Striving for a green world, one plant at a time

By Said Bennani

HAF Project Manager

The successful partnership between the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) and Ecosia, a social business based in Germany, provides a special example of the utility of such unions, evidenced in the project for sustainable development in Moroccan communities. 

The idea of sustainability development stems from people’s participation in their own development, community-based natural resource management, and a multiplicity of other factors, including achieving income-generating opportunities by farming families. With Ecosia’s partnership, we are building a sustainable future for the coming generations by assisting farmers in their growing of organic fruit trees and green spaces.  We aim together to also protect and preserve biodiversity using the existing natural resources.

The efforts for the creation of this project were not singular, and we wish to thank those who helped us materialize and implement this project, here as it unfolded in the Fes and Ifrane regions. 


We started working on building fruit nurseries in Fes and Ifrane a year ago, with the aim of providing communities and farmers agency to practice organic agriculture on their own lands. We were able to see the first tree nursery’s incremental growth in Fes, at the ‘Abdelaziz Ben Diss’ Center for the Protection of Children, where HAF partners with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, in order to create a productive green space for the youth living at the center.  

The project hopes to give these disadvantaged young people an opportunity to partake in agricultural activities such as watering the plants, seed cutting, planting and fixing the drip tape. While providing them an opportunity to learn about agricultural practices, this project also involves local stakeholders such as farmers, who also assist in the cutting and planting of the fruit tree seeds. Additionally, the youth learn techniques on how to take care of the seedlings during growth stages, until the trees become strong.



These trees will be transplanted to farms, where it will find warm hands, from the farmers who will benefit and care for the trees from the nursery.  By involving multiple stakeholders of the community such as youth and local farmers, we aim to provide a ‘hands on’ approach to the process of learning and implementing new skills, while benefitting the community in a sustainable manner.

At this Center, we are growing more than 290,000 fruit tree seeds and cuttings. The table below shows the amount of seeds and cuttings already planted at the nursery:
























































While it might seem that we planted many seeds in one place, we are expecting to produce and plant many more seeds this year with the help of the youth at the Center (as well as a dedicated technician and local farmers). Our plan for the coming months will be to plant more seeds using small sacks in greenhouses, in order to enhance growing conditions.  

To provide the appropriate suitable conditions for all the seeds we planted, we prepared the land with a group of local farmers, who cultivate the land, build seeds beds and do the weeding.  We also supplied, with the help of Ecosia, all the needed equipment, such as the irrigation system, by feeding all the seeds with drip tape and pipes and fittings. In addition, we put a new well connected with a solar pump, which we are using to irrigate the nursery.

Nearby, in the Moulay Yacoub province, we have small nursery land at the middle school, ‘Lhoussine Ben Ali’. We have already produced a thousand pomegranate, grapes and fig seedlings since last year, and we had the chance to plant some of these seedlings with students in a land owned by a farmer near the school! The students were able to watch the seeds in the school nursery grow day by day, month by month. When asked what the nursey meant to them, the students responded that “the school looks so different before we built the fruit tree nursery”, indicating that “it was like the desert” previously. The school is using the nursery in the environmental education teaching program and encouraging students to make their school a green region.

We planted grapes, pomegranates and figs, with students and teachers from the school and other community stakeholders such as local farmers and staff from the Education Delegation of Moulay Yacoub. We took the trees from the nursery to the farmers land after planting them together with the students and the local farmers. The farmer and his family who benefited from the trees were incredibly grateful to be working the children and the HAF team.


This year, after we met with more local farmers and their communities. We told them more about the nurseries that HAF has built with its partners.  We also asked the students (who were instrumental in building the fruit nursery) to discuss with their families the kinds of trees that are needed the most and would benefit their communities considerably. Based on their responses, we decided to plant only olives seedlings this year due to its growing need in the community.  HAF was able to plant 26,000 olive cuttings at middle school nursery for Moulay Yacoub communities.


In Ifrane, we built two nurseries, one at Al Akhawayn University’s Annex, and the other at the Salam School. At the first nursery, we distributed 24,000 almond trees in the regions of Ifrane, Azrou, Figuig, Bouarfa, Errachidia and Al haouz.


