Despite weakening bodies, with grey hair and clenched faces, these people are still closely committed to their work with all dedication and sincerity. Time has not weakened their spirits. Heaven did not bury them but rather made them warriors in the field. They love nature, and it loves them back. They focus on one goal, remaining in one place without straying and because of their patience, time has come to pass.
February 4, 2021 was a cloudy day, with a dry wind whose voice transports you to the lives of the region’s residents. It is the farthest and highest residential community within the Okaimden Mountains. It is difficult to navigate the majestic rocky terrain of the High Atlas Mountains even for the most experienced motorists, but Mr. Hassan Ait Wattouch, assistant at the High Atlas Foundation, knows by heart the best route among the twists and turns.
Under the guidance of Larbi Didouqen, a Local Volunteer for the Farmer-to-Farmer program, we made our way towards our destination. Due to the increasing difficulty of the crossing, we continued our trek with members of the Akuns Association who we met in the City Fazme area. But all of these difficulties pale in comparison to the importance of today’s task: the development of an action plan for an agricultural project for the inhabitants of the Akonis region. It took more than two hours to arrive. We passed through many empty agricultural terraces but also observed the beauty of the place – mountains wearing snowy coats, a unique silence prevailing over a charming and picturesque scene, sometimes broken by the sound of water, a call among the inhabitants, or an innocent, spontaneous smile of a young child who do not hesitate to greet passers-by. It is a scene that embodies the simplicity and spontaneity of the countryside and its love for others, far from any pretense or fabrication.
Upon arrival, the team moved on foot to the meeting place, accompanied by Mr. Hassan Ait Lahcen, President of the Akuns Association, and his cousin Omar Ait Lahcen, also a member of the Association, who took the opportunity to show us the region. The farmers of Douar Akonis then received us.
30 farmers came to share with us the story of their struggle inside Douar Akonis, and we struggled to find words to convey their sentiments. We can only summarize what they said in a poet’s verses:
“I am the son of the earth, hugging me and hugging it
How can I leave it in the hands of the usurper, the jailer. ”
We were pleased with our conversation. Then, Mr. Rashid Montassir began introducing the High Atlas Foundation’s Farmer-to-Farmer project to the Association. It is a global program funded by the United States Agency for International Development, where volunteer experts from the US provide technical assistance to farmers, cooperatives, agricultural groups, and other agricultural sector institutions in developing countries, as well as countries in transition. The objective of the program is to promote sustainable development in food security, agricultural production and marketing, to build local capacity and combat climate change, and to preserve environmental and natural resources. In this way, Mr. Rachid briefed the Association on the main goal of the program, which is to achieve sustainable and large-scale economic growth in the country.
The conversation with the attendees revealed their main priorities, which were all directed towards developing the region agriculturally. As Mr. Mohamed Bilal told us, “Our region was a source of production in terms of agriculture, but climate change is negatively affecting the yield in addition to the poor management of water, despite the presence of 9 springs, some of which are transitory while others are permanent.” He added that they are particularly interested in growing apples, as among all those present there was only one farmer who owned some trees. They also said they would like to plant more cherry trees. We also talked with Mr. Ibrahim Talbi, who expressed his dissatisfaction with the decline of the agricultural sector in the region, prompting him to look for alternatives in other areas.
After that, Mr. Arab Didukan led an activity as part of the participatory approach to confirm their priorities: preparations to plant cherry trees on an area equivalent to 30 hectares and training in agricultural techniques. It was a fruitful interaction between the members of Douar Akunis and members of the association. After Mr. Al-Arabi collected the necessary information to start developing the work plan, they praised the efforts of the Farmer-to-Farmer project team, expressing their hope to alleviate their challenges, restore the glory of agricultural production, and combat their isolation, which prevents them from benefiting from the income of their labor.
Meanwhile, we talked to the women of the region, welcoming them to share with us a glimpse into their world. We asked Mrs. Khadija how she spends her day and she answered in a quivering voice, “I spend it between these barns and with this child who never tires of being carried on my back.” We asked her afterwards if she had a handicraft, and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Zulekha, answered with sorrow, “It is enough that her husband hardly finds a temporary income and he does not know a way to settle, so how can we women go through challenges that overcome men.” After that, we explained to them that all the manual work they do is worthy of merit and appreciation, and that this would benefit them and their families, especially if this work is framed within a women’s cooperative system.
Before we left this beautiful area, several other women stopped us in the high mountains. Two women who were herding sheep seemed as though they had been doing that their whole lives. We went to them and found Mrs. Fatima watching the sheep, but her mind was astray and seemed in pain. She introduced us to herself and her friend and expressed her joy with innocence and utter spontaneity, saying, “We are really suffering from severe exclusion in this region, and the challenges are increasing day by day as long as we are in this situation. For example, I cannot find anything to do except help my friend Fatima graze her sheep.” She cast a fleeting glance at her, saying in a faint voice, “She doesn’t say much because the hard work alone has exhausted her, and she looks forward every day until the situation improves, since she is the only provider for her family.” We asked her again, “Do you have a profession?” She answered this time. Mrs. Fatima about this question with confidence and courage: “Our daily activities include all crafts, starting with the traditional foods that we prepare and the skills they require, as well as our beds and technical methods that we use in our agricultural seasons and that we inherited from our ancestors. In addition to preserving products, there are many things that only a master of these daily crafts can do, but the rugged road that leads us refuses to end, so we continue to endure difficulties. ”
In fact, the words of these women and those farmers convey a deep cry from the heart of this population that wants to change, save their agricultural sector, improve their livelihood, and support their future and the region’s future. We then left at the end of the day, ready to share their stories with others.