As a retired agricultural economist, I participated in the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Morocco, administered by the High Atlas Foundation. F2F's main goal is to generate sustainable, broad-based economic growth in the agricultural sector through voluntary technical assistance. F2F sponsored my travel and stay in Morocco to brainstorm with pomegranate growers on steps that could be taken to increase their household incomes and reduce poverty.
I volunteered to identify factors that keep pomegranate farmers poor and, working with the farmers, come up with measures that could improve their well-being.
Pomegranates are round fruits with hard, shiny red-yellow skins. The fruit is composed of jewel-like inner seeds, known as arils, that people can eat either raw or juiced. Not only is the fruit delicious, it also offers incredible health and nutrition benefits.
Pomegranates are a good source of fibre as well as vitamins A, C, some B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron. Two components - punicalagins and punicic acid – are responsible for most of the health benefits of pomegranate. Pomegranates also have antioxidant activity three times higher than that of red wine or green tea.
Pomegranates trees are low maintenance, offer good yields and can thrive even with limited moisture. Pomegranates are among the best high-value crops to reduce rural poverty (FAO). In Morocco, unlike in other producing countries, the fruit is non-GMO and cultivated using organic and sustainable farming practices.
The dilemma is, if pomegranates are sold in the supermarkets in the United States and Europe for over three and even four dollars a fruit, why do the pomegranate growers in Morocco experience poverty? Part of the answer lays in the fact that for that same piece of fruit, the farmer received 25 cents only. One of the reasons for this is, while the farmers are gifted and their pomegranate fruits are of the highest quality, the farmers require the knowledge and the skills to compete in today's' markets. Inexperience in marketing and finance, and limited exposure to product innovation have greatly stymied the farmers in their efforts to make a good living.
The farmers over the course of our work decided that they should embark on a program to become more competitive, add value to their harvest and launch an aggressive marketing campaign. Because of these consultations, a modernization project was designed.
First, the farmers want to preserve and promote the golden pomegranate variety indigenous to this region in Morocco and their sustainable organic farming practices. However, some fruits suffered from peel bursting. The farmers want technical assistance to eliminate this agronomic issue.
To be more effective and engage in today’s commercial activities, the farmers’ cooperative will begin to hire a small cadre of skilled young women and men, including a marketing manager, an accountant, an information and computer specialist, a mechanical engineer and an administrative assistant.
To date, the farmers only sell fresh fruits. The farmers know that if they were to add value to their harvest through processing, their returns would significantly increase. The farmers’ cooperative and I prepared a business plan for a proposal to buy the equipment to extract and bottle juice. The business plan indicates that producing and selling pomegranate juice is highly profitable. In addition, such an operation would generate employment for young skilled women and men, as well as many laborers.
Finally, farmers agreed that they needed an aggressive marketing campaign to generate demand for their bottled pomegranate juice. The marketing campaign would promote the high quality of their organic, non-GMO “Moroccan Golden” pomegranate, which uses the state of the art manufacturing equipment to make a sanitary, pasteurized 100 percent bottled pomegranate juice, available year round. In addition, the marketing manager would negotiate contracts with domestic supermarket chains, restaurants and hotels for their fruit and processed products.
A marketing survey indicated that Moroccans love pomegranate juice, but they can only enjoy juice during the three-month harvest period; between September and November. The farmers’ cooperative could become one of the very few suppliers of hygienic pure pomegranate juice year round in the domestic market. Once the cooperative has gained sufficient processing experience, it would export into the premium European and US markets.
Their proposal has already generated donor’s interest in providing the funds needed to implement their program.