The practice of organic agriculture combines traditional methods with today’s knowledge of health and environmental sustainability. In Morocco it is generally observed that the more remote the farming communities – and most often the more disadvantaged – the less they apply pesticides and other chemicals to grow their crops in a productive way. That is simply because their economic status, unlike that of communities closer to the cities and with more available access to information in regard to agricultural trends, results in their not having the means to transition to cash crops that do require the application of chemicals.
Thus for example in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, whose inhabitants produce 35% of the nation’s walnut crop, it is the communities furthest up the valleys – the most marginalized and most difficult to access – that can secure organic certification. This is in contrast to the villages in lower-lying areas which grow not only walnuts but also apple, pear and other trees requiring the application of pesticides that prevent them from acquiring organic certification immediately if at all.
Market trends in nations around the world that have opened up the demand for organic product can be a direct boon for the poorest of farming communities and developing nations. By adopting methods to ensure their agricultural product does not become contaminated, farming families – who represent the highest proportion of the world’s poor – can dramatically increase the price of their raw product. Will it be the case that public, civil, business and international agencies assist these communities in the certification process, in the provision of the training that is necessary and in the purchase of their certified products? If so, then in some measure the meek shall inherit the earth.
Finally, what will further buttress the agricultural economy of the rural poor is the creation of additional value-added activities – for example, pressing walnuts into oil, introducing greater water efficiency, tree and plant nurseries, building cooperatives and establishing direct links with international buyers.
In undergoing this transformational process in Morocco with the High Atlas Foundation’s social enterprise, HA3 (High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal), one can readily understand the enormity of the challenge. In order to achieve success, the necessary outside partners must gain the trust of rural people – something which is not a given, but earned over months and years.From the other direction, even as the organic movement champions traditional agricultural approaches, there are still behavioral changes that need to be adopted by the farmers, who have undertaken the same procedures for generations, if not centuries. Within communities there can be discord and thus the process of building cooperatives must also be one of building confidence. Concomitant to this is the requirement for training to be both ongoing and experiential; the delivery of such workshops requires constant proximity to the people,something which agencies often do not find easy.
Even with the great dedication of HAF-HA3, there still remains a strong element of what can only be characterized as good fortune. Project viability and persistence are probably the major determinants to raising the necessary funds. Nevertheless, individual donors are in uncharted waters as they make the necessary investment in a start-up that begins as an untested value chain whereby the product is harvested before being processed and delivered to the United States and elsewhere.Furthermore, one cannot help but feel that even when the required financing has been acquired, there is an element of luck – based on what is really an inability to control the fundraising outcome in order to achieve the organic potential. In sum, the financing aspect must be far more systematized and available and left less to chance.
A successful organic agricultural enterprise and the new profit it generates has a twofold effect, increasing household income and enabling communal reinvestment in human development projects in education, health and the formation of further new businesses. In this way an organic initiative is actually an engine not only for a green economy but also for broader social change.
With all the hurdles to the achievement of these goals, we in HAF-HA3 know what must be done. The reward of helping to realize relative prosperity and the fulfillment of human potential, while at the same time nourishing and replenishing the soil, provides an undying energy – through this, we believe the meek shall, at the very least, know justice.
by Yossef Ben-Meir, HAF President