Programs with vulnerable youth

New Educational Workshop and Nursery for At-Risk Youth in Fes

by Said Bennani

HAF Project Manager




According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate for young people ages 15 to 24 in Morocco in 2016 was over 20 percent. This figure does not include people who are underemployed or who work in the informal sector doing menial work in exchange for extremely low wages. Societies in which young people have few or no job prospects face a greater risk of experiencing political instability, rising inequality, rising crime, and increased religious and political radicalization.


To address this concern, this month the High Atlas Foundation inaugurated a new youth educational program at the Center for the Protection of Children - Abdelaziz Ben Driss in the northern Moroccan city of Fes. At-risk youth ages 12 to 18 who live at the children’s Center have begun working on creating a new tree nursery that will be large enough to grow trees and plants for the surrounding region. The land upon which the nursery will have a restored and deepened well that will have a good supply of water, and a 70-cubic-meter-capacity water storage basin which needs to be repaired after many years of disuse. 


 The land had been left fallow for a long time, so it is full of weeds and big plants. It is a new experience for the urban youth in Fes to work in a field, clearing it out to prepare for the construction of the new fruit tree nursery. The boys enjoy working in the field but since it is getting hotter now in Fes, they work up to two hours in the morning and one and a half hours in the afternoon.


The children were very excited to work on this project and asked many questions such as, “What will we do here? Why are we doing this work? What is a nursery?” The children’s curiosity and eagerness to learn were very encouraging. Our HAF staff member was happy to answer the boys’ questions and begin teaching them about HAF’s future projects in Fes. The children will participate in an ongoing workshop throughout the year that will teach them about horticulture and provide valuable vocational training which the children can use to pursue careers in agriculture, landscape architecture, botany, or any other profession that requires knowledge of how to grow and care for plants. Perhaps one day one of the children will join HAF’s staff!

 Thank you, Ecosia in Germany, for your essential partnership in growing this and other nurseries in Morocco.  And thank you Morocco’s association - Experts bénévoles pour le développement - for your total dedication to the welfare of the Center’s youth.


Through HAF’s nursery project, a group of children will learn about complex irrigation systems and horticulture and will gain first-hand experience caring for plants and trees. Since the boys live at the Center and most of them have ample free time, they have an opportunity to create their own projects caring for trees. If the children give the proper care to the trees, they will enjoy the satisfaction of watching the trees grow tall and strong.

HAF will also teach the children about the environment, the role of trees in creating a healthy ecosystem, and the importance of biodynamic agriculture. Through this education, it is our hope to train the children to become active and contributing citizens and members of their society. We will practice communicating effectively and respectfully with others which is a skill that these children need to develop. Due to their difficult childhoods, some of the children only think about when they will leave the Center, but our educational program aims to encourage the youth to take an interest in developing themselves to lead productive lives.


Some of the children at the Center do not attend school and therefore lack the educational background and skills required to gain stable employment. Because these children have no hope for a better future, it was difficult in the beginning to convince some of them to join the trainings and workshops. However, after a few days of interacting with our HAF staff member, the children became more interested in participating, and they even began opening up about their own personal problems and asking for advice. Serving as positive adult role models and helping the children make good decisions during their formative years are important components of HAF’s program. It is truly a privilege to shape and influence the future of these young lives.


For the children who have a strong desire to learn about the tree nursery project, one of the most exciting experiences will be transferring the seedlings to the community and witnessing the impact of this project and their hard work. Rural farming communities surrounding Fes and schools will receive seedlings and plants from the new nursery; the plants will then grow in their fields and school children will have an opportunity to learn about trees and the environment.




It is our hope that later this year the children at the Abdelaziz Ben Driss Center will see the fruits of their labor. They will be invited to tree planting events and will help distribute trees that they grew themselves from tiny seedlings to local farmers and schools. We are sure they will derive great satisfaction from seeing how all of their hard work has helped their community. One-by-one, tree-by-tree, HAF will continue to create a brighter and better future for the people of Morocco. 

 Thank you so very much, Ecosia in Germany, for your essential partnership in growing this and two other community nurseries in Morocco totaling 1.17 million organic fruit trees.  Thank you to Experts bénévoles pour le développement for your total dedication to the welfare of the Center’s youth.  The mission-driven staff at the Center of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and of our many provincial partners at the Ministry of Education - are vital contributors to success.  


