Rural Communities Growing Trees in the High Atlas Mountains
By Kerstin Opfer, HAF Volunteer
“A man of the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him said: With my own ears I heard the prophet, peace be upon him, say: Whoever plants a tree and works hard to keep it alive and takes care of it until it gives fruits, will be rewarded and every fruit will be a charity.”
Over the last two days I helped Mohamed, a volunteer of the High Atlas Foundation, with the distribution of a thousand trees, 300 almond and 700 walnut trees, in the commune Zerkten in the High Atlas Mountains. After we picked up the trees from the nursery in Ourika, we took the transport from Ait Ourir and travelled to one of the most remote areas I have ever visited. The further we got the more difficult and onerous the road got to a point where the driver had to check the engine and tires every half an hour. On our way we met several farmers, provided them with trees and visited the land, where they intend to plant the trees. Seeing their thankfulness and appreciation gave me great trust that they will take good care of the trees so that they will grow up to be strong and healthy. Once mature, after approximately four years for almond and six years for walnut, every walnut tree will increase the farmer’s yearly income by 300 dollars and every almond tree by 15 dollars. Almond trees can live longer than a century, and walnut more than four centuries. This new revenue from the nuts will be a great help for these farmers to overcome subsistence agriculture and poverty and will promote the sustainable development of their local communities.
After a long and exhausting journey we were welcomed warmly by Mohamed’s brother and his wife in a small village called Isoual located directly under the white snowy peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. They live in a beautiful stone house that was built one century ago. Hand-woven colourful carpets cover the floor of the kitchen and the thick walls are painted in green and rose. They prepared a tasty tajine for dinner, served us hot tea and fruit and even gave me their bedroom for sleeping. On the next morning we ate the most delicious Hsowa, bread and coffee, before we went to visit the fields and families of the small village. Our arrival was a big event and everywhere we went we were welcomed most kindly. I was amazed by their pure and selfless hospitality. They live with little and still share every last bit of their belongings with incredible generosity. After a second breakfast with Msemen and tea we had to start our trip back to Marrakech. Because there was no transport from the village, we hiked until we got to the street that connects Marrakech and Ouarzazate, from where we caught a grand taxi back to Marrakech.
Overall, this trip so far was one of the most valuable experiences for me in Morocco. Witnessing such poverty, generosity and peacefulness in mind, keeps me thinking, how many things I just take for granted and don’t appreciate as I should. I will do my very best to give back to this rural Moroccan communities by encouraging their sustainable development. Establishing the complete agricultural value chain by promoting organic fruit and nut tree plantation is an important step in this process and will lead to an increased income, thereby enabling the implementation of developmental projects like improved education and women empowerment. I am incredibly thankful for their hospitality and for the lesson they taught me. It was an amazing and priceless experience that I will not forget for a long time.