Alaoui, we must ask whether there truly is no mechanism for reconciliation, no point of cross-cultural interaction and respect. We see in Walter Harris’ intimate friendship with Morocco’s Sultan Yusef (Abdul Aziz) in the 1920s that there was a closeness, a camaraderie, and a mutual fascination on a personal level with one another’s culture. But we must ask how such mutual understanding and dignified treatment can be extended on a broader level - society to society, nation to nation - to dispel fixed notions.

Perhaps we find our answer in the development initiatives adopted by the High Atlas Foundation. Ms. Alaoui’s research focused on the spaces where interactions occurred and the voices that monopolized that space. In what spaces does HAF interact? Whose voices are heard? Is there an approach to allow East and West to work in concert with one another?

The High Atlas Foundation is a U.S-Moroccan nonprofit organization, founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Morocco. It is dedicated to community development projects that are identified and managed by local beneficiaries. By its very design, it represents a reconciliation of East and West as a collaboration between Morocco and the United States. Through the twelve tree nurseries it supports and other locations for planting and growing seeds throughout the nation as well as projects at religious sites, women’s cooperatives, schools, and youth protection centers, HAF meets the people in their own often-remote spaces, respecting the histories and diverse cultures they occupy. With its participatory development approach and empowerment workshops, HAF honors and supports the people’s voices and encourages their right to a say over their own futures. In short, the High Atlas Foundation can be viewed as a vehicle for this East-West reconciliation between vestiges of imperialist attitudes and healthy self-determination for the Moroccan people.

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In Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains near the town of Azrou, travelers come for hiking or to see the famed Barbary macaque apes in the Cedar Forest. Near Azrou, nestled high in the mountains and overlooking the green valleys below, the Toumliline Monastery was established by a group of French monks in 1952 because it was “suitably remote for contemplation,” as noted by a Time’s journalist in 1969. Pressured at first by colonial authorities to try to convert the local Amazigh tribesmen to Christianity, the monks refused, explaining that it would cause the people to be “outcasts in their own country.” Instead, they planted an orchard.

Morocco has long been a place where East meets West. There are churches, cathedrals, and other Christian sites. Yet, due to the changing political climate of the 1960s, the once thriving monastery of 40 dwindled down to 7 and to three and finally closed in 1968. Before that, it was a place open to people of all beliefs. The monastery welcomed students and local villagers for practical training in how to deal with differences of opinion. It was the site that brought together those of the Abrahamic faiths – the “Three Religions of the Book” – to find shared values and common ground. From the French Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, to the local farmers, hundreds of people from different religions, ethnicities, continents, and social statuses gathered to debate how different faiths could live together and interact for the benefit of the majority.

Today, the High Atlas Foundation, the Association Mimouna and the Foundation Memories for the Future work all together and with the local people to restore this once-vital part of the community for economic and cultural development. Through several planned projects, the site will concretely and symbolically teach us the lessons of openness, compassion, and cooperation.

They will gather the recollections of the region’s inhabitants for preservation of the important interfaith dialogues that took place at the monastery, adapting them for transmission to new generations.

With the monastery as a base for trekking tours, visitors will have the opportunity to experience sleeping in the monks’ rehabilitated living quarters and visit the small museum that will be created with a permanent photo exhibition, cultural tourism activities that will aid the local economy. By connecting to existing structures in the region, the project will gradually expand and diversify.

Visitors will also be treated to local honey for consumption or purchase when the monks’ bee-breeding program is reintroduced in partnership with a Moroccan association. This project will train local youngsters in the techniques of honey production as a sustainable venture.

Another project will train youth to be “global guides” to transmit to visitors important information about nature and the local ecosystems as well as the history of the monastery and the monks who lived there, how they interacted with the local communities, and the interfaith dialogues that took place within the monastery’s walls. Both projects for Moroccan youth honor the history of the monastery as an orphanage and place of teaching Islam to the young children, as meaningful today as it was in the past.

Partners in developing these tourist activities include the Ministry of Tourism and the city of Azrou, its institutions and local associations. The Ministry of Culture has also recently opened a small museum in Azrou dedicated to the history, culture, fauna, and flora of the region. In addition, a women’s cooperative that produces handmade carpets is supported by a collaboration between the nearby Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane and the Azrou Center for Local Community Development.

The crown jewel of the plan is to restore the monastery’s two famous gardens, one botanical – to heal the body with medicinal plants – and one Buddhist – to heal the mind with meditation. HAF’s partnership includes training in arboriculture skills and planting a fruit tree nursery with local seeds, a formerly significant agricultural activity benefiting farming families of this region. Taking care of the site long term will provide jobs to local gardeners as well.

Together, these partnerships and projects represent the rich heritage of the area and the philosophy that was the foundation of the monks who sought a place to meaningfully live their faith. With the revival of the Monastery at Toumliline, the people will enjoy the “fruits of community” planted in that long-ago orchard.

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