PRESS RELEASE: Tree Planting Day provides economic, social and environmental development across Morocco

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Arabic version


Thursday 17th January 2019 


Tree Planting Day provides economic, social and
environmental development across Morocco


Moroccan communities are being invited to plant thousands of trees donated by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) on Monday 21st January 2019 ‘Tree Planting Day’ - an annual planting event coordinated by the Foundation - contributing to economic, social, and environmental development across the Kingdom of Morocco.

The Foundation’s President, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir said “the aim of the day is to promote the spirit of planting at this time of the year, which is the planting season for fruit trees and medicinal plants in Morocco.”

“We invite not only farmers and community associations to get involved, but also schools, parents’ associations, women, cooperatives, children, interfaith groups and all those that would like to participate in planting this season’s life-giving trees,” said Dr. Ben-Meir.

“We will be coordinating planting events in the Provinces of Al Haouz, Azilal, Boujdour, Errachidia, Essaouria, Fes, Marrakech, Oujda, Taroudant, and Taza,” said Dr Ben-Meir.

Using plants provided by HAF nurseries (partnering with Ecosia) and the High Commission of Waters and Forests, the Foundation expects to donate over 8000 organic fruit tree saplings and medicinal plants to communities for Monday’s Tree Planting Day. This will include high-value crops of argan, almond, carob, pomegranate, fig, olive, walnut, and other endemic medicinal plants.  HAF and community partners will plant hundreds of thousands of trees over the course of the 2019 season.

HAF Director of Projects Amina El Hajjami said “planting trees not only generates significantly higher incomes for farmers and local families than the traditional crops of barley and corn, but they also provide food security and environmental rehabilitation”.

“Local communities can see returns from fruit tree harvests within two years for pomegranate trees and 5 years for almond and carob trees,” said Mrs. El Hajjami.

“We are encouraging all communities across Morocco to make the most of this year’s tree planting season and invest in their future livelihoods today. We will be present in different parts of the country on Monday 21st January to assist those who may have never planted before, how to plant their trees for optimal results,” Dr. Ben-Meir said.


For more information and to become involved in Tree Planting Day events on Monday 21st January 2019 please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D, President This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +212 (0) 66 217 6626
Amina El Hajjami, Director of Projects This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +212 (0) 66 217 6663


The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is a US 501(c)(3) organisation and Moroccan not-for-profit association based in Marrakech, Morocco dedicated to catalysing economic growth and endorsing grassroots development in disadvantaged communities throughout Morocco. The organisation was founded in 2000 by former US Peace Corps Volunteers, and since 2011 holds consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

An Open Space for Open Minds

Celina Boehmer, HAF Intern


This week, part of the HAF-Team is travelling from Marrakech to Fes and then to Midelt area to collect and distribute 7100 trees to local communities.


Our first stop was Fes, where we picked up the 7100 trees for the communities. We arrived in Fes and went to the Abdelaziz Ben Driss Child Protection Center. The land used to be a farm, like many others in this area, which explains why the area is an open space and full of nature. You can find a variety of trees, plants, and animals and can hear the birds sing in the trees throughout the day.


The center has two wells, one of which powered by a solar pump (!). The center also has a tree nursery, which HAF and its partners in Fes started in the summer of 2017 with funding from ECOSIA, the search engine that plants trees.


Khalid, the HAF caretaker who is in charge of the nursery grows various fruit trees—including pomegranate, olive, fig, and almond varieties—as well as medicinal and aromatic plants and herbs for use in the center’s kitchen. As we walked around this garden, I grew curious as Khalid introduced us to the herbs and their uses. We learned about lmhinza, a plant with small grey-green leaves, that if mixed with orange and onions, helps heal headaches. Khalild also showed us the different kinds of lavender that he grows, as well as oregano, sage, and thyme. The smell of atarcha kept me interested; it has a lovely floral, lemon scent, and the plant is used for beauty products for hair and skin care.


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After getting to know the area and enjoying its beauty and openness, we met a group of students with interdisciplinary majors from the Spring Arbor University of Michigan. They are traveling through Morocco for 3 weeks to explore Moroccan culture through what they consider the five windows of culture: education, government, family life, religion, and economics. They were very interested in HAF’s work and asked why the foundation distributes trees to communities. Said, project manager of the Fes-Meknes region, answered that a lot of farmers normally only grow barely and corn, but the problem is that they only get a very small income from these sales. Fruit trees provide far better income and diversify the crops on the land. Said also discussed how fruit trees revive rural livelihoods, contributing to efforts to reduce internal migration of people from the countryside to cities. We also talked about HAF’s participatory planning approach for community development as a way of ensuring communities are leading their own development processes. Then we met altogether with the children from the child protection center. Said provided a shared environmental workshop outside and we planted cherry trees together and these trees are meant to provide the center with cherry seeds for their nursery.


