Thanks to enhanced food security and sustainable development for farming families, the Moroccan Muslim-Jewish initiative is generating goodwill, fostering social unity and encouraging further cultural preservation initiatives. That the farming communities themselves identified fruit trees as a project priority, while also determining the varieties they preferred to grow has maximised the sense of solidarity and the measure of sustainability.
In so doing, the project is responding to the expressed needs of the people and helping to deliver the results they seek. This illustrates how social benefits are maximised when people’s participation is incorporated into the development-cultural process.
"House of Life" pilot nursery near Marrakesh
In 2014, a pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was created near the village of Akrich, located in Al Haouz province south of Marrakesh, near the seven-hundred-year-old tomb of Rabbi Raphael Hacohen. In the past three years, 150,000 (33,000 in 2018) almond, fig, pomegranate, argan, carob and lemon seeds have been planted in the nursery and – once matured into saplings – transplanted to private plots. They are now being grown by approximately 1,000 farmers and 130 schools in Morocco, entirely for the growers’ benefit.
The pilot project’s cost of $60,000 was donated by Wahiba Estergard and Mike Gilliland, of Lucky’s Market and Jerry Hirsch with the Lodestar Foundation. Younes Al Bathaoui, the then governor of Al Haouz province, coined the Akrich nurseryʹs name – "House of Life" – after the name given to cemeteries in Hebrew. Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish Community of Marrakesh-Safi, was instrumental in granting this land and other parcels for ten years, while the Secretary-General of the Jewish Community of Morocco, Serge Berdugo, enabled the vital expansion of this land-for-tree nursery project.
The first trees from the Akrich pilot site were handed to local children and farmers by the governor in 2016, joined by the U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush Sr.
A second nursery in Ourzazate
The proposed second nursery was located beside the thousand-year-old tomb of Rabbi David ou Moche, in the province of Ourzazate in January 2018. The project’s first year will see the construction of agricultural terraces. The new arable space will encompass one hectare, upon which will be grown, from 500,000 seeds, one-metre tall saplings of walnut, carob, fig, pomegranate, cherry and almond.
At maturity they will be donated to local associations, five thousand farming families and two thousand schools. Some trees will be dedicated to addressing devastating erosion afflicting the immediate area.
Together with local partners, the High Atlas Foundation will monitor tree growth as part of securing carbon credits, the revenue from which will be invested in further tree planting. Replication of nurseries across hundreds of parcels of land adjacent to cemetery sites throughout the country would generate tens of millions of saplings and plants every year and afford a better life to millions of people.
An initiative with international potential
The initiative is inspiring similar projects across the Middle East, with its combination of Muslim-Jewish collaboration and local-international and private-public partnerships. Although the Jewish community in Cairo these days numbers just six members, their strategic approach to preserving their ancient cemetery is to promote development within the local community.
Morocco’s intercultural nursery project has also been visited by Palestinian and Israeli groups and featured in the media – let us hope it provides a pathway toward productive and deepened intercultural collaboration.
© High Atlas Foundation 2018
This article is taken from a longer essay entitled "The Moroccan Approach: Integrating Cultural Preservation and Sustainable Development".