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TREES for a FRUITFUL FUTURE

By Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Ph.D.

USAID-HAF Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer

Marrakech

 

The Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program is a USAID development initiative that is implemented throughout the world. During the past 20 years, I had the opportunity to volunteer for 80 assignments in 14 countries. In Morocco, the F2F program is administered by Land O’Lakes International Development (LOL), a U.S. agricultural cooperative, who provided me with the opportunity to volunteer in Morocco for the first time.

 

My assignment title was (Improvement of schools tree nurseries) and was hosted by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Marrakech.  HAF is a US non-profit organization founded in 2000 for the purpose of advancing sustainable development in Morocco and assists communities in achieving their projects in agriculture, education, health, and multiculturism. HAF is headed by Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir and very dedicated staff members.

 

SAMI’s PROJECT enables students to thrive in a healthy school environment. The Project spreads the culture of planting among students so that they may discover and practice innovative agriculture techniques. HAF assists primary schools through to universities to develop and establish plant nurseries and wild gardens. These school nurseries provide students with hands-on learning opportunities in organic green culture and sustainable income development.  The Project also promotes school infrastructure, such as building classrooms, bathrooms, and clean water systems.

 

The High Atlas Foundation has eleven nurseries in five provinces of Morocco, where they produce varieties of organic fruit trees, forestry trees, and herbal and wild medicinal plants. Trees include; almond, Argan, carob, cherry, fig, grape, lemon, olive, pomegranate, quince, and walnut.  Plants also include Calendula officinalis.

 

Since 2003, HAF planted approximately 3 million seeds and trees with farming families and schools, which impacted thousand household incomes. During this 2018 planting season (January through March), HAF’s SAMI’s PROJECT planted 15,000 trees with 155 schools engaging 18,000 students in 23 provinces.

 

During my assignment I visited middle and high schools, met with staff and observed students while they planted trees in their schoolyards. School boys and girls worked together, were full of energy and enthusiasm, and expressed connection with the environment.

 

Planting trees helps the environment, builds forestry, produces food and a source of income for families, connect students and communities with nature, and promote organic green growth. HAF provides a good model that is transferable beyond Morocco for green organic growth and development.

 

HAF Thanks Ecosia

Ecosia, a social business based in Germany, has made green, empowering, sustainable, and soon a prosperity-generating difference with farming families and schools in 23 provinces of the Kingdom of Morocco.  A wonderful partner, Ecosia is enabling the fulfillment of true Moroccan stories of youth finding opportunity, women's greater agency, diverse partnership, multiculturalism, natural restoration, and organic product for market and healthy consumption.
 
Thank you, Ecosia, for helping the people's dreams come true.

HAF and Al Akhawayn University Plant Trees with Communities in Azrou

The HAF-Fes Team organized last Sunday a tree planting event at Azrou, with students from Al Akhawayn University and the village association at Ain Aghbal. One of the professors from Al Akhawayn University, Dr. Duncan Rinehart, participated in the day.  Professor Rinehart is a former colleague of HAF President Yossef Ben-Meir, when he was a faculty member at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at AUI.   
 
HAF distributed to the farmers 2590 fruit trees: 650 pomegranate, 400 grapes, 1500 almond, and 40 fig.
 
We planted some trees with the local farmers, men and women. Professor Rinehart was the first person to plant a tree. The farmers were so happy to receive the trees without cost; because of the trees planted, the farmers' land will gain more value. 
 
It was a rainy day, but even with that we had a good start for planting the trees on the community's land. 
 
Thank you, Al Akhwayn University, for lending HAF land for the community tree nursery that serves the region and beyond, and to Ecosia for providing the trees. Thank you to everyone for attending and helping us to organize this beautiful day.  Enjoy the photos.

Visionaries Then and Now

By Thomas Kimmell

Marrakech

USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer

 

In the 1980’s, a solo American made a huge impact on Ouaouizerth, Morocco, an Amazigh village, located in the western High Atlas Mountains.  His name was J. Christopher Stevens, a Peace Corps. Volunteer and yes the same J. Christopher Stevens, who as American Ambassador in Libya, was killed in the raid on Benghazi in September 11, 2012. 

