Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco

by High Atlas Foundation
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco
Cultivating Indigenous Figs in Ouezzane, Morocco

Cultivating and Saving Varieties of Endemic Moroccan Figs

By Katherine O’Neill

HAF Intern / Student at Claremont McKenna College

 

Since the beginning of 2018, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has planted more than 80,000 fig trees, seeds, and cuttings in community nurseries.  We also signed a partnership agreement with the Regional Management of Waters and Forests in Tetouan that contributed a three-hectare parcel of land, which enables us to plant a nursery of threatened fig varieties. The High Commission of Water and Forests in Rabat also partners with HAF by providing nursery land and technical support for a ten-year period. The Commission sees the organic figs project as a way to pursue goals outlined in the government’s Plan Maroc Vert and Environmental Charter, which calls for the rejuvenation and creation of organic endeavors, among other reforestation and agroeconomic goals.

The Plan Maroc Vert especially focuses on fig trees.  Both HAF and the Commission have indicated that fig crops in the Tangier-Tetouan region suffer from ageing, neglect, and a lack of effective marketing. Recently, both pears and plums have disappeared from the region due to the same issues now facing figs. This has caused severe economic and environmental repercussions, and HAF’s nursery aims to avoid this same fate. Additionally, the Commission sees the planned nursery in the region as an ideal way to strengthen the area’s agricultural economy, support rural households, and honor the local tradition of fig cultivation, to which people in the area are deeply emotionally bound.

Morocco is a world leader in fig production: in 2009, the country ranked among the world’s top five fig producers. Figs grow especially well in Morocco due to the country’s hot summers and full sun throughout the growing season. This climate ensures one to two bountiful crops a year, as long as fruit trees receive adequate water. Fig crops from Morocco may tap potential markets in the U.S. and E.U. Despite high U.S. production, acreage dedicated to fig production has decreased by at least 5,000 acres in recent decades. This decrease, combined with stress on California’s agriculture due to severe drought, presents a strong opportunity for Morocco to fill U.S. fig demand, especially in the large organic market.

Small-scale Moroccan fig crops are important to the sustainability of fig crops and nutritional systems worldwide. Through growth in small cultivars and breeding between cultivated trees, farmers uphold and propagate genetic diversity among figs, thereby defending against diseases and effects of climate change.

As part of the partnership, we aim to create a fig nursery, distribute saplings for free, create a scientific teaching garden with regional fig varieties, train farmers in production and value-added processing techniques, and create a fig growers’ cooperative to further explore opportunities in cultivation and marketing. The environment, youth, women and rural families, and communities are all key beneficiaries, and the profit generated through this project will allow individuals and their associations to improve their livelihoods and develop their country’s economy.

While the Moroccan government is contributing land and technical support for the organic figs nursery, HAF is still seeking funding for the significant remainder, without which it cannot pursue the opportunities for rural Moroccans this project provides. In order to ensure the sustained success of the nurseries, HAF will need to implement two irrigation plans, which will involve well-building and extensive water management.  For example, it costs approximately $5,000 to effectively irrigate just one hectare of fig nursery.

The involved organizations plan to reach 35,000 beneficiaries (50 percent of whom will be rural women in Ouezzane province and the greater Tangier-Tetouan region), extend fig crops by 11,000 hectares, and reach a 126 percent increase in fig production by 2020. The incorporation of rural women as primary beneficiaries of this project is highly significant. HAF aims to help disadvantaged populations, and with this project we support not just environmental and economic development, but also the empowerment of rural women.

This project aims to uplift rural Moroccan communities through sustainable agriculture. We are working to create a synergy between human development and environmental protection that will last long after HAF’s involvement. Ultimately, we want to provide disadvantaged communities with the necessary tools to pioneer their own social and economic progress. HAF possesses the required knowledge, experience, and passion, but we rely on your generosity to accomplish this goal.

Help to achieve this Project.


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So far in 2018, the High Atlas Foundation planted more than 80,000 fig trees and seeds (cuttings in community nurseries).  We also signed a partnership agreement with the Regional Management of Waters and Forests in Tetouane (northern Morocco), that enables us to plant a nursery of threatened fig varieties on a three (3) hectare parcel of land contributed in-kind by the Waters and Forests agency.

The High Commission of Water and Forestry in Rabat partners with HAF by providing nursery land and technical support for a ten-year period. The Commission see the organic figs project as a way to pursue goals outlined in the government’s Plan Maroc Vert and Environmental Charter, which set reforestation and agroeconomic targets and strategies for the coming decades, and calls specifically for the rejuvenation and creation of organic enanic ionhich set environmental be given to the local people after 2 years almonds for domestic & international sale

Fruit tree crops and organization of their cultivators. The plan names figs as a special focus.  Both organizations have indicated that fig crops in the Tangier-Tetouan region, which encompasses HAF’s planned nursery, suffer from ageing, neglect and a lack of effective marketing. The Commission see HAF’s planned nursery as strengthening the area’s agricultural economy, supporting rural households and honoring the tradition of fig cultivation, to which people in the area are deeply emotionally bound. Support of fig crops will also ensure that figs do not become extinct in the area, a threat that has already eradicated plum and pear varieties there.

