Gregory Sullivan, HAF Visiting Expert
International Executive Service Corps (IESC)
USAID’s Farmer to Farmer Program
April 18 to May 5, 2017
The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Morocco is using innovative approaches to tackling poverty in this North Africa country, as well as addressing the challenge of climate change. HAF is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the livelihoods of rural households. The foundation was established in 2000 and registered in both the USA and Morocco. It set an ambitious goal to plant one million trees and successfully met that challenge in the year 2014. HAF is not stopping and has agreed to support the Government of Morocco to reach its target to plant one billion trees by 2030.
At the HAF’s headquarters is in Marrakech, the office is constantly buzzing with the enthusiasm of young volunteers from Morocco, Europe and the USA committed to make a positive impact on Morocco. HAF is at the center of the wider global initiative to address climate change. The United Nations’ climate change conference was held in the city in November 2016. HAF’s goal is to empower people to improve their livelihoods and the climate through community action. For HAF it all starts with the establishment of its eleven nurseries. HAF partnered with several organizations both government and non-government and from inside and outside Morocco to establish these nurseries. The German organization – Ecosia – provides funding for three new nurseries. At the same time, HAF continues to evaluate the possible addition of new nursery sites. In some cases, a nursery site was provided by the local council, the local cooperative or even a religious organization. This reflects buy-in from a wide spectrum of the stakeholders in the donor community.
HAF’s nurseries are in different ecological zones which offer a diversity of trees and plants to meet the needs of rural households and schools in different planting zones (see Figures 1 and 2). Most of the nurseries are in the hotter, drier zone having a continental climate. Temperatures can exceed 40 Celsius and a dry season can last three to four months. Tree and aromatic seeds are collected locally for the nurseries for better adaptability to growing conditions. Some popular tree species are walnut, almond, pomegranate, olive, and fig. A few nurseries produce aromatic plants (Verbena, mint, sage and thyme) which are popular items added to tea. Aromatic plants are distributed to women to be grown for both home use or sold fresh or processed in the local markets to provide additional income for women. Water availability in this drier climate is a challenge, and HAF promotes the use of drip irrigation systems conserving scarce water.
HAF’s mission is to address challenges along the value chain facing producers, and it invests in value addition activities in processing and marketing, not just planting trees. In the town of Asni, HAF supported the establishment of a walnut processing facility with the local government and the Idraren cooperative. HAF purchased some of the equipment installed in the plant and helped to train the staff. The cooperative with the help of HAF will find markets for producers’ nuts and bottled walnut oil. The market plan is to develop branded organic walnut products which are sold in both the domestic and international markets. In the first year of operation in 2016, the cooperative sold 6,000 kilograms of nuts, as well as, 1000 liters of walnut oil for cosmetic use
Where possible, HAF works to build the capacity of women cooperatives to empower them for positive economic and social change in their communities. HAF teamed up with the French cosmetic company, L’Oriel, to contract with the women’s cooperative in the Ouirka Valley, which is approximately 30 kilometers southeast from Marrakesh. The cooperative has 40 women, and they grow the flower, Calendura officinalis (pot marigold), used by L’Oriel in the manufacture of their cosmetics. HAF and L’Oriel supported the women with training and made initial start-up investments in a small building with a bathroom, irrigation equipment (see Figure 4) and a water tank for storing water during the dry season to extend the production season when water levels in the nearby river fall. The women have learned how to collect seed from nearby fields, propagate and transplant seedlings (see Figure 5). The women then harvest the flower, transport in local basket (see Figure 6) to their homes where they dry the petals and then pack and ship them to France. These value-added processes allow the women to be paid 1,000 MAD (approximately U.S. $100) per kilogram for dried petals. The women expect their first shipment of 50 kilograms of dried petals in 2017 and will receive about 50,000 MAD (US $5,000) to be shared among members of the cooperative.
HAF is making a significant difference for large numbers of rural households in Morocco through tree planting, and it is turning producers into entrepreneurs evident by the success in establishing the walnut cooperative in Asni and the Calendula cooperative in Ouirka. These business models will be replicated in other villages and towns in Morocco and will directly increase rural incomes and at the same time address the threats of climate change facing Morocco. By mobilizing communities to plant trees and aromatic plants, HAF is helping rural Morocco on its path to economic sustainability.