HAF invests in UCA students to spread the participatory approach in Morocco

By Errachid Montassir

HAF Project Manager

The growth of sustainable development as a mainstream concept and practice in Morocco has been progressing but not as much as most people (particularly rural, and women and youth everywhere) have hoped.  Morocco has progressive and helpful laws and programs that give the opportunity and responsibility to all communities to participate in planning, manage initiatives, and build proposals for development projects.  Projects then will naturally be different depending on the priorities of youth, women, and farmers’ needs, consistent with the new vision of decentralization which plays an important role of making each community involved in its own projects and responsible for working through the challenges.  Yet, implementation faces considerable obstacles for local communities to apply participatory development (without them having practical prior experiences as to how) and to create project proposals for funding by government and private agencies.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has a wide network, partnering with seven universities in Morocco, implementing capacity-building in development planning and management with students, and advancing local participation in planning and implementing socio-economic projects.  We do this together by way of experientially training students, faculty, members of civil society, elected officials, government technicians, community leaders, and citizens. HAF's partnerships with universities in Morocco has achieved effective skills-building with more than 2,000 students in the areas of needs assessment for community action planning, organizational development, and project management.

During the month of March 2018, culture, history, and sustainable development were are brought together by HAF in its organization of workshops on participatory planning for projects with 122 students at the Faculty of Human Science and Literature, at Cadi Ayyad University (UCA).  UCA has once again been designated the leading higher learning institution in Morocco, the Maghreb region, and “Francophone” parts of Africa at-large, according to a recent university ranking published by the London-based, Times Higher Education.

The objectives of the workshops are those of sustainable development: building knowledge and skills with students with the aim of enhacing their morale, agency, and enduring productivity on behalf of themselves and communities.

With facilitation by Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, president of the High Atlas Foundation, the first workshop was launched on 11 March 2018, starting with discussion of the Moroccan development frameworks for participatory action, which was a central point between the students and HAF’s team.  As His Majesty the King Mohammed VI insightfully stated at the Johannesburg Conference 2002, that "after the different tremors and the violent crises which shook the world recently, is everybody convinced now that fostering sustainable development is everyone’s responsibility."

The 122 students experienced the participatory method--pairwise-ranking--and other methods of the community planning, which enable not only students, but all people to play an active and influential part in decisions which impact their lives. All the students were wonderfully involved in making decisions by coming to consensus on their project priorities, which are as follow:

       -  The system managment of administration: this plays an essential role in letting the relations between the university administration and the students to be transparent with greater open communication.

      - Health care: the main point is to improve quality student health at the university, and to cover its associated costs.

     - Electronic library: this will be very helpful for the students to much more easily discover informative sources.

The HAF is always following up with communities, youth, women, and cooperatives to evaluate and advance on all the steps of development projects.  On Sunday, 25 March 2018, the HAF came back to assess the students’ practices and what they have learned through the first session, and to organize for action.  During a great morning, Dr. Ben-Meir opened the second part of the workshop that brought new students to learn about HAF's participatory approach. All the students were able to follow up with the priorities of the first session.  They also divided into 3 groups, and each group built their team and solutions for their projects, such as the strategy to create more clubs and majors at the University.

Before HAF delivered 122 Certificates of Completion to the students, the workshops ended with a fruitful discussion about the future upcoming training with the UCA students, which is an international program called "Imagine" for women to create the life they most want.

The certificates deliverd to the UCA students is a recognition of their dedications to sustainable community development and spreading the culture of collaboration.  "I must hug you [Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir] and thank a lot the High Atlas Foundation about this such wonderful chance to realize that we really have communities, and that we should care and help in developing  them," one of the UCA students expressed.

An essential basis for development in Morocco is the agency of university students.  They are current and future leaders who play a fundamental role in developing their country. 

HAF continues to expand the participatory approach among Moroccan students and communities…


By Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Ph.D.

USAID-HAF Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer



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


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.

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