Watering the Seeds, Not the Weeds


Imagine Workshop in Izourane, June 21st – June 24th, 2018

By Katherine O’Neill
HAF Intern / Student at Claremont McKenna College


Last week, from June 21st to June 24th, 2018, the High Atlas Foundation facilitated a four-day women’s empowerment workshop in a village outside Essouaira called Izourane.

The Imagine workshop was designed by the Empowerment Institute in New York for the purpose of fostering self-discovery and independence. HAF has been conducting Imagine workshops for rural and urban Moroccan women since 2012 as part of its Women’s Empowerment program. HAF’s workshops integrate Moroccan family code (Moudawana) with self-reflection and international human rights principles to give oppressed women a voice to discover their social and economic goals.

On the first day of the workshop, the women are asked to consider their visions for the future. Most often, the women have no response to this request; they have never had the opportunity to consider their own goals and desires. By discussing the following seven areas of life: Emotions, Relationships, Sexuality, Body, Money, Work, and Spirituality, the workshop aims to help the women develop their self-perception and broaden their horizons for future plans.

By “watering the seeds, not the weeds,” i.e. focusing on their potential rather than their obstacles, the women learn confidence and ambition. Many of the women at the workshop this weekend had never held a pen or pencil in their lives, yet through this workshop they became empowered. For example, one young girl was inspired to finish her education, saying, “I promise myself to look for a dormitory school to complete my study.” This empowerment typically leads to improvement in the lives of the women, whether this be through ‘soft’ impacts, such as increased self-confidence, or quantitatively measurable impacts such as the creation of cooperatives. 


Fatima-Zahra Laaribi speaks to the women of Izourane


HAF has helped found 10 different women’s cooperatives across Morocco, each as a result of conducting Imagine workshops. Many of the women participating in this particular workshop are already cooperative members, but throughout the four days they gained increased confidence in their abilities. Unfortunately, the cooperative many of these women belong to has shrunk in the past several years, as women have succumbed to societal pressures to return to the home rather than work in the cooperative. After the workshop, many women expressed renewed motivation to continue the cooperative and become economically independent. For example, one participant said “I want to make sure that this cooperative is successful so that it can make a sustainable income in the future.”

Thank you FRÉ Skincare, for funding this empowerment workshop with Izourane.

Help achieve women’s empowerment.

Cultivating and Saving Varieties of Endemic Moroccan Figs

By Katherine O’Neill
HAF Intern / Student at Claremont McKenna College


Since the beginning of 2018, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has planted more than 80,000 fig trees, seeds, and cuttings in community nurseries.  We also signed a partnership agreement with the Regional Management of Waters and Forests in Tetouane that contributed a three-hectare parcel of land, which enables us to plant a nursery of threatened fig varieties. The High Commission of Water and Forests in Rabat also partners with HAF by providing nursery land and technical support for a ten-year period. The Commission sees the organic figs project as a way to pursue goals outlined in the government’s Plan Maroc Vert and Environmental Charter, which calls for the rejuvenation and creation of organic endeavors, among other reforestation and agroeconomic goals.

The Plan Maroc Vert especially focuses on fig trees.  Both HAF and the Commission have indicated that fig crops in the Tangier-Tetouan region suffer from ageing, neglect, and a lack of effective marketing. Recently, both pears and plums have disappeared from the region due to the same issues now facing figs. This has caused severe economic and environmental repercussions, and HAF’s nursery aims to avoid this same fate. Additionally, the Commission sees the planned nursery in the region as an ideal way to strengthen the area’s agricultural economy, support rural households, and honor the local tradition of fig cultivation, to which people in the area are deeply emotionally bound.

Morocco is a world leader in fig production: in 2009, the country ranked among the world’s top five fig producers. Figs grow especially well in Morocco due to the country’s hot summers and full sun throughout the growing season. This climate ensures one to two bountiful crops a year, as long as fruit trees receive adequate water. Fig crops from Morocco may tap potential markets in the U.S. and E.U. Despite high U.S. production, acreage dedicated to fig production has decreased by at least 5,000 acres in recent decades. This decrease, combined with stress on California’s agriculture due to severe drought, presents a strong opportunity for Morocco to fill U.S. fig demand, especially in the large organic market.

Small-scale Moroccan fig crops are important to the sustainability of fig crops and nutritional systems worldwide. Through growth in small cultivars and breeding between cultivated trees, farmers uphold and propagate genetic diversity among figs, thereby defending against diseases and effects of climate change.