- Said 

Coming of Age in Tassa Ouirgane

   By Mark Apel- USAID Farmer to Farmer Volunteer, Former Peace Coprs Morocco Volunteer. 

 From 1985 until 1986, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the Azzeden Valley working for the country’s Eaux et Forets (Water and Forests) Service to study and inventory what might’ve been some of Morocco’s last herds of wild Barbary Sheep. These wild sheep lived on a 2000 hectare mountain reserve in Toubkal National Park, just across the Azzeden river from the little village of Tassa Ouirgane. It was from this little village that my Eaux et Forets counterpart, Omar, and I would take our excursions into the reserve to document the presence and movement of these animals. Sadly today, the Barbary Sheep no longer inhabit the reserve, and according to villagers’ accounts, they moved up higher into the mountains to escape the influence of humans. But of course, the people of Tassa Ouirgane are still there and trying to eek a living out of a river bottom that was changed by a dramatic flood in 1995 and climate change. Hectares of land that were farmed for generations were washed away in the deluge.



Today, farmers along the river valley can no longer depend on the snowmelt and water that flowed out of the mountains to irrigate their fruit and nut trees. This is especially true in the months of June, July and August when barely a trickle flows down their irrigation canals. Conversely, when it rains, it pours. Any attempts to rebuild their garden terraces in the river bottom are frustrated by lower grade floods. Nonetheless, the people of Tassa Ouirgane are resilient and never fail to open their homes to strangers. 

There is a deep, abiding compassion in this village for the future of their people as demonstrated by a group of men known as the Tassa Ouirgane Association for the Environment and Culture. In addition, there is a women’s cooperative that was formed with the help of the High Atlas Foundation to help the young women of the village improve their income through the sale of handicrafts. The participatory approach has become the bedrock of the High Atlas Foundation to help communities decide for themselves what their priorities are. This approach was used in 2012 by the Foundation with the residents of Tassa Ouirgane to help them determine where their greatest needs lie, and improving their water infrastructure to irrigate their trees has become paramount. 

This year, in April of 2017, it was a happy reunion for me as a HAF and Farmer to Farmer (F2F) Volunteer to return to Tassa Ouirgane and meet with the men’s association that I met with last year as a volunteer. Of course, the stories about my earlier Peace Corps days in this village back in the 80’s were always fun to recount, as I was the first American volunteer to have worked there and in the Park, with many others to follow. Somehow, 30 years later, the tales of my yellow motorcycle and other antics always seem to enter the conversations to the delight of everyone, as we sat around drinking tea and eating lunch at the house of Raiss Si Mohammed Idhna, president of the men’s association. Even though many of these men were small boys back in the mid-80’s, they laughed with the old-timers as if it was just yesterday that I had worked there. The Raiss’s house is situated on the hill with a spectacular view of the park and the Azzeden River Valley – a view that I never grow tired of seeing.



I had an auspicious reason for visiting this group again. Last year, as a HAF and F2F volunteer, I assisted with a grant proposal to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that was awarded just this year in the amount of $48,000. This will go a long way to helping the village fulfill its vision for improved irrigation, flood and erosion control, a new well, solar pump and water storage for the dry times of the year, and lastly, the hallmark of any HAF project, a tree nursery. Tassa Ouirgane already grows a variety of fruits and nuts including olives, walnuts, peaches and plums. However, most of these trees belong to individuals. The goal of HAF is to help rural villages like this one start a community-based  tree nursery where they will grow seedlings that will then be distributed to farmers in the valley who don’t have any fruit or nut trees. 




