On January 16th this year we celebrated our successful planting of one million fruit bearing trees for the benefit of local communities at simultaneous ceremonies held across eight Moroccan provinces. To date the campaign is estimated to have helped some 50,000 Moroccans take the step out of poverty. HAF is now poised to expand this project, working at an accelerated rate, with the aim of planting one billion trees in the future and ending dependence on subsistence agriculture throughout the Kingdom.
Bringing the idea to fruition has, and will continue to be, an exercise in enhancing and affirming life, in terms of its impact on the environment and on society. Worthy of note in this context are two unique features; the opportunities afforded to the foundation and the spirit of cooperation existing between diverse communities within and beyond Morocco.
People, land and plants
Family farmers in Morocco are moving away from their traditional reliance on subsistence farming to planting cash crops – most commonly fruit trees – to generate greater income. Land for the HAF is made available by a variety of interested parties including government agencies, local cooperatives and municipalities, women’s associations and the Jewish community of Marrakesh. Native tree species that can be grown without pesticides – including carob, olive, pomegranate, lemon, almond and walnut – are planted in nurseries managed entirely on organic lines. At the end of each two-year project mature trees are distributed at the symbolic cost of 1 Moroccan Dirham (a fraction of their true market value) to the surrounding population.
More recently projects have been implemented to grow tens of thousands of native medicinal herbs – oregano, fennel, rosemary, geranium and capers for example – primarily in greenhouses but from this season, in combination with fruit tree agriculture as part of an initiative to explore agroforestry techniques.
Crucially, the land management strategies put into place prevent soil erosion and desertification. For example, once mature, aromatic plants will be transferred to locations on severely eroded mountain sides where homes and whole villages have had to be abandoned.
HAF plays a facilitative role in the process, enabling local communities and neighborhoods who chose to do so, to identify, plan and implement the socio-economic and environmental projects they most need in a democratic manner. This ‘bottom-up’ participatory approach delivers not only projects but training. Communities therefore receive the tools to create their own autonomous projects in the future – the essential goal of sustainable human development.
HAF’s organic agricultural project spans the entire development process from nursery to market. Among other things this includes the securing of product organic certification, from which farmers receive direct income benefits; utilising biomass waste to create further products such as clean energy briquettes and reinvesting in agricultural and human development projects.
An important initiative inspired by the tree campaign is the establishment of an enterprise (High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal – HA3) to unite rural farmers, allowing them to market their produce in both the domestic and international market, an achievement for which HAF was recognized as 2013 SEED Award winners.
These projects take place in the knowledge that HAF plays a specialized – and therefore especially responsible – role. Since 2011 it has held Special Consultative Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council. It is the only similar organization involved in organic agriculture (in a country where 35% of the total walnut crop is by default organic), with university training facilities and with comprehensive links to government at all levels.
HAF takes care at every level to prioritize the most marginalized. This pervading ethos of inclusivity was very much in evidence on 16th January. There are thousands of people across Morocco who can speak of their first time planting a tree under the HAF auspices. On the day itself representatives of different strata of Moroccan society participated, from national and provincial dignitaries to agricultural workers, from teachers to schoolchildren – the next generation to take care of our earth and find sustainable methods of conducting our lives. The presence of diplomatic invitees underscored the continued cooperation between the US government and the movement towards a Green Morocco.
One ceremony was held at Akraich, just south of Marrakesh, significant in being the first to be loaned to the High Atlas Foundation by the Jewish community of Marrakesh-Essaouira for the benefit of local Muslim farmers. The choice reflects very well our role, demonstrated in innumerable activities, to connect the as-yet-unconnected to opportunities for growth and development: to economic and communal participation, to clean drinking water, to education – and to each other.
Looking further afield, we also see our community-driven work in the context of the Arab Spring, aiming to play our part in building a Morocco that shines a way towards a peaceful and prosperous future.
Projects then are seen as gateways to further initiatives, deeper meaning, broader impact and the delivery of vital messages to the global public. We must – and will – continue to deliver with continued passion and commitment, dedication and precision, with faith in the Moroccan people and in humanity.
On January 16th nearly 10,000 trees were planted across Morocco, setting the stage for the rest of the planting season. At a time when the Kingdom is threatened with drought, much-needed rain began to fall at many locations – a most promising sign for the health of the trees and local agriculture and, one likes to think, for the future in general.
by Hedvah Peres, Volunteer at the High Atlas Foundation