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In the afternoon, we had the big task to pack all 7100 trees into a truck, which would bring them to the Midelt area. The children of the center did a great job! We put already-bagged olive trees in the truck, and dug out and bagged almond trees to store them in the truck as well. This was my favorite part of the day, as we worked alongside the kids and I had a lot of fun together. I could see how some kids were very engaged and knew exactly how to care for the trees. Said and Khalid told me that those kids are the ones who come often to the nursery and help Khalid with taking care for the saplings. In this way, they learned a lot about organic agriculture and the environment. Many found that they could apply what they learned in the nursery to their family farms.


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By engaging with the tree nursery, they learned that they can be an active part of society, because the trees they planted help rural communities to improve their livelihoods. You could really feel the positive atmosphere being in this center surrounded by nature. As Said said while we were talking about the advantages of a tree nursery at a youth center: this open space could help the children to open their minds.


7,100 trees grown in Fez nursery improving livelihoods in Midelt

by Nisreen Abo-Sido, HAF volunteer, Thomas J. Watson Fellow




On Monday, project manager Said Bennani, volunteer Celina, and I began our weeklong excursion to Fez and Midelt for environmental workshops and tree-planting activities.  On Tuesday, we visited the Abdelaziz Ben Driss child protection center to conduct an environmental workshop with the boys, plant trees, and help load 7,100 saplings to be planted in Midelt this week.  Students from the Spring Arbor University in Michigan, USA, joined us for the tree-planting activities.  We had a lively day, inspired by the caretaker’s thoughtful tree nursery management and the boy’s enthusiastic involvement.




We started the day by visiting the tree nursery, which was spread across different plots within the center.  The local association, which organizes activities for the boys at the center, began the nursery in collaboration with HAF in May 2017.  On the way to the nursery, we admired a solar pump, supplying the energy required to extract water from a well.  Then, we met with the nursery’s caretaker, Khalid Naji, and he described the nursery conditions and progress in caring for the saplings, which were of the almond, olive, fig, carob, cherry, and pomegranate varieties.  Moreover, he showed us various aromatic and medicinal plants cultivated at the center and explained their beneficial properties.  All HAF partner nurseries are raised organically, and HAF encourages sapling recipients to continue to cultivate trees organically, for not only the environmental benefits but also for the increased value of accessing the organic market.




When the group of 23 students and their professors from the Spring Arbor University arrived, we began our environmental workshop with a group of boys from the protection center.  The University students came from a variety of majors and they were all interested in increasing their understanding of multiculturalism.




Said facilitated a workshop for the boys to better understand their relationship with their environment.  The University students participated by listening and asking the boys questions.  When Said asked the boys about their experiences with the agricultural activities in the center, one boy described how much he liked outdoor activities and how he had learned so much from Khalid about planting trees and using drip-irrigation techniques to water them.  Another boy added how his family used to purchase large trees and manually water them, but after engaging with the centers nursery, he now understands the transformation of trees from seeds and how to use drip-irrigation techniques to more efficiently care for seedlings.  When a University student asked the boys about their favorite part of the tree-rearing process, they nearly simultaneously agreed on the satisfaction of harvesting (and consuming!) tree fruit.


Following the workshop—together with the university students and the children—we planted six cherry trees, that the nursery plans to use for seed saving, rather than consumption, contributing to efforts to keep the nursery self-sufficient.




In the afternoon, we began loading olive, pomegranate, fig, and almond saplings into a truck for a tree-planting event in Midelt this Thursday.  Prior to loading them, we carefully extracted them from the ground and bagged them to preserve root moisture and, thus, maintain plant viability.




Said and Tarik Sadki—a member of the Karama association in Midelt—reminded the boys of the value of their contribution: as the ones who helped sow and care for the saplings, the kids were directly improving and supporting people’s livelihoods for years to come.  The HAF team and the local association are now in Gourrama commune, where we will facilitate environmental workshops and distribute trees to communities.  In this week, we have seen how tree-planting can be a vehicle for promoting cross-collaborative sustainable development, led and defined by communities, involving children, youth, adults, and local associations, to improve people’s lives across regional boundaries.


We thank Ecosia for funding the Abdelaziz Ben Driss nursery; without their support, these transformative experiences could not have been possible.


Who likes trash?