Chris is still remembered here as the husky American that lived by the community’s Muslim traditions even though he wasn’t a Muslim. He was well known locally because he always was respectful and open to the town’s people. 

He learned Arabic from Lhoussin Waali, at the time a local grocery owner, who he in turn taught English.  One of the ways he taught Lhoussin English was having him listen to BBC radio broadcasts.   Lhoussin remembers how he and Chris would often discuss the similarities between the Muslim and Christian faiths.  The Arabic that Chris learned here helped inspire his career in the Arab world.  Chris also was active with kids, teaching English at the local youth center.  He was so dedicated to helping the people of Quaouizerth he stayed with them an extra year in the Peace Corps. 

He was known locally principally by his last name, Stevens.  People recall how Stevens would be invited to tea at someone house and he’d walk there regardless of the distance.  He left behind the gift of knowledge.   There was great sadness in the village of Ouaouizerth when they heard about Stevens’s death on television.

Thirty years later an American nonprofit organization founded by former Peace Corp veterans has honored Chris’s memory by bringing farming solutions to mostly agricultural Ouaouizerth.  The High Atlas Foundation, founded by Yossef Ben- Mer of New Mexico, recently dedicated a tree nursery, just outside of town, to the memory of Chris Stevens.  The nursery grows almonds and olive seedlings for transplanting.  The High Atlas grows these seedlings to give to local farmers at no cost.  The farmers’ Cooperative (called Adrar, or mountain) provides the land for the new orchard and High Atlas supplies the trees and expertise to successfully start the new Orchardists on their way. 

While the Stevens-inspired nursery serves the Ouaouizerth area; the High Atlas Foundation currently maintains eleven tree nurseries all over Morocco, partnering with the Ecosia Social Enterprise, to replicate this activity to most regions of the country.  This is the modern version of “Give a man a fish with the he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish he’ll be fed for a lifetime”. 

In Ouaouizerth village the High Atlas Foundation nursery caretaker is Hicham Farhat and he has become the pied piper of tree growing to the town‘s people, especially the school children.  This week Hicham showed up at the grade school and he and the kids planted olive trees to enhance the school’s courtyard.  His enthusiasm was only exceeded by the kid’s joy and excitement as they helped to plant the trees.

The High Atlas Foundation is dedicated to the single mission of growing seedlings and distributing them to growers who can use them but can’t generally afford them.  Since each different region has its own growing conditions a variety of trees are grown in the High Atlas nurseries and include carob, walnut, pomegranate, cherry, fig, Argan, and date palm in addition to the previously mentioned almonds and olives.  High Atlas has become the “Johnny Appleseed of Morocco” except with more than just one tree to choose from. 

As you can imagine, the Moroccan government is an enthusiastic supporter with land contributions to this program, but does not contribute financial support.  The primary financial support comes from individual donors and grants (such as from Ecosia).  The Ouaouizerth nursery’s establishment in 2013 was appropriately made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Scientific Research.   The obvious benefits are to the growers who plant the trees but the hard to quantify “Green” contributions are substantial.  Creating “forests” of orchards creates a carbon displacement mechanism to go along with oxygen generation and erosion prevention.   All the nurseries use drip irrigation, a 21st century technology, which is right at home in an arid nation with no water resources to spare.

The actions of the High Atlas Foundation fulfill the spirit of what J. Christopher Stevens stood for thirty plus years ago.  He had the desire to make things better for Moroccans.  The concept of growing and giving away trees is a unique effort, happening only in Morocco.  Just as “Stevens” did his best for Moroccans so does High Atlas with its ambitious goal of covering the country with fruit and nuts trees.

Writing this article I realized I too had joined the work of other Americans who have acted in Morocco.  My career was spent in irrigation and in Morocco no orchards grow without water.  Adding a water component to High Atlas efforts means that the orchards will survive and thrive.

Tom Kimmell is the retired Executive Director of the Irrigation Association, who now volunteers for the "Farmer to Farmer" program created by the US Congress.  Morocco is part of the program and is managed by Land O’ Lakes International Development.

