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Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco

by High Atlas Foundation
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco

A typical day’s work for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) varies greatly depending on the role of a staff member, the region of Morocco in which they work, and projects that are being planned, prepared to be implemented, or that are currently being administered. During any given day, organic fruit trees are being delivered to and planted in communities; tree nursery infrastructure and cleaning drinking water systems are being constructed; youth and women are being trained in skills building or engaging in activities that result in economic prosperity; communication with our national and international partners, Moroccan government officials, as well as communities is being coordinated to further human development; efforts are being made to secure funding to continue sustainable projects; and HAF staff is utilizing the participatory approach when meeting with community members in various provinces jumpstarting, assisting, or following up with previous projects.

 

October 9, 2018 was a particularly eventful day for HAF. Our Board of Directors, based in the United States, came to Morocco to not only discuss HAF’s current course of action and project sustainability strategies but also to visit the communities with which HAF works. Board member, a retired legal aid lawyer who spent 43 years providing free legal services in New York City to people living in poverty, said of his experience: “It was eye opening to see the various sites that we visited to learn firsthand of the challenges and the benefits of the projects that HAF is working on.” Board member, a retired international banker and current part time financial consultant, reiterated this point:

 

“The visits to the two nurseries—one at the Jewish cemetery site, gave me the opportunity to view not only the nursery but also the symbiotic relationship between both the cultural and the agricultural pillar of the organization. The second visit to the National Forest where HAF plants organic fruit trees, again, gave me an overview of not only the nursery but also the partnership with the government of Morocco. Also, our visit to the women’s cooperative focused on our objective of the empowerment of women and the accomplishments of both educational socialization and economic improvement in women’s lives.”

 

            One of the Board members is a highly experienced international development professional, having dedicated 28 years to Peace Corps—first as a Volunteer in Liberia (1972-76) and later as Director of Peace Corps Morocco, in addition to having held several other executive Peace Corps roles across Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Asia, and the South Pacific. She reported feeling “impressed” with HAF and our projects. Describing her thoughts further.

 

“I appreciate the diversification of the projects, including women’s empowerment and sustainable water such as irrigation and potable water sources for communities; also HAF’s overall philosophy of helping improve the quality of their lives through community participation. As a current board member and long term supporter of HAF since its inception, I’m very proud to see the continuation and the sustainability of the initial projects, which were all agricultural and tree planting, and HAF reaching incredible vaults: first planting 1 million trees and, then, a higher level of 1 billion trees, nationally.” Board member

 

After a day of visiting tree nurseries, a women’s cooperative, and a walnut production cooperative in the Marrakech region, HAF’s Board of Directors and staff hosted an event, “Fulfilling Moroccan Development Visions.” This reception, which was dedicated to discussing past, current, and future sustainable development efforts in Morocco, brought together 180 attendees committed to advancing human development in the country. Moroccan local government officials, farming families, cooperative members, current Peace Corps Morocco volunteers, representatives of nonprofit organizations as well as representatives from the U.S. Consulate—including Consul General Jennifer Rasamimanana and Political-Economic Chief Sasha Suderow—gathered from 8:00pm to 10:00pm at Mohammed VI Museum for the Water Civilization in Morocco. As HAF Project Manager Errachid Montassir said, “Organizing events, conferences, and receptions is always a great opportunity to expand the network and come up with many positive results.”

 

The event began with opening remarks by Ms. Fatima Zahra Laaribi, HAF’s Women’s Empowerment Trainer and Financial Manager. Following, Mr. Abderrahim Gahwan, the President of Ait Taleb Municipality of Rhamna, shared how HAF not only helped his community but also his personal development. For example, he credits learning the participatory approach from HAF for leading him to his position as President and for leading successful projects in Ait Taleb. Similarly, Ms. Rachida Outichki, the President of the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative of Ourika, discussed how participating in HAF’s women’s empowerment training built her and her female peers’ capacities to talk about themselves and pursue projects. Aboghlou is a successful cooperative that exports calendula (a Moroccan medicinal herb) to L’Oreal in France and sells food products such as couscous.

 

HAF staff took to the podium as well. Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, HAF co-founder and President, led a moving conversation on the progress of development in Morocco and the necessary means to further advance economic prosperity, livelihoods, and gender equality. Dr. Ben-Meir explained how HAF contributes to a vision for development in Morocco occurring now and in the future, but it is the local people who ultimately turn each of their own visions into reality and sustain the impacts. He effectively elicited motivation from Moroccan attendees who, during the “open mic” segment of the event, “wonderfully expressed their visions and brought up good project ideas,” as Mr. Montassir described. Dr. Ben-Meir also encouraged university students and younger generations to continue development in their communities and to implement projects not only for themselves and their families but also for future generations. Said El Bennani, HAF Project Manager in Fes and Ifrane, seconded this notion. “Youth participation in development means a lot. Without youth, we are not working forward in development.” One primary school-aged girl sitting in the audience announced the pride she has in having participated in the annual tree planting event led by HAF this past January.