Celina Boehmer

HAF Intern (from Germany)


I was excited about my first field visit and about getting to know what the High Atlas Foundation’s work looks like in action, because before starting my internship, I only saw the social media posts, blog articles, and photos.


This day, we didn’t travel long, as we went to two schools in Marrakech. The first one was a primary school with around 600 children. Esmae, the parent's associations president, welcomed us warmly at the door and we went to meet the children in their classroom.


Errachid, project manager at HAF, conducted an environmental and participatory workshop about decision making to protect the environment. The students were very active and had a lot to say. They had lots of ideas, like building an environmental club, creating trash places, and planting more trees. They learned more about global warming and the problems of flooding. The students decided to make some changes on their own to improve the environment—one mentioned that he will stop cutting flowers; other said they would stop throwing trash on the ground and that they would use water more responsibly.


Afterward, our dear volunteer Nisreen conducted an introduction-to-composting workshop in order to put into practice what they have learned and later do a compost-making activity outside with the children.


Then we gave the children some time to express their newly-learned ideas and visions of their future school in drawings. I asked some of the children what they’d like to change in their school, and they answered that they need more classrooms and that they would like to have more flowers in the school.


After a delicious breakfast, which was offered by the parents’ association to us, we started our composting workshop outside. Nisreen asked the kids “Who likes trash?” After a little confusion, everybody denied. She asked, “Do you want more or less trash? “ Of course, they answered “Less!“. They were very interested in the composting workshop to reduce at least the biodegradable waste. We brought some plastic bottles, cut the tops off, and put some holes in the bottom. Then we began layering the compost, and the students were excited to find some soil for the first layer, then they put some food waste, then soil again, food-waste, and soil. In the end, they added some water and placed the compost-models besides trees, so the trees can benefit from the nutrient-rich compost which is produced like that.




Girls making the compost-model


At the end of this visit, we did a tree-planting activity with the kids and talked to the head of the school about the problems the school is facing: they need more bathrooms and have a problem with water when it rains a lot.


When we arrived at the second school in Marrakech later that day, the president of the parents’ association welcomed us again very warmly and we met with the school director. We talked with him and some teachers and he told us about his year-long experiences working as head of a school in a rural area of Morocco.  Afterward, we met the kids and Errachid, talked with the children about decision-making processes and environmental issues. He practiced the model of pairwise ranking in order to figure out what their biggest challenges are in the school. Although I do not understand Darija (the Moroccan Arabic), just by observing their interactions, I was impressed by how the children listened and were eager to participate. Everyone was very attentive. At the end of this visit we had some tree-planting activities outside and after having some tea and snacks we said goodbye to this school as well.



Found some nice work about climate change and environmental issues!

Take Credited Development and Arabic Language Courses with HAF and the University of Virginia: Engage in Applied Learning this Summer in Marrakech

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Under the auspices of the University of Virginia, the High Atlas Foundation’s President, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, will lead a four-credit academic internship program from May 27th to July 19th in Marrakech on the practical and theoretical dimensions of participatory development. While completing internships at the HAF and engaging in related coursework, students will facilitate communities’ planning of projects in Morocco, and directly assist in implementing local priorities in agriculture, education, health, and women’s and youth empowerment.


Together, program participants will:

- Analyze points of view from around the world (modernization, world-systems, alternative movements, and others) of the different conditions within societies and globally that are needed in order to achieve the people’s development. 

- Working alongside HAF’s staff and partners, learn how to advance human development in all its phases—from participatory design to evaluation.

- Build proficiency in Moroccan Arabic (Darija), and earn one credit doing so.

- Work towards achieving the development aspirations of Moroccan rural and urban communities.

- Experience how empowerment workshops are conducted with women and girls. 

- Promote gender knowledge and awareness with men, young and older.

- Create socio-economic and environmental projects with and for young people. 

- Be guided by the principles of participation and multiculturalism toward sustainability—as called for by the Moroccan national model. 

- Harness applied and analytical tools that can be utilized to fulfill professional goals for the future, and do so with new friends and to-be collaborators.


Undergraduates of all ages, backgrounds, and majors are most welcome to participate. Students from U.S.-based universities may apply for transfer credit from the University of Virginia.


To see the full details of the program and to apply, please visit the online brochure on UVA’s Education Abroad site. Please write with any specific questions or comments to Yossef Ben-Meir (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Ingrid Hakala (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  Applications are due on March 1st.


The program fee will include housing, as well as traditional and very satisfying breakfasts and lunches everyday at the HAF office in Marrakech, where instruction will be held.   


See you this summer in the Red City of Marrakech.  We look forward to exploring with you rural life and historic neighborhoods, as we grow from our dedication to Morocco’s growth.


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