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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

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.

New adventure.  New excitement.  After an amazing day in Skoura M’daz, part of the HAF team continues the five-day tree planting campaign. We met farmers from Azrou, in the Amghas commune. Abdelilah accompanied us; he is the caretaker of the HAF Ifrane nursery which is located at the Salaam School. We spent the afternoon distributing the trees to the farmers. In total, we distributed 275 fruit trees, 225 almond, 10 fig, 20 pomegranate, and 20 quince trees. 

We finished our afternoon of planting and conversing with the farmers of the region. They thanked us for all our effort and expressed hope that we will continue HAF activities together.

On the next day, we travelled to Meknes. In a program from the Leadership Development Institute at Akhawayn university in Ifrane, the Cemetery Workers Association from Meknes was rewarded almost 2000 trees last year for being the best association in the Fes-Meknes region. They decided to distribute those trees to several institutions in the region.

With the lead of Si Hicham (the association’s president), our first step was to visit the Ibn Zaydon Elementary School where we planted about 125 almond trees. According to the director, most of the students are orphans.  He also explained the proper way of teaching future generations and guide them towards a better future. He passionately believes that to prepare our students for the future, we must prepare them for change by teaching them to inquiry and think, and to adapt with new circumstance as well as explains how the school system works, and which activities children do in the school.

We moved on to another school nearby (the Ibn Outman High School). We spoke with the director and Said, HAF Project Manager, explained everything about the High Atlas Foundation. The director was very happy and welcoming and in return, he explained everything about the school and how grateful he is that the school is going to be more beautiful with the trees which are going to be planted there. On this day, the students planted 40 almond and 10 pomegranate trees.

In the next two days, Si Moha, from the Moroccan High Comission of Waters and Forests and combating Desertification joined us. We went from one school to another, to a health care center, a cemetery, and to the Office of Professional Formation and Promotion (OFPPT). We planted 318 fruit trees in total (259 almond, 30 fig, 10 carob, 9 pomegranates, and 10 quince trees). Si Moha explained to all the children and the participants how to preserve the environment and the trees which give us so much in return. Moreover, by planting a tree, we are all contributing to the word’s balanced environmental system.  

We can be a problem of the environment, by polluting and not careing for it. However, we are also it’s solution. By planting trees, we are preserving the environment which takes care of us, thus healthy environments create healthy societies. As a popular saying says “They planted and we ate, we plant and they will eat.”  We are planting trees for the next generation so they can benefit from them as we did from the past ones.

Thank you to Si Hicham from the Cemetery Workers Association for the most welcoming hospitality. I hope we can meet again someday! Importantly, a big thank you to the High Atlas Foundation and to ECOSIA (a green search engine and the investor in HAF nurseries) for the amazing opportunity for helping to make the environment a better place and meeting great people on this journey.

Early morning on Tuesday, February 19th, we went to Tassa Ouirgan passing by the magnificent view of snowy mountain peaks, wildflowers, and small hills. At a distance of approximately 70 kilometers from the ochre city, Marrakech, the Tassa Ouirgane village stands in its beautiful Azzaden valley.

The day started with a meeting next to where the HAF-community olive tree nursery resides. The meeting was facilitated by Amina El Hajjami, HAF’s Director of Projects, with the farmers from the region. It started with a brainstorming of the achievements, challenges, and recommended solutions. The farmers planted almond and walnut trees and they planned to plant more olive trees. Thus, the challenge is finding high-quality cuttings. They suggested to bring the cuttings from the surrounding farms and they thought that they may plant lemon trees as well.

We met village members, the UNDP’s National Coordinator Badia Sahmi, the UNDP’s Legal Counsel Najwa Alyassari, and Zahra Alyoubi the UNDP’s Assistant, in addition to Soufian Msou, a member of the Moroccan Association for Environment Protection and Human Development.

The meeting was followed by a traditional lunch meal prepared by a local family. We were warmly welcomed by the family members and served tea and nuts as soon as we took a seat. After lunch, mineral water from the well in Tassa Ouirgane was served. The members of the committee had another meeting in a nearby village and so they bade us farewell.

At the same time, a group of girls and young women were waiting for us at the office of the local association of Tassa Ouirgane. It is like a classroom with desks and a blackboard. The light of a sunny day, that the various windows of the classroom allowed, was reflected on their enthusiastic faces. The workshop was facilitated by Amina who succeeded in brainstorming ideas and pushing the girls and young women to speak up and voice their opinions.

Among the various resources in the region, olive trees, honey, aromatic herbs, and natural views, are just a few to state. Most of them agree that they need to establish a woman’s cooperative that would help to create job opportunities and generate income. The young women show a great interest in developing themselves. They believe that they can make a change because they have recognized the importance of economic independence in their lives.

The workshop was concluded with high expectations and a promise to meet as soon as possible after thinking over the findings from today. I was amazed by the warm welcome and positive environment offered by the local population. Heading back to Marrakech, the golden sun of the afternoon relieved the trees on the road from the flakes of snow and enlightened the white peaks of the surrounding mountains.


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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
$25,216 raised of $50,000 goal
231 donations
$24,784 to go
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