 

As a HAF board member eloquently said, “[Fulfilling Moroccan Development Visions] was very inspiring. It brought together different cultures and backgrounds. From one end of the spectrum—the U.S. board members, with a global vision and global perspective—to the individual students, women cooperative members, and farmers who also attended the presentations. Everybody was focused on the same cause, which is to improve the lives of the Moroccan citizenry.”

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Discussing problems and brainstorming solutions with a Women’s Cooperative in the Ourika Valley, Morocco.

Natural landscapes are declining worldwide. Approximately 30 percent of the world’s natural forests are expected to be lost by the end of this century. Further, 25 percent of all land on earth is currently under threat of desertification, resulting in severe soil erosion and falls in productivity, food security, and biodiversity. Morocco is no exception. Over 90 percent of Morocco’s historical forest cover has already been decimated due to the combined effect of overexploitation, overgrazing, and worsening climate. The disastrous extent of Morocco’s environmental degradation poses a major threat to the country’s flora and fauna. According to the IUCN Red List, over 223 plant and animal species in Morocco are endangered. In addition, severe erosion, water run-off, floods, and soil depletion are critical concerns for human well-being, particularly in the Atlas communities who depend on natural resources and are marginalized with most experiencing systemic poverty.

Under these highly stressful conditions, conservation inherently remains a development issue and their combined mitigation has become an important political objective. As a result, a wide range of projects that provide communities with control over their natural resources and promote socioeconomic benefits were established. However, tackling environmental and societal issues at once can be challenging and many projects have failed to achieve both their conservation and development goals. Identifying a set of effective practices and sharing lessons learned is therefore crucial to successfully conserve natural landscapes and alleviate poverty.

To enable an understanding of effective practices, a Moroccan pro-poor agroforestry program was assessed using a new methodology that allowed the analysis of the linkage between conservation management, community interventions, and their influence on both development outcomes and biodiversity improvements. The evaluation of this program implemented by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a Moroccan-United States nonprofit organization, was carried out by this author, an independent primary investigator from April to September 2018. The study involved a desk-based review of relevant documents, 34 interviews, and six focus groups with seven staff members and 26 beneficiaries. The data were then analyzed and organized into an assessment booklet. This booklet was used by a group of independent professionals, who scored the performance of the program, determined successful practices as well as gaps, and gave recommendations for further improvement.

The assessment revealed that HAF in Morocco showcases exemplary, highly effective practices and, thus, can serve as a model project that should be lauded internationally. Since 2003, HAF has planted 3.6 million seeds and trees with a remarkable increase in 2018, enabled through establishing four new nurseries in partnership with Morocco’s High Commission of Water and Forests and Ecosia, a social business based in Berlin. Through the distribution of fruit trees, the foundation facilitates the transition from subsistence barley and corn cultivation to surplus organic fruit tree farming. This helps preserve the natural environment by reducing soil erosion and flooding and increasing soil quality and plant regeneration, which is highly relevant for villages that face serious and at times dangerous levels of mountain erosion and desertification, exacerbated by farming of staples and cattle herding. One farmer observed: “Before when we just grew barley and corn, the soil lost quality fast and erosion took our land. Now the trees prevent this from happening. We also have more bees because bees love the flowers.”

Furthermore, the foundation was able to impact approximately 10,000 households by increasing their agricultural skills and income. In the Tifnoute Valley of the Taroudant province, for example, the foundation distributed between 10 and 100 cherry trees per farmer. They now generate $21 to $105 from each cherry tree, depending on the water availability, harshness of winters, production rates of previous years, and other factors. On average, this is ten times as much as farmers were able to earn from barley and corn. One farmer stated:

 

“Before we grew trees, we had to work hard to grow corn and barley. If I counted everything together and sold all the barley and corn without keeping anything for myself, I only gained $53 a year. A few years after the foundation gave me trees I was able to sell the fruits for $528 to $1,055 depending on how much my trees produced. With the income generated, I improved my family’s life.”

 

In addition, the increased income enabled communities to reinvest their profits in further communal ventures like school infrastructure, health care, or youth enterprises.

Key to this success is the foundation’s holistic strategy to meaningful community engagement. Through utilizing the participatory approach, the foundation involves communities in every step of the program, entrusts them with the authority to make decisions, and increases their capacity to be agents of change. This secures early community buy-in, prevents programs from being driven by external interests, and guarantees the program is designed with a thorough understanding of local context. Furthermore, through women empowerment workshops, skills-building, literacy classes, and other community-determined initiatives such as improving school infrastructure and enriching education, HAF addresses poverty from all angles. Thereby HAF acknowledges that poverty can manifest not only through shortfalls of income and food but also through a lack of access to education, equality, empowerment, and opportunity. One woman said:

 

“This tree and plant nursery changed our lives. Before the nursery we were just at home. Now with the help of the foundation we are able to work in the nursery, learn new skills, earn our own money, and help to provide for our families. This makes our life so much easier and men are starting to respect us. We are very proud of what we do even when we encounter problems. We learned how to face the problems together, search for solutions, and keep going.”

