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

An HAF delegation went on February 4th to Demnate, small city in the Azilal province, to the east of Marrakech. The aim of this day trip was to create, in the near future, a tree nursery that could grow up to 100,000 saplings. Demnate, whose population used to be one-third comprised of Jewish people, means “fertile soil” in the Amazigh language. It is then logical for this region known for the quality of its soils to welcome a tree nursery.

After several contacts with the Jewish community of the region, a parcel of the old Jewish cemetery - neglected since the 60s - was allocated for the tree nursery. Just a few meters above a river, the old cemetery, demarcated with a stone wall and cactus further down, is home to very few graves in unkept condition.

During this visit, HAF members and HAF president Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, met the Jewish delegation composed of descendants from the local Jewish community. Demnate’s Mayor, a representative from the Ministry of the Interior, and inhabitants also took part in the meeting. After some discussion about the condition of the parcel, a consensus was reached for the creation of the nursery, including two greenhouses.

The cemetery has about 2,000 graves on the upper side of the hill. However, this section will not be modified by the establishment of the nursery. On the other side of the river, an unused site is home to a place of worship where a Jewish Saint is buried. The latter belongs to the 600 Jewish Saints in Morocco; it was buried under the rubble, and the building is now an empty place. The two terraces to be used for the nursery are vacant unused spaces, starting about 30 meters from the tomb of the saint. The Government of Morocco partners with HAF in the Ourzazate province, where we are now building together a tree nursery also nearby a scared burial site of an ancient Jewish saint.

The Kingdom has a long Jewish history and for several years cooperation projects for the rehabilitation of cemeteries like this have been initiated by the Jewish community. That is why the reconstruction of this pilgrimage place is planned to restore its beauty and the meaning.

Therefore, this project carried by the local population, the Jewish community and the High Atlas Foundation is a perfect match that will benefit all the parties involved. Indeed, it will promote sustainable development in the Region, recreate a meeting place by re-installing benches but also revive the cultural heritage of the site and the history of the city.

On the second day, the Jewish delegation met the Governor in order to have the “green light” on this project.

As a volunteer-intern for HAF, my first mission with the NGO proved to me that in spite of the difficulties that might occur in such projects that combine territorial and intercultural statements, it is still possible to create new economic activities that may benefit at the same time social and environmental aspects for each actor on a common project. The optimisation and rehabilitation of those neglected but very meaningful places show us the mutual respect between the Moroccan Jewish and Muslim communities.

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On January 15, my journey with Nora to Toubkal Mountains began with much enthusiasm and excitement. On the first day, we headed to the first village, “Missour,” where we felt very welcomed. We tried to create a comfortable environment for families, make the communication as smooth as possible, and establish a good atmosphere to exchange with the participants.

The families were very generous. Despite their difficult living conditions, every family we visited welcomed us with tea. We visited 46 houses in all; Nora is a very hard-working and determined person, so we worked until 9 PM trying to meet all of the families.

The most challenging task was explaining the project details and the purpose of it to the participants even though I was keen to explain everything in the beginning of each meeting.

This experience was deeply touching. Every day was better than the day before, especially in the second village “Agrzrane.” Moreover, working with Nora was a good collaboration. It was an experience with many lessons learned.

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Benefits of Carob Now and Then and Its Potential for Sustainable Development in Morocco.

The carob tree has been appreciated for its various features throughout the ages. Nowadays, people are starting to rediscover this amazing plant. It is both a wild growing forest tree, and an easy to cultivate fruit tree. Because of this combination, the carob tree lends itself to a wide range of uses, thus making it the perfect tree to solve many of Morocco’s pressing economic and environmental issues.

But what is it that makes this plant so unique? To answer this question, we ought to take a look at the usage of carob across time and space.

Carob is native and widely spread in the arid and semi-arid Mediterranean regions. The fruit is known as locust bean or St. John’s Bread. This term goes back to St. John the Baptist and the notion that the "locusts and wild honey," described in the Bible, upon which he subsisted while preaching in the desert, were wild carobs.

In ancient Rome, carob seeds were used as a form of measurement due to their stable weight, which led to a standardized method of determining the purity of metals such as gold. This is the reason why we still use the word “carat,” which evolved from the Greek word for carob, “kerátion.” Since one gold coin had the same weight as 24 carob seeds, 24 carats meant that an object was 100% pure gold.

Today, carob is utilized in a variety of food and technical products. It is available, for example, in the form of powder, chips, syrup, extract, or dietary pills. Another product is Locust Bean Gum (LBG), a binder or thickener in numerous food and non-food products. You can find carob in health stores or organic supermarkets as a dietary supplement or as a substitute for chocolate. By using carob instead of chocolate, calories and fat can be reduced significantly. Additionally, carob contains a large amount of calcium – about three times as much as milk. This makes it a great chocolate alternative for vegans, offering them the calcium intake needed for a healthy diet.

Yet another advantage is its high fiber content. Fiber helps us stay full longer after eating, deterring us from eating too much. It helps control blood sugar and has positive effects on cholesterol levels, making it particularly valuable for diabetics. For medicinal purposes, carob powder was used as a diarrhea remedy for generations. People who add it to their diet also report benefits such as weight loss and decreased stomach issues.

