Prof. Ellen Hernandez
On a sunny, winter morning, our team leaves the HAF office for Al Haouz province. Today, we will visit two nurseries with an American business expert – a USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer – who will devise a plan for each cooperative to help improve productivity. Our team includes our driver, the project manager/translator, the management and evaluation officer, the business expert, and me. I am here to observe only and to give my impressions. What I see is people from small villages who are earnestly trying to improve their lives and those of the people in their community. They are open to receiving help and advice. They want to do their best.
For the caretaker of the nursery in Imgdal, Hassan, the issue is water. They have moved plantings from the traditional, uncovered terrace method to a temporary greenhouse of pipe-and-netting construction with an irrigation system he designed. The carob, argan, almond, pomegranate, walnut, cherry, and grape saplings are thriving in this new setting, but the plan is to create a more stable structure with plastic walls. The supplies are starting to come in. The rich, organic compost is set aside. His biggest concern is how to secure a reliable supply of water for irrigation from the river below. The river water is free for their use, but the pumping process will cost money.
The eight-woman cooperative in Tassa Ouirgane has a different story. Theirs is a more lush, verdant area with plenty of water. It is an idyllic setting as we exit the vehicle to the 2:00 Duhr call to prayer. Walking to the nursery of healthy olive, fig, and other trees, I notice two shy little girls watching and giggling from behind a large tree trunk. The women admit that they have only taken over management one week before from the men’s co-op, and what they most desire is training for how to market the already-growing plants. They want to expand to include medicinal plants, and though there are challenges for them, they are committed to making this work.
As we return through the mountains to Marrakech, making our way along the switchback roads, I think about these people and what they are trying to accomplish. What makes it worth it? How does one measure the intrinsic value of a tree? I am reminded of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater, beside the white chickens.” So much depends upon the wheelbarrow next to the greenhouse, the tool held in a woman’s hand, the water from the spring or the river. So much depends upon a tree.