I am a late career American businessman. Currently I spend up to half of each year volunteering with NGOs in developing and middle income countries. I assist across a range of business disciplines (marketing, sales, strategic planning, and organizational improvement.) Over the past 8 years I have conducted 45 volunteer assignments in 20 or so countries.
Just recently, I spent three weeks in September 2017 conducting a volunteer business assignment in Marrakech, Morocco. Two US-based NGOs, IESC and Land O’Lakes, sent me on this assignment. Our client was the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a United States and Moroccan NGO reaching twelve provinces throughout Morocco. HAF trains communities to integrate agricultural and other human development initiatives. HAF invests in projects in participatory democratic governance, sustainable agriculture, school environment, health and sanitation, integration of women in economic and social environment, and environmental resource management.
My specific assignment was to address HAF as a crop nursery business. Since 2003, HAF and its partners have planted 2.2 million trees and are currently engaged in a campaign with its public, business, and civil partners to plant one billion trees in Morocco. HAF and community tree planting efforts benefits 5,000 households (about 45,000 people) throughout Morocco.
HAF is the only non-profit tree-providing nursery in Morocco. Thus it has no direct competitors. The foundation views commercial nurseries, not as competitors, but as business collaborators. Some 50% of the seedlings HAF donates to beneficiaries are sourced from commercial nurseries. HAF offers multiple fruit and nut trees as well as herbs and medicinal plants to its customers.
HAF donates its nursery crops free to beneficiaries, usually funded by donor grants. In 2017 to date, 101 organizations (cooperatives, communities, and schools) have received various trees and plants from HAF.
HAF offers multiple fruit and nut trees as well as herbs and medicinal plants to its customers. Demand likely exceeds supply for the most popular trees provided by HAF nurseries. The foundation will benefit by focusing on a more limited number of products offered. It is difficult to be efficient and successful when trying to be all things to all people. Consequently, HAF requested assistance to develop a business plan for their tree and plant nurseries.
The following organic trees plus various plants are offered or under consideration by HAF.
- Dates (under consideration)
- Lemon (under consideration)
- Plants (oregano, thyme, wormwood, fennel, rosemary, verbena, lavander, marjoram, sage, geranium, peppermint, capers)
I conducted a strategic analysis of the HAF nursery business in order to identify action steps required for the organization to take and included this information in the development of a business plan. The recommendations provided were designed to be realistically implementable and to offer paths of improvement to HAF.
In order to prioritize HAF’s crop offerings ideally we would evaluate such measures as:
- Production for the domestic market
- Production for the export market
- Sales value of seedlings and of harvested crops
- Cost of production
- And so on...
However such metrics are not easily available, consequently we elected to rely on estimates and qualitative criteria in order to prioritize the products. The following list shows eight metrics that we have used to prioritize our product offerings.
- Uses (food, medicine, cosmetics, environmental, fuel)
- Years until transplantable as a seedling
- Years until commercially viable
- Life of orchard in years
- Current demand for seedlings
- Production metric tons 2014
- Seedling sales price
- Water demand
The result of our analysis showed that the most attractive trees to concentrate on were olive, pomegranate, carob, fig, and walnut. Next in line were almond, cherry, and medicinal plants and herbs.
I thoroughly enjoyed my three week volunteer assignment with the HAF organization. I hope to be able to assist them again in the future.
Finally, HAF is an NGO with noble goals and with substantial skills. The foundation has achieved notable success to date. Even if none of the recommendations offered in our business assessment are implemented, HAF and its organic nursery business would continue to be a force for good in Morocco. However, the organization has even greater potential to achieve good in the country. With the implementation of the business plan presented, I believe that the High Atlas Foundation, its partners, and particularly its beneficiaries will all reach an even higher level of success.