Muslim-Jewish goodwill blossoms in Morocco
In 2010 Morocco launched a national project to restore its Jewish cemeteries. Approximately six hundred Hebrew "saints" are buried in various parts of the kingdom. Many were laid to rest over a millennium ago and 167 of the sites have seen work begin on the preservation of graves and their immediate surroundings. Starting in Marrakesh, the Jewish community began lending land to the High Atlas Foundation near seven of these cemeteries, with the idea of planting organic fruit tree nurseries for the benefit of farming families and schools.
Other public and private donors to the High Atlas Foundation community tree nursery initiative include the Moroccan High Commission of Waters and Forests and the Fight Against Desertification, provincial offices of the Ministry of Education, as well as universities and co-operatives. Yet it is the land contributions that are vital for the success of sustainable, organic and integrated agricultural development using community tree nurseries.
Moroccan farmers are currently transitioning from growing traditional barley and corn to more lucrative fruit trees, meaning saplings are in high demand. According to Morocco’s Agency for Agricultural Development, staple grains are grown on about 70 percent of the countryʹs agricultural land, yet they account for only 10-15 percent of agricultural revenue.
Farming families – who generally own small plots unsuited to cultivating barley and corn – are deprived of education (particularly at secondary school level) and health infrastructure, while communities lack livelihood diversity. In many rural areas, for instance, fewer than half the girls continue their formal education after primary school. Dormitories, clean water and sanitary facilities would go a long way to improving conditions in rural schools.
Across the nation, drinking water remains the top priority of rural communities, though the same is also true of some city neighbourhoods, including the Marrakesh mellah, as the cityʹs Jewish quarter is known. For villages in the High Atlas, for instance, irrigation infrastructure would have a transformative impact, both economically and environmentally. For most rural communities, however, it remains to be implemented.
Employment opportunities for the majority of rural and urban youth are also chronically scarce. The planting of fruit trees is one way in which farming families are looking to end systemic rural poverty. Other vital measures include processing product, co-operative building, attaining greater market access and securing organic and carbon credit certifications.
Multi-cultural interfaith initiative
Growing fruit trees from seedlings on land lent by the Moroccan Jewry and distributing them to marginalised rural communities is not only helping to meet a major development priority, but also constitutes a multi-cultural interfaith initiative.
For those benefitting from these historic cemetery sites, the project has served to deepen their appreciation, reinvigorating relationships between the Muslim farming families and Jewish community members. After all, it takes two years to grow tree saplings from seed and Moroccan farming families simply could not afford to give up cultivating their land for two years, just to transition to fruit crops. The donation of new land for community tree nurseries, from which the two-year-old saplings are transplanted into families’ agricultural plots, overcomes the argument that there is not enough land for fruit tree production.