  Through this UNDP grant, Tassa Ouirgane has the opportunity to become an example of community-based development that is truly in the hands of the community. While here we had the chance to introduce the village to the Director of Projects for UNDP Morocco Ms. Badia Sahmy to the association and discuss the goals and details of the project that her office is so generously funding through HAF. It was interesting to hear the spectrum of ideas behind the grant. For the men’s association, they are finally going to have the opportunity to have the infrastructure they’ve needed to sustain their trees through the dry seasons. For the UNDP, they see this as an opportunity for the village to serve as a model for community resilience once all the pieces are in place. HAF is perfectly positioned to help make both of these views a reality. To kick-start this project, intern Jan Thibaud from Belgium will be spending two months living in Tassa Ouirgane and surveying the other villages in the valley for their potential to start HAF nurseries.  Jan is the same age I was when I first arrived in Tassa Ouirgane over 33 years ago as a young man. He will be working with the same sense of commitment and dedication to such a beautiful place and wonderful people. I’m proud to be able to pass along the torch, after all these years, and see Tassa Ouirgane become more resilient in the face of a changing climate and environment.


 Mark Apel is a faculty member of the University of Arizona in the US as an Extension Agent working on sustainable development issues. He has recently completed two volunteer consultant assignments in Morocco with the Farmer to Farmer Program, through Land O’Lakes International Development.  Mr. Apel has over 30 years of experience working on environmental, land use and sustainability issues.





Sami's Project Evaluations


By Errachid Montassir 

HAF Project Manager 

Marrakesh Office 

One of the main projects that the High Atlas Foundation takes part in is the Sami's project which works to improve systems of rural schools across the Kingdom of Morocco. One of the main aspects of this project is the distribution of various types of fruit trees to many types of schools. These include primary schools, boarding schools, universities, and high schools. 


This week the High Atlas Foundation team visited five schools in the El Houz region that benefit from the Sami's project. The main goal of this sight visit was to assess the progress of Sami's in the schools and also to distribute certificates to the schools to thank them for successful completion of the planting of trees this  January.


 We left Marrakesh in the morning, and our first stop was a boarding school in Tahanout, this area was once a village, but it is turning into a sprawling city in the Atlas Mountains. The school is a boarding school for students of middle school age and it is a school for both boys and girls. They each have their own dormitory areas but they attend classes together. 



The first thing we did at this school was sitting down with several boys from the school and taking to them about the work that HAF has done in the school and what they think about the trees that we planted there. We also talked to them about what they believe would make their school even better.  


The students are very bright and they really want to make their school a better place for all. 



We then went to observe the trees that the foundation planted and checked the progress of them. 


To finish off the visit strong we then went and had a conversation with several female students of the school and we were again surprised and inspired by their dedication and knowledge.  



We then gave the administration of the school the certificate for successful completion of the project and had some small talk with the students. 



We then drove  to Sidi Ghiat, which is a very small town and we visited a school by the name of alborj. After arriving we met two dedicated and inspiring teachers  Mr Abdelghani and Mr Abdrrahim.


We were surprised by how well the project was doing. All of the trees were green and in great health and are on their way to being able to produce fruit. We were shocked to find out that the school, and mainly the students are able to keep the trees on good health, amidst many challenges including the fact that there is no ample source of water there, so they bring water from the village to the school every day. We look forward to working with both the school and community to be able to find ways to fix this issue, and hopefully make caring for the trees easier, but most importantly more time efficient. 


 We then awarded the school with their certificate of completion, and then made some small talk with the bright and funny students and staff of the school. 


In the  same village of Sidi Ghiyat we continued on to another school, but before hand we visited the house of a local farmer to collaborate over a great Moroccan breakfast. We were surprised by the man's hospitality and dedication to improving the community and we hope to work with him and other farmers in the community to move the entire village forward. 


 From there we made or way to a nearby school in the same village that HAF has been working with for many years. We checked the progress of a toilet that we constructed several years ago, and we were also taken aback by the amazing job that the students did caring for the trees at the school. 


We fished our time at the Bozza school with a visit to the neighboring school building. The amount of students being enrolled at the school is growing every year, and at they has been difficult at times do to the limited resources that the school has at their disposal. We talked with the school directors about steps that can be taken to make the school a better place for children to learn and grow, ad most important build upon the process that the school and community has already made. 


We then made our way to the growing city of Ait Ourir and met with a administrative leader  in the  Education Delegation,  Mr Musstapha,  he has many responsibilities  in the administration and he showed us the trees of Sami's project which are in great health and on their way to producing fruit. At this site, only three trees died which is not bad at all.  We gave him the certificate ,and he talked about how excited he is to continue working with the High Atlas Foundation and particularly work to improve many schools in collaboration with Sami's Project.  