The picture above is of the Salam School nursery after we installed a new solar pump for its new well.  We bought soil, after which, a machine was used to spread it on the land. This land now grows 121,000 almond, fig and olive trees and cutting. 


I would like to congratulate our partnership for planting such a vast amount of seeds. With the help of Ecosia, youth, farmers, schools, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Al Akhawayn University, and the High Commission of Waters and Forests, we were able to implement our project and, in the coming months, we will be able to plant more seeds in the regions of Fes and Ifrane, and also Oujda at its Center for the Protection of Children.

We deeply appreciate all the efforts and the financial giving of Ecosia, who is bringing more green life and opportunities to Morocco! Thank you for all those who have been encouraging and enabling us to do more, for the environment, for our collective future, and for this planet.

Happy Ramadan and HAF's 2018



An old Moroccan proverb, “One hand can’t clap,” is one that embodies both the approach to and application of the work implemented by The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) ...Read More




By Errachid Montassir, HAF Project Manager

The growth of sustainable development as a mainstream concept and practice in Morocco has been progressing but not as much as most people (particularly rural, and women and youth everywhere) have hoped…Read More

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Field Train Students, CSOs & Officials in Morocco


By Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Ph.D. USAID-HAF Farmer-to-Farmer  Volunteer

The Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program is a USAID development initiative that is implemented throughout the world …Read More

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Tree Nurseries to Benefit 10,000 Rural Moroccans



By Thomas Kimmell, USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer

In the 1980’s, a solo American made a huge impact on Ouaouizerth, Morocco, an Amazigh village, located in the western High Atlas Mountains …Read More

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Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project



By Abderrahim Ouarghidi, Ph.D. Farmer-to-FarmerVolunteer

The Moroccan proverb “New things have a charm and old ones should be preserved” has wide applicability in current Moroccan agricultural practices and attitudes toward conventional and local crop varieties …Read More

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Organic Fruit Tree and Medicinal Herb Nurseries


By Russ Zick, USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer

Small holder farmers in Morocco are engaged in upgrading their agricultural practices in order to increase income by expanding exports to Europe, the United States, and other Southern countries....Read More

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Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting



By Eliana Lisuzzo, HAF Program Assistant

Just as every other nation in the world, Morocco faces consequences of climate change including higher temperatures, more extreme weather conditions, and rising sea levels due to the human population’s collective treatment of our earth…Read More

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Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project




2018 HAF Moroccan milestone: 1.4 million trees and seeds planted


By Eliana Lisuzzo

HAF Program Assistant


An old Moroccan proverb, “One hand can’t clap,” is one that embodies both the approach to and application of the work implemented by The High Atlas Foundation (HAF). HAF is made up of a team of people dedicated to empowering Moroccans by engaging them in the process of achieving sustainable change for their communities. This year may not even be halfway over, but 2018 has already been abundant with accomplishments due to the collective hard work of HAF staff and Moroccan people.


In tandem with Morocco’s planting season starting in early January, HAF kicked off 2018 with its annual tree-planting event on 1/15/18, during which 3,000 trees were planted with 57 schools in 10 provinces across the country. The planting season, which lasted through March, has been extremely fruitful—both literally and figuratively. Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, HAF’s founder and president, reflected on this year’s milestones. “We replanted [organic fruit trees] to the maximum extent in HAF’s 11 nurseries and opened three new ones, totaling 1.4 million seeds that were placed in the ground by farming families, children, women, and men—young and forever young.”


Since January, HAF has transplanted approximately 225,000 organic fruit saplings from its nurseries located in seven provinces (Al Haouz, Azilal, Fes, Ifrane, Moulay Yacoub, Oujda, and Taroudant) into farmers’ fields and schoolyards. HAF also continued to plant seeds and cuttings in HAF nurseries, for which data had been collected since last April to track one year’s worth of planting: a total of 53,000 seeds in Oujda; 462,483 in Fes; 200,000 in Ifrane; 100,000 in Azilal; and 394,700 in Al Haouz. In addition, HAF has distributed 190,872 trees of different fruit and nut varieties to 156 schools (7,341 trees), farmers (183,501 trees), and a Jewish cemetery (30 trees) since December 2017.


