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Organic Nurseries, Organic Fruits

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By William Nichols 
F2F Volunteer 
Land O’Lakes International

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I am a late career American businessman.  Currently I spend up to half of each year volunteering with NGOs in developing and middle income countries.  I assist across a range of business disciplines (marketing, sales, strategic planning, and organizational improvement.) Over the past eight years I have conducted 45 volunteer assignments in 20 or so countries.

Just recently, I spent three weeks conducting a volunteer business assignment in Marrakech, Morocco.  Two US-based NGOs, IESC and Land O’Lakes, sent me on this assignment.  Our client was the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a United States and Moroccan NGO reaching twelve provinces throughout Morocco. HAF trains communities to integrate agricultural and other human development initiatives. HAF invests in projects in participatory democratic governance, sustainable agriculture, school environment, health and sanitation, integration of women in economic and social environment, and environmental resource management. 

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My specific assignment was to address HAF as a crop nursery business. Since 2003, HAF and its partners have planted more than three million trees and are currently engaged in a campaign with its public, business, and civil partners to plant one billion trees in Morocco. HAF and community tree planting efforts benefits 5,000 households (about 45,000 people) throughout Morocco. 

HAF is the only non-profit tree-providing nursery in Morocco. Thus it has no direct competitors. The foundation views commercial nurseries, not as competitors, but as business collaborators.  Some 50 percent of the seedlings HAF donates to beneficiaries are sourced from commercial nurseries. HAF offers multiple fruit and nut trees as well as herbs and medicinal plants to its customers.

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HAF donates its nursery crops free to beneficiaries, usually funded by donor grants. In 2017 to date, 101 organizations (cooperatives, communities, and schools) have received various trees and plants from HAF.

HAF offers multiple fruit and nut trees as well as herbs and medicinal plants to its customers. Demand likely exceeds supply for the most popular trees provided by HAF nurseries. The foundation will benefit by focusing on a more limited number of products offered.  It is difficult to be efficient and successful when trying to be all things to all people. Consequently, HAF requested assistance to develop a business plan for their tree and plant nurseries.

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The following organic trees plus various plants are offered or under consideration by HAF.

     1.  Almond
     2.  Argan
     3.  Carob
     4.  Cherry
     5.  Dates (under consideration)
     6.  Figs
     7.  Lemon (under consideration)
     8.  Olive
     9.  Pomegranate
     10.  Walnuts
     11.  Plants (oregano, thyme, wormwood, fennel, rosemary, verbena, lavander, marjoram, sage, geranium, peppermint, capers)

I conducted a strategic analysis of the HAF nursery business in order to identify action steps required for the organization to take and included this information in the development of a business plan.  The recommendations provided were designed to be realistically implementable and to offer paths of improvement to HAF.

In order to prioritize HAF’s crop offerings ideally we would evaluate such measures as:

    - Production for the domestic market
    - Production for the export market
    - Sales value of seedlings and of harvested crops
    - Cost of production
    - And so on...

However such metrics are not easily available, consequently we elected to rely on estimates and qualitative criteria in order to prioritize the products. The following list shows eight metrics that we have used to prioritize our product offerings.

    - Uses (food, medicine, cosmetics, environmental, fuel)
    - Years until transplantable as a seedling
    - Years until commercially viable
    - Life of orchard in years
    - Current demand for seedlings
    - Production metric tons 2014
    - Seedling sales price
    - Water demand

The result of our analysis showed that the most attractive trees to concentrate on were olive, pomegranate, carob, fig, and walnut.  Next in line were almond, cherry, and medicinal plants and herbs.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my three week volunteer assignment with the HAF organization.  I hope to be able to assist them again in the future.

Finally, HAF is an NGO with noble goals and with substantial skills.  The foundation has achieved notable success to date.  Even if none of the recommendations offered in our business assessment are implemented, HAF and its organic nursery business would continue to be a force for good in Morocco. However, the organization has even greater potential to achieve good in the country.  With the implementation of the business plan presented, I believe that the High Atlas Foundation, its partners, and particularly its beneficiaries will all reach an even higher level of success.