 

The ongoing deterioration of landscapes and the significant dependency of rural poor on natural resources illustrate the need to considerably change conservation thinking. The High Atlas Foundation proves that meaningful community engagement through participatory methods is essential to sustainable, long-term success. A farmer concluded, “I have great expectations for the future. The trees we planted will be good for the environment, prevent soil erosion, and the project will benefit the communities and the associations in this area.” Therefore, community engagement should never be an afterthought or rhetorical, but should be fundamentally integrated into every conservation and development project. By sharing their lessons learned and effective practices, the High Atlas Foundation offers excellent potential for informing the global conservation and development community of how to develop impactful and beneficial programs.

 

Kerstin Opfer holds a Master in Conservation and Rural Development at the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, and has travelled, worked, and lived in Morocco for over four years.

 


Fruit tree plantations in the Tifnoute Valley, High Atlas Mountains.
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Tadmamt tree nursery, Province of Al Haouz (23 July 2018)

 

We are volunteering with High Atlas Foundation in Marrakesh, for the purpose of living an unforgettable experience and discovering HAF’s activities.

Our first project site visit was to Tadmamt.  HAF’s tree nursery represents a partnership with the Department of Waters and Forests, and it was first funded in 2012 by the United Nations Development Program.

This nursery includes one hectare of land for planting three kinds of organic fruit seeds which are irrigated by a large water basin. There are cherry (60 000 seeds), almond (85,800 seeds), and walnuts (45,000 seeds).

Upon arriving at the site, we met Mr. Youssef, who takes care of the land now that his father, who is the responsible in the nursery, is ill. In our journey, we went visit Mr. Omar, Youssef‘s father, at his home.  His family is so humble and generous.  They welcomed us with a smile.

Mr. Omar, is a sixty-year-old man.  In addition, he is a hard-working person who supports his large family from the salary he receives from HAF. Mr. Omar lives 12 kilometers from the nursery.  This doesn’t prevent him from coming every morning to the nursery, except for now that he is not feeling well.  It is more than a job for him, it is a story of love.

Moreover, HAF’a approach consists to improve livelihoods of rural households, increasing incomes and socioeconomic status of marginalized villages. HAF’s goal is to overcome the poverty cycle by pushing past traditional practices of subsistence agriculture with the help of the nurseries and other agricultural activities, such as cooperative and certifying organic.

HAF‘s purpose is noble.  This amazing organization is supporting and helping people to achieve their dreams. This experience taught us how hard life is for other people, and how the Foundation is trying hard to make people’s life easier and give them chances to make their lives better.

We are thankful to the High Atlas Foundation for giving us such a wonderful opportunity to be here as volunteers.

Give to this important nursery for family farmers in Morocco.

Youssef, Omar’s son, caring for the Tadmamt nursery.

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Six years after the implementation of the walnut tree nursery at Tadmamt, located in the Rural Commune of Asni (Province of Taroudant), the nursery continues now in 2018 to provide approximately 125,000 trees annually for the region and beyond.  The land of the nursery is provided in-kind by the Regional Direction of Waters and Forests in Marrakech, and its initial funding in 2012 was granted by the United Nations Development Program.  In 2016, the nursery started to include almond seeds, and this year it was expanded in size by about one-third through the ongoing generosity of Waters and Forests.  Ecosia, a social enterprise based in Germany, is HAF's most recent partner that has invested in this nursery for Moroccan farming families, and enabled the fulfillment of its expansion.

 
The news of the good consequences of this organic fruit tree nursery gets even better.  First in 2017, HAF concluded a partnership agreement with the High Commission of Waters and Forests in Rabat that enables the national allowance for granting of land by Waters and Forests to the High Atlas Foundation for community tree nurseries.  This Agreement now encourages Morocco's regional administrations to enter into a similar partnership with HAF that was achieved with the Tadmamt nursery in the Marrakech region.  In this regard, HAF and Tetouan's Regional Direction of Waters and Forests signed a partnership agreement to implement a 3.5 hectare nursery in the Province of Ouezzane.  This nursery will concentrate on growing the 14 varieties of Moroccan endemic fig varieties that are threatened.  Pending agreements for land from Waters and Forests for organic tree nurseries currently exist with the regions of Beni Mellal and Taroudant.
 
