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Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans

by High Atlas Foundation
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans
Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans

I had the pleasure of accompanying Said, HAF Project Manager; Hassan, an assistant; and Tobi, a teacher at United World Colleges, on two nursery visits in the Marrakech region. As someone who has always been passionate about agriculture and the environment, the nursery visits had a positive impact on my choosing the High Atlas Foundation to continue my professional career, after obtaining a master’s degree in biotechnology and sustainable development of agro-resources.

The Imegdal nursery is under the supervision of Hassan, a skilled technician also competent in the manufacture of compost made from hay and manure. Hassan spoke to us about transplanting the tree saplings and watering techniques. This nursery - initially funded by the Global Diversity Foundation and the Darwin Initiative - includes several types of plants such as: argan, carob, cherry, almond, and walnut because of its agricultural, economic, environmental, and health importance. Additionally, the High Atlas Foundation wants to protect the agricultural heritage of Morocco and provide a sustainable environment for the growth and development of these plants. Further, these varieties keep the soil fertile while avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers that cause adverse effects both on the quality and health of groundwater.

The Tadmamt nursery is the result of a partnership between Morocco’s office of High Waters and Forests and the High Atlas Foundation for tree planting; its initial funding came from the United Nations Development Program. This nursery, which mainly cultivates almonds, cherries, and walnuts, is under the supervision of Omar. Daily maintenance of the nursery organized by Omar, as well as the grafting technique utilized here, is the best solution to ensuring high quality fruit and profitability of crops.

These nurseries contribute substantially to the sustainable development of local areas. Specifically, they provide a significant number of carob, argan, and walnut plants throughout the year to the inhabitants of the region including landowners and farmers as well as new and old agricultural cooperatives. Ultimately, the nurseries help local communities, particularly those involved in agricultural activities, while keeping our agro-resources.

What is scalability? At its core, scalability is expansion, and often unlimited expansion without the need to redefine any of the fundamental elements. Such a concept enters the field of development when discussions of projects, organizational capacity, and networks center around expansion. The number of communities that participate in a women’s empowerment program may increase; a non-government organization may see an increase in its funding and then hire more staff to take on more development projects; and an organization may establish a new partnership with another organization that has similar goals in order to share resources and ideas. It is essential to take the time to process how scaling up operations could influence communities and how changing cultural landscapes in turn affect the scaled-up operations.

Project scalability requires community-led evaluation and planning in order to ensure success. Any development-oriented project should consider a community’s political, economic, and cultural landscape for the sake of the project’s success and viability in the future. The technical aspects of a development project cannot always be scalable, so perhaps we should focus on scaling up frameworks, project themes, and goals. As Anna Tsing, an American professor of anthropology, suggests, nonscalability theory defines development projects as being dependent on the historical and current lived realities of a community. Nonscalability in the context of development refers to the fact that there are elements of the cultural landscape—political, social, and economic facets of daily life—which make scaling up development projects essentially unfeasible as they do not take these elements of life into account when carrying them out. Rather than allow scalability to outright deny these realities, scaling up project operations can rely on nonscalability theory, and development practitioners can rely on both theories. Ensuring that adjustments to every scaled development project are made in order to better meet the needs of a community can create a more sustainable, meaningful community development.

Take the High Atlas Foundation’s tree nursery initiative as an example of more successful scalability of development projects. Using organic agriculture as a means to address food insecurity and rural poverty in Morocco, HAF assists communities in establishing tree nurseries through participatory development methods. HAF has aided in building 13 nurseries located in seven provinces in Morocco, yet no two of these sites look exactly alike. Community needs and realities are addressed throughout the planning process, leading to the scaling up of project frameworks rather than all technical elements of the project. In some rural communities, only women run nursery operations. Some nurseries focus on growing cherries, while others grow olive trees, and others grow different types or a variety of cash crops. While the framework remains the same—employing organic agriculture as a means of addressing community needs—each iteration of the project is adapted to the realities of the community, with each community expressing their support for the nursery.

Can all scalability be successful? The short answer is no. Yet, this does not mean it is all unsuccessful. Scaling up networks and basic frameworks of projects rather than all technical details may be solutions to the rigidity of scaling up certain community development projects which made the cultural landscape an afterthought. The scaling up of development projects can be successful, but practitioners must keep the lived realities of communities a priority throughout the process.

On July 23, 2019, Ms. Fatima-Zahra Laaribi participated in a webinar dedicated to Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) projects funded by USAID. The objective of the seminar was to give an opportunity for stakeholders involved in future similar projects to benefit from lessons learned and experiences gained by fellow NGOs important in the implementation phase. The seminar consisted of two presentations made by volunteers who worked on previous F2F projects in 2016. The first presentation was on "improving food safety system program in Ghana" and the second focused on “value chains for rural development projects”.

To fulfill its objective, the seminar led by Farmer-to-Farmer Agricultural Volunteer Opportunity Project (AVOP), related the results, achievements, impacts and lessons learned to different F2F projects conducted in several countries, such as Burma (Myanmar) in Asia and Mali, Mozambique and Guinea in Africa. The organizers of the seminar emphasized the key phases to go through for good field implementation, especially the selection of the volunteer expert to accompany the beneficiaries.

This seminar is of high relevance to the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), since it is the start of the implementation of an F2F USAID funded project. The project is entitled “Cooperatives Leading Sustainable Agriculture in Morocco”. The objective of the Moroccan Economic Empowerment Country F2F Project is to build the technical, managerial and resource capacities of cooperatives (and their members) and school-based nurseries in organic agricultural, value-added, and food production activities.

