Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

by High Atlas Foundation

A Paradigm Project for the Future – Location: Morocco


By Yossef Ben-Meir



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!



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.

Journalist meets with HAF team
Journalist meets with HAF team

As we hope you are aware, the Kingdom of Morocco is hosting the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UNFCCC in Marrakech this November 2016.  It will be an exciting time to come together and committment to global action and cooperation towards sustainable environmental practices as laid out in the Paris Agreement

During the COP22, the High Atlas Foundation, aims to highlight it's Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting program as a solution to not only poverty, but peace as well. The German journalist, Tini von Poser, spent 2 days with the Marrakech field staff discussing these efforts and how, in particular, they respond to the climate challenges faced in Morocco. Below is an account of this visit told by HAF' s Agricultural Technician, Samir Azerboua.  


"When I visited the Akraich nursery on last Tuesday 30th of August with German journalist and HAF staff, I felt that I have a spiritual feeling that I had never before especially when I saw the burial tombs. I was really amazed by this nursery that HAF built in this rural village; I would say it can be considered among the best nursery compared to the other nurseries that I have visited so far. It is well organized and well maintained provided with drip system and all the necessary agriculture things.

Miss Tini, the journalist loves the place as well. She began her interview with the nursery care taker, Mr. Abderrahim. He  answered her questions with happiness, followed by another beneficiary who lives in next village. All their answers help the journalist to have a clear idea about operations and effort that it has been done by HAF regarding climate change.

Technically speaking, I have noticed that the fig and pomegranate saplings are growing well (vegetation growth and development). Since Akraich is a hot place fig and pomegranate trees grow very well here."


The COP22 is a COP of action; a global climate action agenda to boost cooperative action among governments, cities, businesses, investors and citizens to reduce emissions and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate impacts. The first universal climate agreement was unanimously adopted at COP21, which took place in December 2015 in Paris. The agreement aims to limit the rise in global temperature "well below 2ºC". This COP22 in Morocco aims to bring all States into action through the mitigation of greenhouse gas emisions and ambitious national commitments. 

As part of HAF's committment to sustainable development and given our expertise in the agroforestry sector, we will be looking to market carbon offsetting initiatives to individuals, companies and states during the COP. Not only will this contribute to our 1 Billion Tree campaign, but also allow entities to uphold their commitments to mitigate greenhouse gas emisions. Global Giving will have a Bonus Day on September 21st, and we at the High Atlas Foundation plan to offer to our Global Giving supporters the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions. 

Stay tuned here on Global Giving! You can also sign up for updates from the HAF newsletter for further information! 

Journalist exploring the nursery
Journalist exploring the nursery
The Akraich nursery
The Akraich nursery

Morocco is a gateway between Europe and Africa and as a result, different ideas, cultures, and languages have influenced the country greatly. The discord that echoes throughout North Africa as a result of extremist groups and governments has so far passed by Morocco, where it remains relatively peaceful. Historically, there was a Jewish population in Morocco but it has dwindled over the years. As a result, ancient Jewish cemeteries are spread out across the country. Recently, initiatives have been started to recall and advance the unity of the Jewish and Muslim Moroccans.

It is unusual to hear of projects that are attempting to bridge this tumultuous gap through tree planting, let alone planting trees beside Jewish cemeteries. However, the High Atlas Foundation saw the importance of bringing these two communities together. It is a rare situation where a nonprofit is led by an American Jew, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, who speaks fluent Moroccan Arabic and is committed to the betterment of Morocco and its peoples no matter their religion.

As the tree saplings grow, so does the trust and respect between the rural Muslims and the urbanized Jews. Morocco is attempting to overcome a deep rooted prejudice that has, and still does, impact people all over the world. Instead of rocks being thrown at each other, trees can be planted together to improve the environment and heal old wounds. Morocco is an example for other areas of the world where Muslims and Jews have lived side by side but in situations can become disparate and where hope, in more forms than one, awaits to be planted.