Furthermore, since the launch of the UNDP-funded nursery in Tadmamt in 2012, HAF expanded the initiative to include the organic certification of walnuts and almonds (including 300 hectares in the Toubkal municipality), empowered local cooperatives, and processed (with certification from the Moroccan ONSAA food inspectors) and sold ten tons of product.  Lastly and vitally, HAF also developed the capacities as a team to monitor and register the trees for potential sale of the carbon credits that they generate.  As part of their agreement in 2017, HAF works with the High Commission of Waters and Forests and its regional administrations yo monitor and have certified the carbon credits sequestered by the nation's forests.  This is a major undertaking and we are discussing with the Waters and Forests managers in Beni Mellal and in its Province of Azilal specific forests to advance this vast potential.
 
The UNDP's initial investment keeps on giving and has grown to include expanding the original nursery, creating new nurseries, the achievement of the agricultural value chain, the granting of Waters and Forests land for community carob plots granted for cultivation, carbon credit monitoring, and new vital partners.  HAF could not be more grateful to all stakeholders, past and present, and for all those who join this cause of sustainable organic agriculture, processing, and carbon credit monitoring to end rural poverty in Morocco
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The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) was founded in 2000 with one overarching goal: to empower disadvantaged Moroccan communities, endorsing grassroots development and catalyzing sustainable economic growth. Requested by most communities, planting fruit trees for rural families is one of HAF’s many major projects. HAF raises trees in nurseries around the country, and once they are ready for planting, they participate with the recipients to ensure they’re properly relocated. Once a family receives trees, they are the sole beneficiaries of the fruits (and profits) grown with these trees.

In an innovative partnership, HAF has been working with a youth protection center for at-risk youth in Fes for about a year. Boys between the ages of 12 and 18 are residents at the center for roughly six months at a time, either serving in lieu of jail time, or having come as orphans. HAF became involved roughly a year ago, bringing a tree nursery to the center’s grounds. This year, through the partnership, they have planted about 300,000 seeds, working alongside the children to empower them with new skills. While learning about community empowerment, sustainability, agriculture, and more, the partnership helps provide much-needed structure that may ultimately reduce recidivism rates after the children return to their communities at-large.

The center, run by the Ministry of Youth and Sport, is one of twenty such centers nationwide. With youth representing an estimated 2.7 percent of the prison population in Morocco, these centers provide a valuable alternative to incarceration. These centers’ goal is to provide much-needed structure for youth offenders in a rehabilitative environment, while offering educational and vocational training. Several centers have programs in which the youth can receive a certificate or diploma following their training. Setting the series of centers apart from jails, they work to maintain and strengthen links between the youth, their families, and their community.

This shift is part of a larger global trend to reduce youth incarceration, opting instead to place youth in what one researcher calls “a robust continuum of community-based programs that endeavor to provide the exact elements research is telling us youth need to thrive and desist from delinquency.” This “continuum” of community-based alternatives to incarceration should provide, according to Penal Reform International, the following: education and vocational training; programs, recreation and religion; maintenance of family ties; maintenance of community ties; and ultimately plan for a transition out of a facility.After implementing alternatives like these locally, many states and municipalities in the United States have seen dramatic reductions in youth arrest, incarceration, and recidivism rates.

The partnership between HAF and the youth protection center confers benefits to both the Moroccan community at-large and the youth in residence at the center. It empowers families to have an additional source of income and nutrition, while simultaneously taking part in a larger global practice in reducing recidivism rates and combating extremism before it can develop among at-risk youth in the center. This is of critical importance in Morocco, where 28 percent of the population between 15 and 24 are unemployed, and not in school or any sort of professional training. This un- and underemployment puts Moroccan youth at risk in many ways, principally in that it can build a culture of resentment.

HAF is currently developing another partnership and an argan and carob tree nursery with a youth protection center in Oujda, with is including the youth from the first stages. With the knowledge that they’re working towards a larger goal, helping a great number of rural Moroccan families, the youth involved benefit from a sense of empowerment and the satisfaction of helping others, fostered in this innovative partnership.

Traditional in-kind land donations have tremendous impacts on the community at-large, and these contributions with the youth protection centers have ripple effects on a larger level. This partnership could blossom at a national level, if partnered with all 20 youth protection centers run by the Ministry of Youth and Sport. At the center in Fes alone, the 300,000 planted seeds will grow into trees tended by staff, youth in residence, and volunteers. Once these trees are distributed among rural families, on average comprising nine family members each, the impact on the community comes into clear focus. This is only a small portion of HAF’s overall efforts, but the possibilities of a larger partnership with all the centers would multiply those efforts in ways that bring benefits to not only the families receiving trees, but also empowering at-risk youth with structure, education, and positive role models and leadership.

Empower youth.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Gueliz - Marrakech, Morocco
$31,533 raised of $50,000 goal
 
361 donations
$18,467 to go
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