Notably, the value of these figures goes far beyond the raw number of planted and distributed seeds and trees, which are indeed impressive. Rather, the value of planting and distribution intrinsically lies in the empowerment of and unity among local people, eventual economic growth, improved livelihoods of communities, and the offset of severe environmental challenges; the participation of HAF in Morocco’s planting season are undeniably immeasurable. “It took our team and partners 11 years to plant our first million trees and seeds, and to now have planted 1.4 million in a single year shows that passion and good actions spread from person to person, place to place, region to region, world to world,” Dr. Ben-Meir proudly proclaimed.


HAF has deep gratitude for all of its existing partnerships with government agencies and delegations, universities, associations, and other nonprofit organizations, which help maximize HAF’s impact on Moroccan communities. In particular, the High Commission on Waters and Forests, Project PUR, and Ecosia directly benefit HAF’s agricultural programs.


Specifically, the High Commission of Waters and Forests and their regional administrations—particularly the Marrakech and Ouezzane regional managements—have been exemplary in their partnership and contributions to community tree planting by contributing trees and land. Their generosity provides farming families opportunities to plant and better secure both their livelihoods and environment for many decades to come. Project PUR is another valuable partner as they provide fruit trees for communities in the Ourika Valley of the Al Haouz province. Additionally, they assist with monitoring and registering for securing carbon credit certification. HAF is grateful for their close teamwork that has built capacities to track planting accomplishments. Last, but certainly not least, the German social enterprise Ecosia has made HAF’s and its community partners’ planting season in Morocco “one that we will never forget,” described Dr. Ben-Meir. “They allowed us to create new nurseries, to plant as expansively as possible, and to respond to the organic fruit tree needs of people and schools wherever they are in the nation. That kind of support has been the greatest gift of 2018.”


Yet, this year is far from over and there are plentiful prospects of agricultural development—both known and unknown at this time—for which HAF will certainly undertake. As Moroccan farmers consistently voice their desire to transition to cash-crop farming and also identify agriculture as a major Moroccan employment sector, tree planting as well as establishing fruit tree and plant nurseries are two ways in which HAF supports farming communities. These ongoing agricultural projects will contribute to continuously increasing the impact on tens of thousands of Moroccans and rural household incomes.


Further, it is never too early to identify goals for the upcoming planting season in 2019. As Dr. Ben-Meir reflected, “The end of planting seasons seem to always end with a sense of relief and fulfillment as well as with thoughts of what could have been.” He eloquently deliberated, “What if we were to plant in every land grant that has been so kindly given to us? What if we planted with every family that asked and would most welcome this opportunity that keeps giving for generations? What if we would have planted as much as what is really possible and absolutely needed by the people, in order to overcome harsh conditions of poverty?” The aim of every subsequent planting season is to address such open-ended questions—to identify sustainable solutions for organic agriculture and environmental development. “We do all we can to ensure the next planting season results in every field filled, and every need embraced and allowed to exist no more,” Dr. Ben-Meir explained. Considering HAF staff’s tenacious work ethic and genuine passion, it is without a doubt that the organization’s mission will continue to be fulfilled for not only the remainder of 2018 but also for many years to come.



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Conserving Traditional Crop Diversity and Wild Medicinal Plants in Morocco

Morocco is a key producer of fruits and vegetables for global markets thanks to the government’s push for commercialized crop production – but at what cost? This article explores how “modern” crops have threatened not only Morocco’s agrobiodiversity and local crop varieties but also the country’s small-scale farmers, customary farming practices, community and individual economic welfare, and even cultural traditions.
The author – Abderrahim Ouarghidi, Ph.D. of Penn State University, PA, USA – also introduces the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) and the ways in which the nonprofit aims to alleviate agricultural concerns by implementing sustainable agricultural development practices throughout Morocco.  
Yours faithfully,
Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D.
Conserving Traditional Crop Diversity and Wild Medicinal Plants in Morocco

