Soil quality and plant regeneration are very important, given that erosion and desertification are imminent threats, which are exacerbated by farming of staple food and cattle herding. One farmer observed: “Previously, we only grew barley and corn, and the soil deteriorated fast, so erosion took away our land. Now the trees prevent this from happening. We also have more bees, because the bees love the blossom.”
The difference cherry trees make
In the Tifnoute Valley of the Taroudant province, for example, the foundation distributed 10 to 100 cherry trees per farmer. Skills training was offered accordingly. The annual revenue per tree amounts to the equivalent of $ 21 to $ 105, depending on water availability, harshness of winters and other factors. On average, the revenues from cherry sales are ten times as much as farmers were able to earn from barley and corn.
All in all, HAF was able to improve the incomes of approximately 10,000 households. One farmer stated: "Before we cultivated cherries, we had to work hard to grow corn and barley. If I counted everything together and sold all the barley and corn without keeping anything for myself, I only gained $ 53 a year. A few years after the foundation gave me trees I was able to sell the fruits for $ 528 to $ 1,055 depending on how much my trees produced. With the income generated, I improved my family’s life."
Higher incomes enabled communities to reinvest some of the money in communal infrastructure, including schools, health facilities or youth enterprises. Key to this success was the foundation’s holistic strategy to meaningfully engage the local communities. Villagers are involved in every single step. They are entrusted with the authority to make decisions and increasingly become agents of change.
Multi-faceted approach to combatting poverty
Involving the people ensures early community buy-in, prevents programmes from being driven by external interests and ensures a thorough understanding of the local context. Furthermore, HAF addresses poverty from all angles by running workshops to empower women, train skills, promote literacy et cetera.
HAF acknowledges that poverty does not simply mean shortfalls of income or food. Other symptoms include the lack of access to education and opportunities in general. Empowerment is therefore the means to reduce inequality.
One woman said: "This tree and plant nursery changed our lives. Before, we were expected to stay at home. Thanks to the help of the foundation we are able to work in the nursery, learn new skills, earn our own money and help to provide for our families. This makes our life much easier, and men are starting to respect us. We are very proud of what we do even when we encounter problems. We learned how to face the problems together, search for solutions and keep going."
The HAF has proven that meaningful community engagement through participatory methods is essential to sustainable, long-term success. Community engagement should never be an afterthought or rhetorical, but should be fundamentally integrated into every conservation and development project. The HAF is happy to share information and experience with interested parties internationally.
A farmer concluded: "I have great expectations for the future. The trees we planted will be good for the environment, prevent soil erosion, and the project will benefit the communities and the associations in this area."
Kerstin Opfer earned her master’s degree in conservation and rural development at the University of Kent. She has travelled, worked and lived in Morocco for over four years. She evaluated the programme of the High Atlas Foundation from April to September 2018.