Plant Argan with Moroccan Communities!

Investment in Sami’s Project Swiftly Transforming Communities

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By Julia Al-Akkad 
HAF Intern

The High Atlas Foundation’s initiation of Sami’s Project in 2011 led to remarkable success throughout the rural communities of the Kingdom of  Morocco. The sustainable development project seeks to improve the education system by creating green spaces through distributing and planting trees at local schools. The green spaces encourage the transformation of students into environmental agents, in which they develop an appreciation for their surrounding environment, while building innovative agricultural techniques to aid students in the future.

Inspired by Sami, who passed away at five years old amidst his struggle with cancer, the project upholds his admirable devotion and gratitude for the environment around him. His story empowers students across Morocco to transform into environmental stewards. Through cooperation of the organizers, volunteers, teachers and students, Sami’s Project instills the core values of fellowship, mutual respect, trust and dedication. 

Holding events such as environmental workshops within the local communities engages the students in sharing their personal visions for the school environment, while building vital skills to take initiative in not only the tree planting project, but in their future endeavors. The participatory approach of the High Atlas Foundation creates transformational and lasting change in these communities, a key contributor to Sami’s Project outstanding success.

Sami’s Project additionally builds necessary infrastructure, that tend to be weak in poor, rural communities, to encourage a productive learning community including clean water systems, bathrooms and classrooms. Thus far, the High Atlas Foundation contributed to the construction of efficient water systems and bathrooms for twelve schools, along with three classrooms in various provinces.

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In the first three months of 2018 alone, HAF worked across 23 different provinces with 156 schools - involving 19,000 students – to plant 16,763 trees. Since 2013, HAF conducted interactive environmental activities and planted approximately 33,000 trees with nearly 350 schools. Considering just over 3,000 trees were planted in 2015, the progress of Sami’s Project is a testament to the hard work of the volunteers, students and teachers dedicated to the mission.

The project is continuing to expand as students and team members contribute valuable input regarding the direction of the project. There is a movement towards expanding the types of trees planted, which now include both fruit trees and medicinal plants, a demonstration of the immeasurable potential of the project. Constructing environmental clubs and competitions between schools are just a few of the additional goals the project aims to develop.

Empowering disadvantaged youth from agricultural families by cultivating knowledge and tangible skills in modern arboriculture, generates substantial benefits for both the local environment and the students’ lives by expanding employment opportunities. Sami’s Project illustrates how prioritizing investment in fostering productive educational environments results in an empowered, youth force that are capable of creating valuable change that transcends their communities.

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Give to Sami's Project.

Optimism for River Management with the Tassa Ouirgane Community

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By Julia Payne
HAF Intern

On Monday June 4, 2018, we took the snaking roads through the High Atlas Mountains to the Tassa Ouirgane community nestled between two towering mountains in the Toubkal National Park. The purpose of the day’s visit was to have the community participate in a training workshop on how to manage rivers. The water expert, Ali Blali, would discuss potential options for this community that has been ravaged by flash floods (most notably in 1995) and has struggled with agriculture due to soil absorption.

HAF has been working in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide the Tassa Ouirgane community with a water well. Already, HAF has built an olive nursery which we stopped by on our way to the community meeting. The baby sprouts were thriving under the steamy plastic covering that maintained a toasty 42 degree atmosphere. Spending only a few sweaty seconds in this plant haven, we soon made our way farther up the mountain to community center.   

 

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A group of about a dozen men shuffled into a brightly painted classroom surrounded by breathtaking green landscape. The projector blinked through different informational pages and pictures of a variety of embankments, gabions, water gates, and other channeling methods utilizing diverse materials—stone, masonry, vegetation—that have been implemented around Morocco. The overall optimistic emphasis was that managing a river is an achievable goal; many other local farmers have innovated solutions to problems similar to those that Tassa Ouirgane faces.

