The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is an American-Moroccan nonprofit that focuses on different areas: youth, women, water, capacity building, cuture, and agriculture. HAF’s work in the agricultural sector includes building tree nurseries, planting seeds, planting and distributing saplings and monitoring tree growth. HAF has a focused program on cooperatives funded by USAID called “farmer to farmer” to follow up with agricultural cooperatives and women’s cooperatives and provide them with American agricultural expertise. At HAF, we facilitate youth workshops and a special series of Imagine empowerment workshops to help women build and run cooperatives. The sessions include everything from managing financials to building interpersonal relationships. We distribute food where needed and we plant trees across Morocco with partners like FRÉ. We are aiming to plant 1 million trees all over Morocco by the end of March.
My role at HAF
I’ve worked for HAF for one year and gained a lot of skills and knowledge. I’ve developed a lot both professionally and personally. I have a masters degree in the biotechnology of trees and sustainable development of agriculture. I started volunteering with HAF as soon as I graduated. I’m currently responsible for the tree nurseries: monitoring the logistics, soil, saplings, and more. I work with the team that monitors the trees and distributes them. It’s amazing to see the trees grow! I’m also a program coordinator, meaning I’m the liaison with people in the field. And I’m in charge of financials.
How FRÉ & HAF grow and plant Argan trees together
Argan is the tree that is most in demand in Morocco, and most endangered. We have to save this tree—it’s our heritage. It is challenging to grow argan seeds. FRÉ, one of our wonderful partners, supports the Imagdal nursery, which is a special tree nursery just for argan. It has the best conditions for the seeds to grow and the caretaker has the right skills and competence. We have adopted new agricultural techniques and almost 90% of our seeds become saplings. Once they grow, we plant the argan saplings in the Essaouira region.
FRÉ has planted a total of 33,000 argan trees in Morocco and has committed to planting another 32,000 argan trees in 2021. These trees support the environment and women’s cooperatives in the region.
FRÉ has committed to planting 32,000 trees in 2021 to support the environment and women’s cooperatives in the region.
Why argan matters
Argan is Morocco’s heritage. It is endemic to the country. It’s our gold and it’s our duty to protect and save this resource. There are lots of strategies to conserve the trees here. HAF’s main strategy is to increase the argan tree population by planting more. If there isn’t enough water the adult trees can survive, but they are vulnerable and need the right care and attention in the first 2 years.
The impact of argan on the environment
Humanity has had a negative impact on the environment. But one of the things we can do to save the Earth is plant trees. Planting trees reduces CO2 and produces oxygen. Reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has a huge positive impact on the environment, as it reduces climate change. Additionally, the roots of the argan tree also stabilize and nourish the soil around it.
The impact of argan on women’s cooperatives
If women have jobs, they can support their children, family and community. The majority of the women in the cooperatives are illiterate or have limited formal education, but working for a cooperative is a way for them to learn and become financially independent. When we plant trees, we plant them with women’s cooperatives. The argan tree is their livelihood; the women work to produce argan oil from the trees’ kernels. We work with five cooperatives in the region, each of which are made up of 30-35 women.
The majority of the women in the argan cooperatives have limited formal education, but working for a cooperative is a way for them to learn and become financially independent.
Argan is used to produce cosmetics and cooking oil. These products are produced differently. Most cooperatives prepare both types of oils. The oils sell well. Producing argan for skincare is a complex process and a certification is needed. Most cooperatives start with cooking oil and work their way up to skincare oil.
The challenges facing women in Morocco in 2021
Society still oppresses women. Internally, women have so much power, but they need help to harness their abilities for the betterment of themselves, their families and their communities. At HAF, we help women discover their abilities. I love running the empowerment workshops that help women discover their talents.
HAF’s vision for the future
HAF’s mission is to help local women and youth to implement sustainable development projects that will in turn support rural communities and improve the economic situation in each family. By planting trees, we fulfill this mission. It’s not easy, but it is achievable. I’m grateful to be a part of this mission and to be able to help empower my community and country.