Im order to arrive to the last stop on our trip we left the Atlas Mountains range and drove along a winding ride though red hills to the village of Tidili Massfiwa where we visit a girls boarding school. Here we were given a very warm welcome and engaged in conversation with the school director about our project and what came be done to move the school and community forward. We also took a look at all of the trees that the foundation distributed. 


We then sat and talked for around twenty minutes with a group of 30 students of the school and they spoke about how badly they wanted a library in order to be able to read and learn beyond what their amazing teachers are teaching them. 


We were taken aback by how much the school's students and administrators valued the work we were doing together and we chatted about women's empowerment and about what it is like to attend a girls only boarding school in Morocco. This visit gave us great hope for the future of the Kingdom. 


We then returned home to Marrakesh felling tired from a long day with lots of traveling but most importantly, felling inspired by all of the amazing people that we had met and excited about the bright future Morocco has ahead of her.


HAF Promotes Tree Planting and Value-Addition for Rural Farmers in Morocco


Gregory Sullivan, HAF Visiting Expert 


International Executive Service Corps (IESC)

USAID’s Farmer to Farmer Program


April 18 to May 5, 2017

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Morocco is using innovative approaches to tackling poverty in this North Africa country, as well as addressing the challenge of climate change.  HAF is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the livelihoods of rural households. The foundation was established in 2000 and registered in both the USA and Morocco.  It set an ambitious goal to plant one million trees and successfully met that challenge in the year 2014. HAF is not stopping and has agreed to support the Government of Morocco to reach its target to plant one billion trees by 2030.

At the HAF’s headquarters is in Marrakech, the office is constantly buzzing with the enthusiasm of young volunteers from Morocco, Europe and the USA committed to make a positive impact on Morocco.  HAF is at the center of the wider global initiative to address climate change.  The United Nations’ climate change conference was held in the city in November 2016.  HAF’s goal is to empower people to improve their livelihoods and the climate through community action. For HAF it all starts with the establishment of its eleven nurseries. HAF partnered with several organizations both government and non-government and from inside and outside Morocco to establish these nurseries. The German organization – Ecosia - provides funding for three new nurseries.  At the same time, HAF continues to evaluate the possible addition of new nursery sites.  In some cases, a nursery site was provided by the local council, the local cooperative or even a religious organization.  This reflects buy-in from a wide spectrum of the stakeholders in the donor community.


HAF’s nurseries are in different ecological zones which offer a diversity of trees and plants to meet the needs of rural households and schools in different planting zones (see Figures 1 and 2). Most of the nurseries are in the hotter, drier zone having a continental climate. Temperatures can exceed 40 Celsius and a dry season can last three to four months. Tree and aromatic seeds are collected locally for the nurseries for better adaptability to growing conditions. Some popular tree species are walnut, almond, pomegranate, olive, and fig. A few nurseries produce aromatic plants (Verbena, mint, sage and thyme) which are popular items added to tea. Aromatic plants are distributed to women to be grown for both home use or sold fresh or processed in the local markets to provide additional income for women. Water availability in this drier climate is a challenge, and HAF promotes the use of drip irrigation systems conserving scarce water.

HAF’s mission is to address challenges along the value chain facing producers, and it invests in value addition activities in processing and marketing, not just planting trees.  In the town of Asni, HAF supported the establishment of a walnut processing facility with the local government and the Idraren cooperative. HAF purchased some of the equipment installed in the plant and helped to train the staff. The cooperative with the help of HAF will find markets for producers’ nuts and bottled walnut oil.  The market plan is to develop branded organic walnut products which are sold in both the domestic and international markets.  In the first year of operation in 2016, the cooperative sold 6,000 kilograms of nuts, as well as, 1000 liters of walnut oil for cosmetic use 