At the end of the presentation, the men turned to discussing what would best work for them. Several concerns came up including the fact that controlling a river must be done broadly, not just locally. Work at the top of a river can affect it farther down, but access to these upstream locations is limited. In addition, apprehensions about planting vegetation for it to be potentially washed away eliminated that option. One man said families live near the river and he was concerned about their safety in the event of floods. The community is also remote and has limited funds, which ruled out options like masonry.

Eventually, community members reached the conclusion that they would make an embankment of “filets” which are large mesh nets of stones that can be put in a river in order to block seepage into the soil, thereby increasing the overall water supply that can be used for agriculture. The banks made of filets will help control the water flow as well. HAF’s provincial association president, Haj Ahmed Amazzal, and Mr. Blali settled with the plan to start the construction in water training once Ramadan ends. Moving large mesh nets of stones will certainly not be easy, especially in a community where they do not have access to large machinery. However, the men had listened intently to the presentation and clearly absorbed the information, concluding the meeting optimistically with the hope that their plan would help the community, Incha Allah.

Give to community irrigation projects in Morocco.

Unlocking the Potential of the Women of Ourika Valley

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The women of the Ourika commune and HAF Project Manager Amina El Hajjami (second from left)

 

By Katie O’Neill, HAF Intern from Claremont McKenna College (USA)

High Atlas Foundation, Marrakech

6 June 2018

 

In the village commune of Ourika, Morocco a women’s cooperative successfully cultivates vast fields of calendula flowers. Though in this part of the world patriarchal ideals still often reign supreme, these women own the rights to their land, manage their own bank account, and are the sole executors of the cooperative’s business decisions.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) partnered with the PUR project in 2015 to begin the process of women’s empowerment projects in the Al Haouz region of Morocco (where Ourika is located). Operating on the basis of rights-based and participatory development approaches, the HAF team set out to assess the needs of women in these rural communities. What we found was a lack of self-esteem and ability to visualize future goals.

In order to provide these women with the capacity to become social, political, and economic participants in their communities we began conducting training workshops, which integrate Moroccan personal law (Moudawana), intensive self-discovery processes, and agricultural and business training to empower rural women to become more independent. HAF partnered with local universities to train 59 women from five different villages in the Ourika Valley.

Many of the women expressed a desire to work outside their homes, to earn money for themselves and their families, and to finally be able to profit from their own labor. In order to facilitate this, HAF, supported by the PUR Project, assisted a group of 32 Ourika women in establishing their own cooperative, called the Aboghlou Cooperative. On land donated to the cooperative, the women grow almonds, pomegranate, iris, medicinal plants, and calendula, which they sell through the cooperative for profit. Because our workshops focus on discovering and supporting the individual aspirations of these rural women, the results are the product of the women themselves.

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Women of the Aboghlou Cooperative meeting with Amina El Hajjami (second from right)

 

HAF conducts weekly or bi-weekly site visits and meetings with the women to discuss the cooperative’s project development. I accompanied Amina El Hajjami, HAF’s project manager, on one of these visits in June of 2018.

I had spent the past week living in Marrakech, Morocco where I had very little interaction with local women aside from those working with HAF. I had quickly become accustomed to covered women moving through the city almost silently, hardly smiling and certainly never laughing, so my visit to the Aboghlou cooperative came as a shock and pleasant surprise. Immediately upon our arrival, women began calling out to Amina as though she were an old friend. There was music playing from a small radio, and one of the women’s son played in the shade nearby. Here the women, all in big straw hats to shelter from the sun, spoke freely and often. Though I could not understand their words – they speak a local dialect called Tashelheit – from the tone and frequent laughter it was clear they spoke as friends, joking and even singing. I thought that this was the difference empowerment and financial independence could make in the lives of women.