This project which covers the regions of Marrakech, Beni Mellal and Oujda, will benefit 80 cooperatives, and will recruit 70 F2F volunteers to work on the project in proximity with the farmers and other beneficiaries. The project will address the full range of agricultural issues farmers may face, including from farm to fork. HAF addresses the opportunities local communities face and fosters sustainable development that improves rural people’s livelihoods.

On a sunny Friday morning, the High Atlas Foundation took us on a field trip to the village of Tassa Ouirgane in the Al-Haouz province. Our small but very international group consisted of students from the George Mason University in Virginia, student volunteers from all over the world, and staff members of the HAF.

Our first stop was about one kilometer before the village of Tassa Ouirgane. We were led down a small path and found ourselves in the middle of the tree nursery of the village. 40’000 olive tree saplings, funded by the United Nations Development program, are grown here right at the border of the Toubkal National Park. HAF has assisted the village community both in implementing various community projects, including in irrigation, erosion prevention, and with a women’s cooperative. With partners, the village has managed to build a well, has developed a system to avoid the erosion by the river of their farming terraces, and in advocacy by and for the village towards Moroccan and international agencies.

After the visit to the tree nursery on the terraced fields, we continued our way into the village. Our group was warmly welcomed by the members of the local women’s cooperative who hosted us in the village’s school building. The Tassa Ouirgane cooperative is open to all unmarried female members of the village community and currently counts 14 members who meet on a weekly basis. The cooperative generates income by collecting, drying and selling wild medicinal herbs such as thyme. In addition, the women produce pastries and collect Ghassoul (natural mineral clay found in the High Atlas used for cosmetic purposes) for sale. After we got the chance to taste the homemade pastries, HAF director of projects Amina El Hajjami then held a workshop with the cooperative members in which they discussed the current agenda of the cooperative, such as electing their officers and having all members apply for identify cards so that they can be included in the official registration. All cooperative members participated in what appeared to be a lively discussion.

It was time for lunch. As it was a Friday, our hosts had prepared couscous that was greatly appreciated by the guests. The group was curious about the content of the workshop. What challenges do they face? What have they learned? What are their plans for the future? HAF president Yossef Ben-Meir acted as a translator from English to Darija and vice versa to initiate a conversation. It appears that the main challenge the cooperative is facing at the moment is internal communication. There is a need to find a system that updates the whole cooperative about the activities of the individual members and defines responsibilities. In this way, the coordination of work can be enhanced, and duplication avoided. They discussed as well that the working time of members should be recorded to have an overview of the effort that goes into the cooperative. In the future, the cooperative hopes to upscale its activities regarding the sale of wild herbs. The aim is to also offer herbs in the form of essential oils, for which a much higher quantity of herbs is required. However, the cooperative needs to develop a partnership agreement with the national park authorities to allow the increased collection of wild herbs. This is where HAF can also be helpful, through assisting their communication with this and other public agencies.

One further point in the discussion was to schedule an election for the presidency and other positions of the cooperative. An election or vote is only held when all 14 members are present, which to me pictures a very democratic understanding of the cooperative, in which all members have an equal say.

The Tassa Ouirgane women’s cooperative to me marks an impressive example, of what becomes possible when young people bundle their capacities and work together. It seemed to me that the cooperative is proud of its activities and has found a way to contribute to their community in a way that empowers the individual members.

One of the good feelings is walking into a place for the first time and having flashbacks to childhood memories, and this is exactly what happened during my visit to the MOGADOR Cooperative.

The Cooperative is in the center of Ounagha, 25 km from Essaouira, and it is surrounded by Argan trees which give the Cooperative a special charm. When you first step into in the building, you see different products on the roof: Argan oil with its main forms, pure honey, and Amlou. Each roof tells stories of multiple steps, manually most of the time,  to obtain an organic edible or cosmetic product.

The women who work inside of the Cooperative respect certain steps in order to produce Argan oils. The first step lies in harvesting the Argan nuts and this step itself can be done through two ways: the first and common way is to collect the Argan nuts that fall from the trees, and the second method is to collect the nuts which goats spit out after eating the fleshy layer of the fruit. This step is done either in July or early August.

Once Argan is harvested, they get dried in open air and then get crushed between two stones in order to reach the outer of the Argan nut with its hard brown skin. This gets manually cracked as well between two hard stones to get to the kernels where the amazing oil sits. Then, there is the step of separating the kernels from the cracked layers so as to start the extraction process. It is necessary to note that there are different extraction methods according to the type of oil wanted. Extracting the edible Argan oil demands roasting the kernels while the cosmetic does not.

All these processes came to my mind as I was promenading through the Cooperative and projected the old memories onto the actual space. If you stop by the roof, chit chat will grab your attention and invite you to check its source, to find yourself in a hall with about ten women intensively working and engaging in talks at the same time. A traditional mill attracted me and I wanted to bring those memories back to the present life, so I decided to enjoy grinding the kernels in the mill. The smell of the roasted kernels reinforces this charm and reminds that we are taking a clean air in place of the pollution of the city.

In order to keep the continuity of these magical moments, the High Atlas Foundation partnering with FRÉ Skincare offered 100 Argan plants to this Cooperative, which was glad to receive them. Women left their hall and joined us in front of the cooperative to plant an Argan tree.

Before departing from this joy, my eyes spotted two beautiful twin girls playing around the roof peacefully. Watching these two identical girls made me reflect on my two identities as both Swiri [from the Essaouira region] and a Marrakchi girl. Thank you HAF for giving me the opportunity to revisit my roots.


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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Gueliz - Marrakech, Morocco
$25,299 raised of $50,000 goal
235 donations
$24,701 to go
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