Abderrahim Ouarghidi, Ph.D.
Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer
The Moroccan proverb “New things have a charm and old ones should be preserved” has wide applicability in current Moroccan agricultural practices and attitudes toward conventional and local crop varieties. The revealing adage is part of the Moroccan identity and way of life. Moroccan people are committed to establishing a distinctive modernity based upon existing cultural traditions of which high value is placed.
For instance, there is great preference for local or “beldi” foods, such as “a’slhur” (pure unfiltered honey), “zit ud” (olive oil), and “shriha skouria” (a local fig variety) that have always been appreciated and valued delicacies. Nearly all Moroccan communities consider “beldi” food items to be healthy, tasty, and nutritious.
Despite this, government agencies responsible for deciding agricultural policy and education in Morocco often focus heavily on commercialization, profit, and production for global markets. The effort to create a continuously thriving agricultural sector has undoubtedly positioned Morocco as a key producer of fruits and vegetables for European and international markets. However, in the process, local knowledge and practices of small-scale farmers have been inadvertently undermined, consequently leading to the loss of agrobiodiversity and traditional crop varieties.
Although such crop varieties are highlighted in Morocco’s “Green” strategic plan for agriculture, limited attention has been given to local crops, agricultural practices, and species, which represent a fundamental genetic resource for small farmers and the future of these crops on a global scale. The genetic diversity preserved in crop varieties can provide the raw materials needed to ensure continued production in the face of water scarcity as well as rapid climate and environmental changes.
Promoting local seed diversity results in greater diversity of crops on farms, thereby providing resilience to environmental and market shocks while simultaneously maintaining local practices and values. Growing traditional varieties in addition to those for export would allow farmers to also target local markets and support healthy aspects of customary Moroccan diets and cuisine.
To help return conventional crop varieties to farms in Morocco, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has been working with the Farmer-to-Farmer program (funded by USAID and administered by Land O’ Lakes) to assess the current status of local agrobiodiversity and create a seed bank to preserve local crops, wild relatives, and wild medicinal plants. The mission of this project is to demonstrate the inherent value of these crops and their wild relatives as well as to make sure farmers who reintroduce such varieties to their farms have access to planting material. This work supports HAF’s greater mission to achieve sustainable agricultural development and promote sustainable local varieties and practices for both food security and conservation in Morocco.
The extensive assessment we performed in the fall and winter of 2017-18 suggests a tremendous shift has occurred, resulting in the loss of local crop varieties and genotypes in addition to accustomed agricultural practices.  We found widespread replacement of diverse, standard varieties with very few high-yielding ones, including apples, almonds, and plums. These newly introduced crops are considered “modern” and genetically enhanced, and are heavily championed by governmental programs encouraging intensive agriculture. Agricultural priorities for export markets promoted through different programs are directly contributing to genetic erosion and, in some cases, lead to unsustainable agriculture.
There is an immediate need for greater attention to the inequality in access to the benefits of current agricultural transitions, especially for small-scale farmers in terms of agricultural inputs and vulnerability to both market and environmental shocks. During our fieldwork, several farmers raised concerns regarding the cost of treatment for infected modern varieties of apples in addition to the amount of labor needed to grow them. According to farmers, crops bred from traditional “beldi” varieties not only minimize costs but also require less intervention.
Another way in which HAF aims to alleviate these issues is by collecting seeds from wild plants with economic value. Some households in parts of rural Morocco gain a substantial portion of their income through the sale of medicinal plants collected from the wild. Collectors and stakeholders of medicinal plants stated that the populations of some plants – including pellitory, wild sage, and thyme – are decreasing, and that they are keen to discuss the possibility of domesticating them.
In addition to creating a Seed Bank system to preserve crop varieties and threatened wild endemic species, it is imperative to implement creative, inclusive, and diverse approaches to improve agriculture and livelihoods. Local communities must be respected for the real value they add to agrobiodiversity and food systems. In this context, HAF is playing an important role working with local farmers to guarantee the use of local crop varieties and species that use water efficiently as well as require less pesticides and insecticides.
Dr. Abderrahim Ouarghidi – a High Atlas Foundation Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer – is an Assistant Research Professor at the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Pennsylvania State University.

Abderrahim Ouarghidi

Photo: Abderrahim Ouarghidi (author) discussing with a farmer about varieties of local crop seeds and medicinal plants in the Ouirgane municipality, Marrakech region, Morocco.

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HAF in Morocco

High Atlas Foundation
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High Atlas Foundation
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