Developing a New Capability for Seed Storage and Preservation in Morocco

By Russ Zick

USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer


Smallholder farmers in Morocco are engaged in upgrading their agricultural practices in order to increase income by expanding exports to Europe, the United States, and other Southern countries.  The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has been engaged in that process with several programs such as assisting Moroccan cooperatives in obtaining organic certification for their walnut, almonds, and other products.  During the certification project, HAF, a Moroccan and U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to using a participatory, collaborative approach to assure sustainable solutions, recognized there were seed storage challenges that needed development for continued progress.  

 HAF partners with Land O’Lakes International Development (LOL) to develop a project concept and proposal to address the seed storage gaps in the nut supply chain.  LOL, in turn, partners with USAID’s Middle East and North Africa Farmer-to-Farmer program to advance sustainable agriculture and forestry activities to enhance economic growth.

 Teaming with High Atlas Foundation

HAF staff is a mix of Moroccans and volunteers from other countries, including men and women, young and old, and they manage a diverse mix of local development projects. Members provide a nurturing, encouraging environment. A typical workweek included attending presentations by staff, interns and other F2F volunteers on their projects. The presentations and comments were a means of project quality improvement, as well as team-building. The events also provided insight as to the fit of the seed storage project within the range of other HAF projects.  The daily routine of family-style group lunches was a way to share Moroccan food and hospitality with everyone that was congenial, memorable, and productive.  I found it an energizing and inspiring experience being included in this uniquely Moroccan HAF team.

 

Although the final objective of the assignment was clear from the start, “prepare a proposal to the Ministry of Agriculture for seed storage infrastructure improvement”, it took a week and three layout drafts, to clarify the need, size and nature of the concept plan.  HAF project managers provided guidance in discussions and site visits to help me understand in detail the need to assist farmers with capacity for two types of seed storage: 1) storing harvested nuts for short periods prior to post-harvest processing, and 2) storing endemic varieties of tree and wild medicinal plant seeds for ready access during the planting season, especially varieties under threat of being lost to more commercially viable varieties.  HAF partnering with the Idraren Cooperative had recently developed a business plan to produce 1,000 tons of certified organic walnuts.  Seed storage is essential to meet production potential and market demand for years to come.

Assignment

The assignment provided an opportunity to contribute to development of organic agricultural processing and diversification of endemic seed varieties, benefiting small holder farmers in rural areas. It also afforded the opportunity to use my mechanical engineering experience in agricultural applications and to facilitate the synthesis of a design concept in a cross-cultural setting. In preparation for the assignment, I activated my project engineering network, reviewed professional technical articles on seed storage facilities, and visited a USDA world-class seed storage lab in Colorado. In country, together with HAF colleagues, we visited SONACOS, a large scale quasi-government produce and seed storage distribution center, a large-volume government sponsored agricultural producers’ market, and the recently completed post-harvest processing center at the Idraren Cooperative, located in Asni of the High Atlas Mountains.

 Impacts

The most tangible accomplishment of the assignment was to give HAF a written proposal suitable for presentation to the Ministry of Agriculture. The proposal included a hand-drawn layout drawing, a project narrative describing the need and the proposed solution, a detailed cost estimate and a tentative implementation schedule. It is likely that the highest value of the concept plan will be to stimulate further discussion about the new capabilities needed. The concept plan is undergoing further revision before it is presented to the Ministry of Agriculture, but the plan will help to advance the discussions and can lead to improvements in the current post-harvest processing.

 There were other intangible impacts from the assignment. I will long remember the rhythm of the Marrakech day with the morning and evening calls to prayer, sleeping indoors with the door wide open to the quiet, perfectly cool night air, the excitement about an afternoon rainstorm, even though there was not much moisture; the aesthetic experience of sharing sweet mint tea, poured high above the glass to aerate the tea and the touch of a scorching hot glass. It’s also nice to feel I now have some friends and colleagues in Morocco.

 

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HAF in Morocco

High Atlas Foundation
4 Rue Qadi AyaadAl Manar 4A - 3rd floor - Appt. 12 El Harti, Guéliz, MARRAKESH 40.000 - Morocco

Tel: +212 (0)5 24 42 08 21
Fax+212 (0)5 24 43 00 02 

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Directions to HAF Marrakech Office

HAF in US

High Atlas Foundation
High Atlas Foundation 511 Sixth Avenue, #K110, NEW YORK, NY 10011
USA

Phone: +1 (646) 688-2946
Fax: +1 (646) 786-4780

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