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The next step for cooperatives is certification

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Members of the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative in the Ourika Valley, Morocco (photo by the High Atlas Foundation).

 

By Amy Zhang
Marrakech
 
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This week we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Cooperatives, commemorated every year on the first Saturday of July. Cooperatives’ success in sustainable development, wealth creation, and poverty alleviation give many hope for an equitable future. As we commend cooperatives, it is important to recognize and understand how they function.

Cooperatives are largely based on the Rochdale Society in 1844 from England. In a time of terrible working conditions and low wages, this group of poor, English weavers  struggled to buy basic goods, like flour. Without a rich, capitalist donor, the members all pooled their money to collectively purchase necessities. Their contribution earned them a say in the management of the association, and an equitable distribution of the net profits.

As the first largely successful cooperative, their principles have endured. Further, cooperatives have been a model for communities to come together and lift themselves out of poverty through democratic practices. According to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) today, they should follow seven rules:

  1.  Voluntary and Open Membership: anyone who can benefit and contribute can join.
  2.  Democratic Member Control: members participate in policy and decision-making.
  3.  Member Economic Participation: members contribute and manage the capital, the common property of the cooperative.
  4.  Autonomy and Independence: members control the cooperative in agreements with other organizations, governments,          or external donors.
  5.  Education, Training, and Information: cooperatives give members life and work skills.
  6.  Cooperation among Cooperatives: cooperatives ought to empower each other.
  7.  Concern for Community: members sustainably develop their communities.

Cooperatives have shown promise in developing their local economies. They produce the supplies and reap the rewards, making decisions that holistically benefit everyone. They act as an economic mover in democracy and civic society building, helping communities articulate their needs. They allow people to collectively compete in markets, and individually elevate their roles in the economy and society.

In Morocco, the model most familiar to Westerners would be women’s cooperatives. Rural women have expressed a desire to work, earn money, and make decisions. By exporting fair trade handicrafts and products, they receive income where they were previously marginalized, unskilled, and relegated to household roles. For example, in the Ourika Valley, the Aboghlou Cooperative makes couscous and other dried goods. These 32 women got the capital necessary to grow almond seedlings for families and schools. In 2017, they also harvested and processed 60 kg of calendula flowers, selling to companies like L’Oreal.

International companies are proud to support these cooperatives and affirm their ethical consumerism. This has been a veritable boon for the economy. Additionally, Moroccan cooperatives like the Izourane Ouargane Women’s Cooperative produce and sell argan oil. By running a business and negotiating with Western cosmetic companies, the women earn and share both profit and respect. They learn through experience, growing more confident about how to manage a business.

However, cooperatives are under threat from imposters and uncertainty. Foreigners that come to Morocco want to support women's cooperatives and buy their products, but they are worried about insincere businesses that abuse the label to trick them. Their concern lies in tourist traps where the women only have performative roles, such as publically sorting the argan products, but do not have their fair share of control or profit. They know that untrustworthy middlemen exploit their sympathy for women’s development and empowerment.

There is a broad asymmetry of market information in Morocco, especially for tourists. Sellers always have the advantage in knowing the true value of their goods, and in the souks, products are rarely branded, priced, or otherwise consistently labelled. Locals would have more expertise in discerning good quality materials from scams, but foreigners are more wary. Tourists are always pursuing authenticity in their new experiences, and want proof of legitimacy.

Accordingly, there needs to be an international verification for cooperatives. Just as products need to meet a standard to be certified organic, entreprises that claim to be cooperatives ought to meet a standard to use the label. The ICA launched the Cooperative Marque in 2013, to emphasize the viability of the cooperative structure as professional and contemporary. An expansion of that could decidedly label cooperatives for being ethical and developmental. The Moroccan Office du Développement de la Coopération has a form for cooperatives to register themselves, but this information is not easily or ostentatiously available on products. Cooperatives that claim to help women should be examined and have more legitimacy on a global scale.

Cooperatives have so much potential to sustainably lift people out of poverty. They can move people from subsistence agriculture to international commerce, bring communities together to capitalize on their shared resources, and improve living standards alongside economic opportunities. However, they need help. Cooperatives need assistance with facilitating dialogue and certification from an international standard. Cooperatives are founded upon trust between their members and the global public. While we celebrate them and all of the good they have done this week, let us support them as well.

Give to Cooperatives and these projects.

 


Amy Zhang (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is an Intern with the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, and a student at the University of Virginia studying Economics and Middle Eastern Studies.
 
 
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The Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative at work drying calendula flowers (photo by the High Atlas Foundation).

 

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Members of the Izourane Ouargane Women’s Cooperative in Essaouira process argan (photo by the High Atlas Foundation)

 

 

 

Reflecting on the UN statement regarding Morocco’s Migration Policy

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By Nathan Park
HAF Intern

A released UNCTAD report highlights Morocco’s leadership regarding intra-African migrant issues. The report endorses Morocco’s “flagship” migrant regularization program and praises it for its progress. While Morocco has established new programs and legislation designed to meet the growing migrant population needs within its borders, there is a large implementation gap between policy and physical results.

In theory, these regularization programs are designed to aid and afford every migrant the necessary rights needed to settle into Morocco, but speaking to sub-Saharan migrants here in Morocco yields a different story. Legal aid for migrants is scarce and many struggle to obtain the promised resources and legal status under the new “regularization” programs. Despite minimal results occurring four years after its implementation, Moroccan residents have been rising to face the growing strains on their communities.

University Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah in Fes proposes starting a Law Clinic which will hold educational training sessions involving the three beneficiary groups. These workshops will inform migrants, law students, and civil society organizations on migrant rights under the new regularization programs. In turn, irregular migrants will receive direct legal consultation from these law students, giving them real world experiences, and the civil society organizations will be better equipped to help vulnerable populations. Each group benefits from the other. The end result being a more united Morocco.

Hassan II University’s Faculty of Law, Economics, and Social Sciences in Mohammedia created Legal Aid Law Clinic, in partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy and the High Atlas Foundation, to support communities of the province in overcoming barriers related to their own self-development.  They can transition its center to bring benefits to undocumented migrants, law students, and civil society organizations.

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Help create University-based empowerment workshops.

A new nursery grows roots

By Theodor Maghrak
HAF Volunteer

I’m volunteering with High Atlas Foundation through a sabbatical option at my not-for-profit organization in the United States. While I’ve learned a great deal here about sustainability, community empowerment, and agriculture, seeing a new nursery take form from the beginning stages has been one of my unexpectedly exciting experiences here.

From July 20 through July 22, Project Manager Said el Bennani and I traveled to the new nursery HAF is establishing in Oujda in partnership with a youth protection center. This new partnership includes about 1.5 hectares of land to use for planting, once cleared of brush and weeds. On arriving at the site, we took an inventory of the work that’s been done already, and what’s to come.

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In the short time since starting the partnership, HAF has cleared a small piece of the land and prepared over 20,000 soil bags for both argan and carob seeds. During our visit, we worked to move the nursery forward by purchasing carob seeds, as well as moving the pre-soaked argan seeds into their next stage of growth.

Argan seeds, notoriously hard to crack, take time to grow. Because of that, we’ve taken the seeds and buried them in layers of sand and soil with plastic underneath, to keep them extra moist while sprouting. The new nursery groundskeeper will keep a close eye on the sprouts and move them individually to be planted as they emerge.

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The groundskeeper and directors of the youth protection center have involved the children in the process from this early stage. Being involved will empower them with structure, education, and positive role models and leadership, while deriving direct benefits for hundreds of Moroccan families who will ultimately be the recipients of these trees.

Give to this empowering project.

 

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.

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

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

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