As part of the partnership, we aim to create a fig nursery, distribute saplings for free, create a scientific teaching garden with regional fig varieties, train farmers in production and value-added processing techniques, and create a fig growers’ cooperative to further explore opportunities in cultivation and marketing. The environment, youth, women and rural families, and communities are all key beneficiaries, and the profit generated through this project will allow individuals and their associations to improve their livelihoods and develop their country’s economy.

While the Moroccan government is contributing land and technical support for the organic figs nursery, HAF is still seeking funding for the significant remainder, without which it cannot pursue the opportunities for rural Moroccans this project provides. In order to ensure the sustained success of the nurseries, HAF will need to implement two irrigation plans, which will involve well-building and extensive water management.  For example, it costs approximately $5,000 to effectively irrigate just one hectare of fig nursery.

The involved organizations plan to reach 35,000 beneficiaries (50 percent of whom will be rural women in Ouezzane province and the greater Tangier-Tetouan region), extend fig crops by 11,000 hectares, and reach a 126 percent increase in fig production by 2020. The incorporation of rural women as primary beneficiaries of this project is highly significant. HAF aims to help disadvantaged populations, and with this project we support not just environmental and economic development, but also the empowerment of rural women.

This project aims to uplift rural Moroccan communities through sustainable agriculture. We are working to create a synergy between human development and environmental protection that will last long after HAF’s involvement. Ultimately, we want to provide disadvantaged communities with the necessary tools to pioneer their own social and economic progress. HAF possesses the required knowledge, experience, and passion, but we rely on your generosity to accomplish this goal.

Help to achieve this Project.



Map of trees distributed in Morocco
between December 2017 and March 2018



Planted seeds and cuttings in HAF nurseries 
from April 2017 to April 2018


The next step for cooperatives is certification


Members of the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative in the Ourika Valley, Morocco (photo by the High Atlas Foundation).


By Amy Zhang

This week we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Cooperatives, commemorated every year on the first Saturday of July. Cooperatives’ success in sustainable development, wealth creation, and poverty alleviation give many hope for an equitable future. As we commend cooperatives, it is important to recognize and understand how they function.

Cooperatives are largely based on the Rochdale Society in 1844 from England. In a time of terrible working conditions and low wages, this group of poor, English weavers  struggled to buy basic goods, like flour. Without a rich, capitalist donor, the members all pooled their money to collectively purchase necessities. Their contribution earned them a say in the management of the association, and an equitable distribution of the net profits.

As the first largely successful cooperative, their principles have endured. Further, cooperatives have been a model for communities to come together and lift themselves out of poverty through democratic practices. According to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) today, they should follow seven rules:

  1.  Voluntary and Open Membership: anyone who can benefit and contribute can join.
  2.  Democratic Member Control: members participate in policy and decision-making.
  3.  Member Economic Participation: members contribute and manage the capital, the common property of the cooperative.
  4.  Autonomy and Independence: members control the cooperative in agreements with other organizations, governments,          or external donors.
  5.  Education, Training, and Information: cooperatives give members life and work skills.
  6.  Cooperation among Cooperatives: cooperatives ought to empower each other.
  7.  Concern for Community: members sustainably develop their communities.

Cooperatives have shown promise in developing their local economies. They produce the supplies and reap the rewards, making decisions that holistically benefit everyone. They act as an economic mover in democracy and civic society building, helping communities articulate their needs. They allow people to collectively compete in markets, and individually elevate their roles in the economy and society.

In Morocco, the model most familiar to Westerners would be women’s cooperatives. Rural women have expressed a desire to work, earn money, and make decisions. By exporting fair trade handicrafts and products, they receive income where they were previously marginalized, unskilled, and relegated to household roles. For example, in the Ourika Valley, the Aboghlou Cooperative makes couscous and other dried goods. These 32 women got the capital necessary to grow almond seedlings for families and schools. In 2017, they also harvested and processed 60 kg of calendula flowers, selling to companies like L’Oreal.

International companies are proud to support these cooperatives and affirm their ethical consumerism. This has been a veritable boon for the economy. Additionally, Moroccan cooperatives like the Izourane Ouargane Women’s Cooperative produce and sell argan oil. By running a business and negotiating with Western cosmetic companies, the women earn and share both profit and respect. They learn through experience, growing more confident about how to manage a business.

However, cooperatives are under threat from imposters and uncertainty. Foreigners that come to Morocco want to support women's cooperatives and buy their products, but they are worried about insincere businesses that abuse the label to trick them. Their concern lies in tourist traps where the women only have performative roles, such as publically sorting the argan products, but do not have their fair share of control or profit. They know that untrustworthy middlemen exploit their sympathy for women’s development and empowerment.

