The Al Haouz Province celebrated its 7th Walnut Festival this year from September 11th – 14th. It is the only Moroccan festival dedicated to walnuts with its first event taking place in 2004. Asni, located one hour south of Marrakech, is an area long known for its walnut production. In 1980 the president of the commune introduced a greater focus on this production by creating new plantations. Starting in 2000 the High Atlas Foundation joined in the region’s initiative to increase its production. The festival brought musicians, cooperatives, artists, and a visit from the governor of Al Haouz Province. Tents displayed fruits and nuts grown by cooperatives, handmade jewelry and other goods made by people dedicated to crafts in the region, including as oils, rugs, and spices.
HAF was honored to be a part of the festival to share the successes and workings of the new High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal (HA3) social enterprise which is focused on helping communities create a market-oriented organic revolution for all rural provinces of Morocco. The grounds of the festival were overlooked by a new factory that HA3 is forming a partnership with for walnut and almond processing. HA3 currently has projects involving 5 provinces and that is expected to extend to 8 others in 2015.
HAF arrived early the first day of the festival and received a warm welcome by festival organizers and the president of the local cooperative. We prepared mint tea to share with visitors and arranged our tent which displayed posters of the regions HA3 currently works, as well as information about the process for attaining organic certification. In the late afternoon musicians lined the streets to welcome the governor of the region which was a highlight of the day’s festivities.
When the governor arrived he walked down a line of men shaking their hands before entering the festival grounds. He then visited each tent to meet and speak with all of the cooperatives and venders. Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, president of HAF, and Larbi Didouqen, HAF’s vice president spoke with the governor about the organic farm-to-fork HA3 initiative.
We had the opportunity to meet with Zaarour El Housseine, president of the Commune and president of the Cooperative (embracing 5 communes) which oversees the walnut factory, to gain his insights into the festival. “This year’s festival was very good because there were new things,” said Zaarour. The festival had a large turnout which included local agricultural and artisanal exhibitors and those from further afield – Azilal, Rhamna, Beni Mellal and Agadir. This year the commune secured a permanent open-air space – measuring some 10,000 square meters – on which they installed a permanent raised dais. This will help ensure the continuity of the festival in the future.
As for future initiatives, Zaarour hopes to create a walnut plantation surrounding the area and schedule the timing of the festival to coincide with the walnut harvest. In addition he hopes they plant a walnut tree at the entry of the commune to represent the beautiful association between the festival and Asni’s focus on the production of walnuts in Morocco. The High Atlas Foundation plans to donate these trees from the provincial nursery of 180 thousand walnut trees that HAF helped to build with UNDP’s support.
The festival as a whole enabled the greater integration of the networks of those associated with walnut production and with agriculture in general, stated Larbi Didouqen.
Musician Ahmed Outtaleb closed the ceremony with Amazigh music.
By Charlie Alcorn, HAF Intern