For centuries, carob held great importance as a natural and affordable source of sugar. Because of its high levels of calcium, fiber, and sugar as well as affordable price and availability, it was an important source of nutrition during times of war and famine. In countries like Cyprus, Malta, and Spain, countless people owed their lives to the nutritious carob pod during the Spanish Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

In Morocco’s future, too, carob can play an important role. The trees are perfectly suited for its climate and environmental conditions: relatively undemanding in care, they require little cultivation, tolerate poor soils, and are long-lived. Further, the trees grow even in difficult positions, such as sheer hillsides and sandy or arid soils. These features make them crucial in reforestation efforts of degraded areas.

National authorities seem to have recognized this potential. For example, the High Commission of Waters and Forests and the Fight against Desertification focuses increasingly on planting carob trees. As a forest tree, carob can be planted on Waters and Forests’ land, something which is not possible for other fruit tree species. If Moroccan authorities work hand-in-hand with communities and local NGOs, this opportunity has the potential to help the landless, who are the most vulnerable among the rural poor.

Morocco has continuously expanded its plantations in the past few years. In 2018, the country was ranked the world’s sixth-largest carob exporter – trading mostly raw fruits and seeds due to the country’s limited domestic processing capabilities. There is, thus, great potential here, but it must be used to maintain or improve the current market position.

Investing in carob appears to be the perfect opportunity for the Moroccan economy and environment. What makes the tree so attractive is not only its resistance against droughts, but also its ability to prevent erosion, soil degradation, and desertification, issues that are already present and for which finding a solution will only become more urgent in the future.

Carob can help alleviate poverty in rural areas by increasing revenue for farmers and future generations, while simultaneously fighting environmental degradation. In this sense, it is incredibly well suited for the needs of a changing Moroccan society in its pursuit of sustainable development.

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The High Atlas Foundation’s office in Marrakech is a beehive of activity. I am a new volunteer who arrived in Morocco yesterday and already met with office staff. Today, I have been invited to return to meet Dr. Yossef, the HAF president, and I have just entered during an afternoon staff meeting. I am immediately encouraged to pull up a chair and join them as they discuss the logistics of next week’s Annual Tree Planting Day, when they will simultaneously distribute 200,000 fruit tree saplings from HAF’s nurseries to a number of villages around the nation.

I am struck by the egalitarian style of the meeting, with Dr. Yossef inviting suggestions and contributions from volunteers and staff members. They are young and enthusiastic, full of energy, thoughtful about how best to coordinate each site’s activities. In this room, there is plenty of sunlight and camaraderie, but no space for ego, and we work collaboratively, women as well as men taking turns at decision-making about who will go to which village and what community-members will be present for the plantings and so on. Their conversation flows easily in and out of Arabic and English as the cook peeks in, smiling, to see whether we are ready for the midday meal.

Former volunteers will be invited, a press release sent out, but the final question arises: “Where will Yossef be that day?” To this, he asks for a recommendation. After some deliberation, it is decided that he will be in the small town of Amizmiz about one hour away from here because he has not visited there in a while and this will let them know that he cares. Lunch is served, and we gather around the long table in the front room, each with our own spoon and two large platters of hot couscous and vegetables with chicken. As we dip into this shared traditional Friday dish, Dr. Yossef formally introduces me to the group, and I am welcomed and encouraged to get closer and dig in. I do.

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For the entire day at the headquarters of the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, a meeting took place with HAF’s nursery caretakers, together with HAF’s President Yossef, Director of Projects Amina, Project Manager Said, and Monitoring Officer Hajiba.

As part of the 2020 project to plant in 11 nurseries 1.2 million seeds for trees - including almond, Argan, cherry, olive, pomegranate, fig, carob, and walnut - a detailed plan was developed to accomplish this goal involving seven provinces. This project is funded by Ecosia, which planted more than 75 million trees worldwide and created thousands of jobs since its creation in 2009. In-kind contributors of land to HAF for community nurseries are the High Commission of Waters and Forests, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Moroccan Jewish Community, cooperatives, and associations

From all the regions of Morocco and from various communes, this meeting brought together all the members of the High Atlas Foundation, (Ifrane, fez, Azilal, Al-Haouz, Ouajda, Ouarzazate), in addition to the members of the official office of Marrakech, we discussed in detail the information about the type and the percentage of seeds in each nursery.

The mission of the High Atlas Foundation is always to promote sustainable development as well as the promotion of organic farming in nurseries and to rely on new technologies to increase profitability. Personally, I have benefited a lot from the experience of these managers and the way in which their daily contact with the land has enabled them to learn a lot about agriculture and its technologies, as well as to benefit from seasonal trainings on the environment.                             

I really felt the responsibility as a member of this project, so I am working with my colleagues to make this project a success by regularly monitoring each nursery separately and making sure that all the equipment each nursery needs, to cultivate seeds in the best conditions to produce high quality trees.

I am fortunate to be a member of this project, which I have the opportunity to contribute to the sustainable development of my country. HAF-Ecosia have the basic principles for the success of this project: teamwork, community, commitment, discipline, perseverance, and work.

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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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