There is a broad asymmetry of market information in Morocco, especially for tourists. Sellers always have the advantage in knowing the true value of their goods, and in the souks, products are rarely branded, priced, or otherwise consistently labelled. Locals would have more expertise in discerning good quality materials from scams, but foreigners are more wary. Tourists are always pursuing authenticity in their new experiences, and want proof of legitimacy.

Accordingly, there needs to be an international verification for cooperatives. Just as products need to meet a standard to be certified organic, entreprises that claim to be cooperatives ought to meet a standard to use the label. The ICA launched the Cooperative Marque in 2013, to emphasize the viability of the cooperative structure as professional and contemporary. An expansion of that could decidedly label cooperatives for being ethical and developmental. The Moroccan Office du Développement de la Coopération has a form for cooperatives to register themselves, but this information is not easily or ostentatiously available on products. Cooperatives that claim to help women should be examined and have more legitimacy on a global scale.

Cooperatives have so much potential to sustainably lift people out of poverty. They can move people from subsistence agriculture to international commerce, bring communities together to capitalize on their shared resources, and improve living standards alongside economic opportunities. However, they need help. Cooperatives need assistance with facilitating dialogue and certification from an international standard. Cooperatives are founded upon trust between their members and the global public. While we celebrate them and all of the good they have done this week, let us support them as well.

Give to Cooperatives and these projects.


Amy Zhang (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is an Intern with the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, and a student at the University of Virginia studying Economics and Middle Eastern Studies.

The Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative at work drying calendula flowers (photo by the High Atlas Foundation).



Members of the Izourane Ouargane Women’s Cooperative in Essaouira process argan (photo by the High Atlas Foundation)




Reflecting on the UN statement regarding Morocco’s Migration Policy

By Nathan Park
HAF Intern

A released UNCTAD report highlights Morocco’s leadership regarding intra-African migrant issues. The report endorses Morocco’s “flagship” migrant regularization program and praises it for its progress. While Morocco has established new programs and legislation designed to meet the growing migrant population needs within its borders, there is a large implementation gap between policy and physical results.

In theory, these regularization programs are designed to aid and afford every migrant the necessary rights needed to settle into Morocco, but speaking to sub-Saharan migrants here in Morocco yields a different story. Legal aid for migrants is scarce and many struggle to obtain the promised resources and legal status under the new “regularization” programs. Despite minimal results occurring four years after its implementation, Moroccan residents have been rising to face the growing strains on their communities.

University Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah in Fes proposes starting a Law Clinic which will hold educational training sessions involving the three beneficiary groups. These workshops will inform migrants, law students, and civil society organizations on migrant rights under the new regularization programs. In turn, irregular migrants will receive direct legal consultation from these law students, giving them real world experiences, and the civil society organizations will be better equipped to help vulnerable populations. Each group benefits from the other. The end result being a more united Morocco.

Hassan II University’s Faculty of Law, Economics, and Social Sciences in Mohammedia created Legal Aid Law Clinic, in partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy and the High Atlas Foundation, to support communities of the province in overcoming barriers related to their own self-development.  They can transition its center to bring benefits to undocumented migrants, law students, and civil society organizations.


Help create University-based empowerment workshops.

A new nursery grows roots

By Theodor Maghrak
HAF Volunteer

I’m volunteering with High Atlas Foundation through a sabbatical option at my not-for-profit organization in the United States. While I’ve learned a great deal here about sustainability, community empowerment, and agriculture, seeing a new nursery take form from the beginning stages has been one of my unexpectedly exciting experiences here.

From July 20 through July 22, Project Manager Said el Bennani and I traveled to the new nursery HAF is establishing in Oujda in partnership with a youth protection center. This new partnership includes about 1.5 hectares of land to use for planting, once cleared of brush and weeds. On arriving at the site, we took an inventory of the work that’s been done already, and what’s to come.


In the short time since starting the partnership, HAF has cleared a small piece of the land and prepared over 20,000 soil bags for both argan and carob seeds. During our visit, we worked to move the nursery forward by purchasing carob seeds, as well as moving the pre-soaked argan seeds into their next stage of growth.

Argan seeds, notoriously hard to crack, take time to grow. Because of that, we’ve taken the seeds and buried them in layers of sand and soil with plastic underneath, to keep them extra moist while sprouting. The new nursery groundskeeper will keep a close eye on the sprouts and move them individually to be planted as they emerge.


The groundskeeper and directors of the youth protection center have involved the children in the process from this early stage. Being involved will empower them with structure, education, and positive role models and leadership, while deriving direct benefits for hundreds of Moroccan families who will ultimately be the recipients of these trees.

Give to this empowering project.


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