Where possible, HAF works to build the capacity of women cooperatives to empower them for positive economic and social change in their communities. HAF teamed up with the French cosmetic company, L’Oriel, to contract with the women’s cooperative in the Ouirka Valley, which is approximately 30 kilometers southeast from Marrakesh. The cooperative has 40 women, and they grow the flower, Calendura officinalis (pot marigold), used by L’Oriel in the manufacture of their cosmetics. HAF and L’Oriel supported the women with training and made initial start-up investments in a small building with a bathroom, irrigation equipment (see Figure 4) and a water tank for storing water during the dry season to extend the production season when water levels in the nearby river fall. The women have learned how to collect seed from nearby fields, propagate and transplant seedlings (see Figure 5). The women then harvest the flower, transport in local basket (see Figure 6) to their homes where they dry the petals and then pack and ship them to France. These value-added processes allow the women to be paid 1,000 MAD (approximately U.S. $100) per kilogram for dried petals. The women expect their first shipment of 50 kilograms of dried petals in 2017 and will receive about 50,000 MAD (US $5,000) to be shared among members of the cooperative.



HAF is making a significant difference for large numbers of rural households in Morocco through tree planting, and it is turning producers into entrepreneurs evident by the success in establishing the walnut cooperative in Asni and the Calendula cooperative in Ouirka.  These business models will be replicated in other villages and towns in Morocco and will directly increase rural incomes and at the same time address the threats of climate change facing Morocco.  By mobilizing communities to plant trees and aromatic plants, HAF is helping rural Morocco on its path to economic sustainability.


Planting Seeds


Tim Ager

Vising Engineering Expert  

USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program


My image of Morocco was dry, a desert, and not a place of agricultural growth.  I was surprised by the vast olive groves and orchards of fruit trees often visible from the window of my train as I travelled from Marrakech, through Casablanca and Rabat, to Fez.  Unfortunately, not all Moroccans experience the financial benefits that such trees can provide.

Most rural Moroccans are subsistence farmers who survive by growing corn and barley – the low market value staple crops that are planted on 70% of Morocco’s agricultural land, but account for only 10-15% of the country’s agricultural revenue.  This way of life is no longer sustainable, and the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has taken on the challenge of breaking the cycle of poverty that entraps those who depend upon agricultural production.

HAF has developed nurseries across the country to grow fruit and nut trees including pomegranate, fig, olive, almond and walnut.  After a couple of years these trees are mature enough to be given to individuals in rural communities to help them increase their agricultural revenue.  The trees are also distributed to schools, providing the opportunity to teach the next generation of Moroccans how to plant and care for trees.  And the planting of trees brings additional environmental benefits: soil erosion prevention, deforestation reversal, and climate change mitigation.

Over the last two weeks, I visited many of these nurseries on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  My job was to assess existing drip irrigation systems and to design irrigation systems for future nursery sites.

One of these sites is located in Fes, at the Center for the Protection of Children – Abdelaziz Ben Driss, a welfare institution that serves children in vulnerable situations, those with legal problems, and/or minors in detention.  The Center provides vocational training in carpentry, ironwork, IT, literacy, and gardening.  On my visit to the Center I saw a large garden plot (approximately 800m2) already tilled and partially planted with aromatic and medicinal herbs.  All that was lacking was an irrigation system.  The design for this nursery includes two plots totaling nearly 3,000m2, with a drip irrigation system that will water the garden plot as well.  The opportunity to help install and maintain this irrigation system and the day to day care of plants will help engage the minds and bodies of the young people who live at the Center.

I visited nurseries at the Collège Housseine Bin Ali in Moulay Yacoub (Fes region), and the Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, which are models for future nurseries at the Universitè Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah – Appied Sciences campus in Fes and at the Salam School in Ifrane.  These nurseries will provide opportunities for children and young adults to learn about improved irrigation practices, caring for plants, and to spread their knowledge across Morocco.  But the skills obtained from working directly with these nurseries can be much greater – including critical thinking, problem solving, engineering and design, communication, mentorship, and community service.


There is no disputing the positive effects of HAF’s nurseries – from educational, to environmental, to financial.  But in reality, how much good can a few trees do?  It’s all a question of scale.  HAF has already planted over two million fruit and nut trees in Morocco.  While this is a significant number, it’s only a fraction of Morocco’s national goal of planting one billion trees to overcome the inherent problems of subsistence agriculture.  Consider that number: one billion.  It seems impossible.  How do you grow a project from one million trees to one billion trees?  It all starts with the next nursery, the next seed.  Another seed planted in the ground.  Another seed planted in the mind of a child.

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HAF in Morocco

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