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Women of the cooperative harvesting calendula, Amina El Hajjima (left), representatives from the PUR Project (second row)

 

Our visit was focused primarily on the women’s calendula and medicinal plants gardens. In 2017, the women harvested and sold 60kg of dried calendula, this year they hope to produce 200kg. Each year since the beginning of the cooperative in 2015 the women have managed to grow and scale their production, becoming more and more confident in their abilities and, subsequently, more successful.

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Amina El Hajjami and a representative from the PUR project (center) lead a meeting with the women of the cooperative

 

One of the cornerstones of our visits is group meetings with the entire cooperative, where the women can raise concerns and discuss their plans for the future. Currently, the women have begun growing geranium, lemon verbena, and althea in small quantities. These they will send to PUR Project for testing before they begin large scale production. Throughout the meeting it was clear that these women have just begun to un-tap their potential, both as leaders and as entrepreneurs.

Give to women's empowerment on GlobalGiving.

New Voices to the Old: Sprouting Progress in Marrakech’s Mellah

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By Aichatou Haidara & Aanya Salot

HAF Interns

On the 24th of May, the office of the High Atlas was brimming with a total of 91 people as the High Atlas Foundation staff and the people of Marrakech’s Mellah gathered for Iftar, the breaking of fast. Marrakech’s Mellah proves to be a religious and geographical testimony to the historic coexistence of the Jewish minority within the Muslim community, in an economically vulnerable setting. These members of the community who attended the event were divided into three rooms, each, equipped with at least one High Atlas Foundation staff member that lead the project prioritizing sessions.

Meanwhile, the rest of the staff was floating from room to room ensuring that everyone could satiate their hunger from the long day of fasting with the help of some of the women and some very eager kids. Most notably, there was a young girl who could not have been more than 12 years old who goes by Amina. From the time she entered the office to the time she left, she never stopped helping by either handing out food or by taking back empty trays. After conversing with some of the women from the Mellah and observing the various rooms, it became very clear why Amina had such a commendable character. The women who filled the office of the High Atlas Foundation were resilient individuals who have an optimistic demeanor and inviting personalities despite the hardships that they face daily. Therefore, having these women as role models is likely the reason why Amina will grow up to be as wonderful as the women she is surrounded by.

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This event was created to celebrate the culmination of a women’s workshop, which aimed to identify and create solutions for salient issues that the women in the Mellah face everyday. What started last Ramadan as a participatory initiative to increase women’s agency in their communities evolved into a program that allowed women to communicate and implement the initiatives they most want in their lives. By hosting these last year workshops at a synagogue in the Mellah, many women were exposed to Moroccan cultures and religions they previously knew little about. In addition to increasing religious understanding, the workshops helped the women of the Mellah to convey and express some of the most pressing issues they face on a daily basis. Based on the conversations our communication facilitators had with the women of the community, there was a widespread lack for employment opportunities for women living in the Mellah. Some of the infrastructural needs of the community targeted improvements regarding the restructuring of homes, waste storage, and most importantly, a space for women to collaborate and address these needs of the community; a women’s cooperative.

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The participatory approach taken in this project aims to give agency to women and girls like Amina, so that they have the same economic and social opportunities as her male counterparts. This initiative will propel Morocco into the next step of social and economic development, through the empowerment of women, and the soon creation of the first women’s cooperative in the Marrakech Mellah. 

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HafFdtn The third activity #HAF implements for rural and urban Moroccan women is cooperative-building workshops to guide wo… https://t.co/2uv4USz9c8
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HAF in Morocco

High Atlas Foundation
4 Rue Qadi AyaadAl Manar 4A - 3rd floor - Appt. 12 El Harti, Guéliz, MARRAKESH 40.000 - Morocco

Tel: +212 (0)5 24 42 08 21
Fax+212 (0)5 24 43 00 02 

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Directions to HAF Marrakech Office

HAF in US

High Atlas Foundation
High Atlas Foundation 511 Sixth Avenue, #K110, NEW YORK, NY 10011
USA

Phone: +1 (646) 688-2946
Fax: +1 (646) 786-4780

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