As part of the partnership, we aim to create a fig nursery, distribute saplings for free, create a scientific teaching garden with all regional fig varieties, train farmers in production and value-added processing techniques, and create a fig growers’ cooperative to further explore opportunities in cultivation and marketing. Ten varieties of fig will be grown, and saplings will be distributed two and three years after seed planting.

The involved organizations plan to reach 35,000 beneficiaries (50 percent of whom will be rural women in Ouezzane province and the greater Tangier-Tetouan region), extend fig crops by 11,000 hectares and reach a 126 percent increase in fig production by 2020.

 While the Moroccan government is contributing land and technical support for the organic figs nursery, HAF is still seeking funding for the significant remainder, without which it cannot pursue the opportunities for rural Moroccans accessed by this project.

The environment, youth, women and rural families and communities are key targeted beneficiaries, and the profit generated through this project and model will allow individuals and their associations to improve their livelihoods and develop their country’s economy.

This model provides farmers, with a special emphasis on women and youth workers, the revenue and job opportunities necessary to moderate any uprising that could affect Morocco as it has the rest of the Middle East and North African region. Youth and women are key targeted beneficiaries, and the profit generated through this model allows these individuals and their associations to improve their own livelihoods and develop their country’s economy.

Morocco is a world leader in fig production: in 2009, the country ranked among the world’s top five fig producers (among Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and Iran), and, for dried fig production, climbed to second place globally in 2013, with 22,438 tons produced behind Turkey’s 48,000. Figs grow especially well in Morocco due to the country’s hot summers and full sun throughout the growing season. This climate ensures one to two bountiful crops a year, as long as fruit trees receive adequate water to ensure fruit does not drop early due to drought stress. Figs are harvested between June and October, depending on the region.

Fig crops from Morocco may tap potential markets in the U.S. and E.U. Despite high U.S. production, for example, acreage dedicated to fig production has decreased by at least 5,000 acres in recent decades. This decrease, combined with stress on California’s agriculture due to severe drought, presents a strong opportunity for Morocco to fill U.S. fig demand, especially in the U.S.’s large organic market. 

Figs can be sold fresh, dried or processed into many value-added preventative care, medical, agricultural and household products. Organic fig production, especially, can provide great health advantages to local and international consumers. Figs’ calcium content is higher than those of apples and grapes, and their potassium levels exceed those of apples and dates. Figs contain higher levels of phenolic compounds than red wine and tea, high levels of amino acids, and no fat or harmful cholesterol.

Figs can be used in epidermal, endocrine, reproductive, respiratory, anti-allergenic and anti-epileptic applications, and to counter conditions like hay fever, eczema, asthma and hives. According to Shamkant and colleagues (2014), Ficus carica presents “a promising candidate in pharmaceutical biology for the development/ formulation of new drugs and future clinical uses.”[1]

Fig trees can quickly be propagated through fertilized seeds or hardwood cuttings from female trees, in which one to three-year-old branches are cut, kept in nurseries for three months to two seasons and planted at permanent locations. With enough time, a small number of fig trees can give rise to a large plantation at a minimal cost.

Small-scale Moroccan fig crops are important to the sustainability of fig crops and nutritional systems worldwide. Through growth in small cultivars and breeding between cultivated female and wild male trees, farmers uphold and propagate genetic diversity among figs, thereby providing bulwarks against diseases and effects of climate change that may affect fig cultivars of different sizes and regions.

 

 

[1] Salman Shehzada. “Antimicrobial, Antioxidant and Phytotoxic Screening of Ficus carica.” International Journal of Advances in Pharmaceutical Research. December 2013.

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By Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D.

HAF Founder and President

 

It is a particular joy for me to announce that my colleague for many years, Larbi Didouqen, is now the High Atlas Foundation’s Director in Morocco.

 

 I first met Si Larbi in 1993 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and he was the Director of the Toubkal National Park.  I recall most from our initial encounter that I made a remark that someone referred to as “philosophical”.  Larbi, in all his thoughtfulness, responded: “We need philosophers to carry out our mission.”  We have been close collaborators ever since.

 

At this moment, HAF in Morocco is: 

 

transplanting more than 250,000 tree saplings from our eleven nurseries by March, and planting a million more seeds in 2018, benefiting communities and schools in 30 provinces

implementing a major clean drinking water project in the south, with nomadic people;

conducting women’s empowerment workshops that is a rights-based and human development approach;

building upon its seven university partnerships;

monitoring for carbon credits;

building capacities of members of cooperatives;

fielding Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers from the U.S., and interns from around the world; and  

advocating people’s participation in development at all levels and with all sectors of society.

 

 Our team that Larbi is now leading is so hard working, and break new grounds.  Larbi leads through his wonderful example, and steadfast dedication.  He was a volunteer for HAF its first ten years, before joining its staff full time in 2011.  The starting point of his commitment to HAF’s mission of participatory development is love of people.  From there, best decisions are made. 