Morocco: Supporting economic development in a way that enriches us all – High Atlas Foundation House of Life intercultural organic agriculture initiative and Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action


Monday, January 25th, 2016 – Akrich, rural commune of Tamesloht, Al Haouz province (27 km south of Marrakesh): A spirit of unity and hope reigned at Monday’s intercultural celebration of the new planting season, which was graced by The Honorable Dwight L. Bush, Sr., Ambassador of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Morocco and Mr. Younès Al Bathaoui, Governor of Al Haouz province, and which represented a further milestone for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) under its President, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir.

The definitive shift in scope and scale of HAF’s innovative House of Life initiative was publicly fêted at the event.  This builds on and strengthens intercommunal relationships between Moroccan Muslim and Jewish communities and commenced in 2012 as a pilot organic project at Akrich itself – where a total of 90,000 fruit seeds and saplings have been planted to date.  In July 2015, under the terms of a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, HAF embarked on a three-year program to plant a further one million trees in nurseries adjoining rural Jewish burial sites in the provinces of Azilal, Essaouira and Ouarzazate, for the benefit of local, disadvantaged Muslim farmers.

House of Life forms an integral part of HAF’s ongoing One Billion Tree Campaign, which also includes a junior educational initiative,Sami’s ProjectAs a whole, this transformative scheme has already succeeded in planting over a million organic, indigenous trees and medicinal plants in 13 Moroccan provinces, with the commitment representing a significant amplification of the process.

Monday’s event, with its interfaith, agricultural and communal emphasis brought together the communities of Akrich, Asni and Ourika involved in HAF projects, as well as members of the Moroccan Jewish community, Moroccan and United States government officials and prominent supporters of HAF.

Coinciding with Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish new year for trees, it was framed around four elements; a visit conducted by Mr. Jacky Kadoch, President of the Jewish community of Marrakesh-Essaouira, to the 700-year-old shrine of Raphael HaCohen adjoining the nursery, including the prayer for rain requested by H.M. King Mohammed VI in view of the significant lack of rain this winter; the planting of a single fig tree; the symbolic distribution of mature trees – almond, fig, grape and pomegranate – to local farming families: and the signing of the Clinton Global Initiative certificate that took place at the opening of a communal lunch attended by around 250.  Children in particular played a prominent role, as future trustees of the land and educators regarding its care.  Ambassador Bush summed up the event as a unique opportunity to celebrate Morocco’s multiculturalism and support economic development in a way that enriches us all.


Please click here to enjoy photos of the event.  


The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has been implementing development projects in predominantly rural areas throughout Morocco since 2000, building on the Peace Corps experience of its founders. HAF is both a U.S. 501(c) (3) organization and a Moroccan non-profit association. Since 2011 it has held special Consultative Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council. 

HAF utilizes a participatory, democratic approach to the management of all its projects, which are determined and managed by local communities, to support the Kingdom of Morocco in its twin bid to overcome subsistence agricultural practices that lie at the root of systemic rural poverty and to offset severe environmental challenges, including soil erosion and deforestation. 

The foundation actively seeks expertise within Morocco and is supported by Moroccan and international volunteers. The dynamic created by this intercultural team affords HAF a unique capacity to advance human development


This January 25, 2016, the High Atlas Foundation will be hosting a multicultural tree-planting event. This Moroccan Muslim-Jewish initiative and celebration will take place in the Tomsloht commune of the Al Haouz province at the fruit tree nursery that is planted adjacent to the sacred burial site of the notable Hebrew figure Raphael HaCohen, at the village of Akrich. This House of Life project involves the dedication of land by the Moroccan Jewish community in order for rural farming families to plant their community-managed fruit tree nurseries. 

At this first project site, located at Akrich, a total of 90,000 fruit seeds and saplings were planted, including almond, fig, lemon, pomegranate and olive. During this upcoming 2016 planting season, 30,000 of these trees will be distributed in-kind to the surrounding communities. House of Life is a commitment to action with the Clinton Global Initiative. The commitment involves planting one million seeds on lands located nearby notable figures buried in the provinces of Azilal, Essaouira and Ouarzazate. 

The High Atlas Foundation thanks you for your support in making this special event possible! We look forward to our continued collaboration in 2016! We wish you and yours a very happy new year.


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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Jacqueline Seeley
New York City and Marrakech, Morocco
$9,151 raised of $28,000 goal
69 donations
$18,849 to go
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