Updated: Jul 20
By Gregory Sullivan
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 by former Peace Corps Volunteers and registered in both the USA and Morocco. It set an ambitious goal to plant one million trees and successfully met that challenge in 2014. HAF is not stopping and has agreed to support the Government of Morocco to reach its target to plant one billion trees, and has created model nurseries and partnerships to achieve this transformative milestone.
At the HAF’s headquarters is in Marrakesh, 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 in seven provinces. HAF partnered with several organizations both government and non-government and from inside and outside Morocco to establish these nurseries. A German organization, Ecosia, provides funding for five of these nurseries. At the same time, HAF continues to evaluate the possible addition off our new nursery sites. In some cases, a nursery site was provided by the High Commission of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Education, the local council and 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. Most of the nurseries are in the hotter, drier zone having a continental climate. Temperatures can exceed 40 celsius and a dry season lasting 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 planted by 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 (funded by OES, U.S. Department of State) 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 10,000 kilograms of nuts, as well as 1,000 liter bottles 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 (the National Endowment of Democracy was an early supporter of this initiative). HAF teamed up with the French cosmetic company, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté (YSLB), and Project PUR to contract with the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative in Ourika Valley, which is approximately 30 kilometers southeast from Marrakesh. The Cooperative has 39 women, and they grow the flower, Calendura officinalis (marigold), used by YSLB for the manufacture of their cosmetics. HAF and YSLB supported the women with training and made initial start-up investments in a small building with a bathroom, irrigation equipment, a well and a water tank for storing water during the dry season to extend the production season when water levels fall.The women have learned how to collect seed from nearby fields, propagate and transplant seedlings. The women then harvest the flower, transport in local basket 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 60 kilograms of dried petals in 2017, reinvesting and sharing the new revenue among members of the Cooperative. On the 14th of November 2017, the Coop’s members and their nursery were visited by 90 YSLB team members, celebrating empowerment.
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.