 

 As for me, I will be part of HAF as much as ever.  I will write more, and build special partnerships more, and do so more from the United States.

 

This is my last HAF message of 2017 reminds of that most beautiful intangible quality about Morocco: that beautiful and unpredictable things happen, that uplift others and somehow me along – higher and higher, with greater serenity.

 

Wishing much of only good for 2018, and always,

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D.

 

HAF Founder and President

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Figs are grown mainly in southern oases, the northwest and Rif mountain zones. Fig cultivars are highly diverse and localized, with higher diversity in northern crops (in Achtak’s study, every site studied in the Rif produced around eight unique, localized types of fig). Trees are usually propagated through cuttings (cloning), and ensuing fruits are traditionally fertilized by hanging male fig fruits, often wild, in female trees.

 

Moroccan fig varieties are under threat due to a lack of adequate water supply, low profitability and untapped potential in value-added processing. Old fig plantations are dying out due to this negligence, and farmers are limiting new and existing crops to lands otherwise unsuitable for farming, such as mountain slopes, which cannot easily be reached for commercial marketing purposes. Farmers also lack the means to store figs, which spoil quickly without cold storage facilities and gentle handling. They do not possess incentives to dry enough of the crop to reach more profitable markets and, as a result, figs are largely absorbed in fresh form by local, low-value markets.  On more accessible land, farmers are replacing existing cultivars with more resource and labor intensive plant species like wheat, apples and pears. In some places, over half of fig plantations have disappeared, and many figs rot while still on the branch.

 

The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and High Commission of Water and Forestry have agreed to partner with HAF by providing nursery land for a ten-year period. The ministries see the organic figs project as a way to pursue goals outlined in the government’s Plan Maroc Vert, which sets environmental and agroeconomic targets and strategies for the coming decades, and calls specifically for the rejuvenation and creation of fruit tree crops and organization of their cultivators. The plan names figs – specifically Homrana, Mounouacha, Lamdar Labiad, Lamdar Lakhal, Sbaa Ourkoud, Qoti Labiad, Qoti Lakhal, Ghouddane Rond, Ghouddane Oblong and Doukkar (caprifiguier, or male fig) varieties -- as a special focus.  The ministries have indicated that fig crops in the Tangier-Tetouan region, which encompasses HAF’s planned nursery, suffer from ageing, neglect and a lack of effective marketing. The ministries see HAF’s planned nursery in Tazroute as strengthening the area’s agricultural economy, supporting rural households and honoring the tradition of fig cultivation, to which people in the area are deeply emotionally bound. Support of fig crops will also ensure that figs do not become extinct in the area, a threat that has already eradicated plum and pear varieties.

 

As part of the partnership, HAF, the Ministry of Agriculture and the High Commission of Water and Forestry aim to create a fig nursery and scientific teaching garden with all regional fig varieties, distribute saplings for free, train farmers in production and value-added processing techniques, and create a fig growers’ association to further explore opportunities in cultivation and marketing. Ten varieties of fig will be grown, and saplings will be distributed three years after seed planting.  Together, let’s make this happen.

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Hi again,

 

The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and High Commission of Water and Forestry partner with HAF by providing nursery land and technical support for a ten year period. The Ministry and Commission see the organic figs project as a way to pursue goals outlined in the government’s Plan Maroc Vert and Environmental Charter, which set reforestation and agroeconomic targets and strategies for the coming decades, and calls specifically for the rejuvenation and creation of organic

fruit tree crops and organization of their cultivators. The plan names figs as a special focus.[1] Both organizations have indicated that fig crops in the Tangier-Tetouan region, which encompasses HAF’s planned nursery, suffer from ageing, neglect and a lack of effective marketing. The Ministry and Commission see HAF’s planned nursery in Tazroute as strengthening the area’s agricultural economy, supporting rural households and honoring the tradition of fig cultivation, to which people in the area are deeply emotionally bound. Support of fig crops will also ensure that figs do not become extinct in the area, a threat that has already eradicated plum and pear varieties there.

 

As part of the partnership, HAF and the ministries aim to create a fig nursery, distribute saplings for free, create a scientific teaching garden with all regional fig varieties, train farmers in production and value-added processing techniques, and create a fig growers’ cooperative to further explore opportunities in cultivation and marketing. Ten varieties of fig will be grown, and saplings will be distributed two and three years after seed planting.

 

The involved organizations plan to reach 35,000 beneficiaries (50 percent of whom will be rural women in Ouezzane province and the greater Tangier-Tetouan region), extend fig crops by 11,000 hectares and reach a 126 percent increase in fig production by 2020.[2]

 

While the Moroccan government is contributing land and technical support for the organic figs nursery, HAF is still seeking funding for the significant remainder, without which it cannot pursue the opportunities for rural Moroccans accessed by this project.

 

The environment, youth, women and rural families and communities are key targeted beneficiaries, and the profit generated through this project and model will allow individuals and their associations to improve their livelihoods and develop their country’s economy.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
 

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
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Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
New York, NY United States

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