Lend­ing land to en­hance life

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kati Roumani

House of Life is an in­no­va­tive agri­cul­tural ini­tia­tive whose im­pli­ca­tions are broad and res­onate acutely with cur­rent world events; set in the spe­cific con­text of Moroccan hu­man de­vel­op­ment needs and cul­tural history, the model thus cre­ated could be repli­cated through­out North Africa, the Mid­dle East and be­yond.

The term House of Life denotes a tra­di­tional name for a Jewish ceme­tery. It was there­fore par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate for the Gover­nor of the Al Haouz Province, Younes Al Bathaoui, to em­ploy the phrase in re­spect of the pro­ject, led by the High At­las Foun­da­tion (HAF) in the King­dom of Morocco and en­dorsed by the Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive (CGI) in three prov­inces.

The unique­ness of the scheme lies in its in­ter­cul­tural as­pect. House of Life fa­cil­i­tates the free loan of land ad­join­ing Jewish burial sites, in or­der to es­tab­lish or­ganic tree and medic­i­nal nurs­eries for the ben­e­fit of neigh­bor­ing Mus­lim farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Aided by the cre­ation of HA3 (the High At­las Agri­cul­ture and Ar­ti­sanal so­cial en­ter­prise), a com­plete process from farm to ta­ble is en­vis­aged, thus ad­dress­ing ex­ist­ing gaps in the or­ganic agri­cul­tural en­tre­pre­neur­ial sys­tem. Or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, fair trade prices and wider mar­kets – na­tional and in­ter­na­tional - are se­cured for lo­cal farm­ers, whose com­mu­ni­ties go on to ben­e­fit from rein­vest­ment in fur­ther projects. The ini­tia­tive forms part of HAF’s One Bil­lion Tree Cam­paign, it­self one of sev­eral dif­fer­ent hu­man de­vel­op­ment schemes im­ple­mented by the foun­da­tion. All HAF projects aim to­wards en­vi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness, so­cio-eco­nomic self-suf­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity. They in­clude or­ganic agri­cul­ture, clean wa­ter and energy as well as pro­grams ad­dress­ing the par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­ity of women and youth and en­hanc­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity.

The House of Life pi­lot pro­ject was es­tab­lished at Akrich, Al Haouz province, a ru­ral area out­side Mar­rakesh, in 2012. The lo­cally-man­aged nurs­ery was es­tab­lished by HAF on land lent by the Jewish com­mu­nity of Mar­rakesh-Es­saouira, ad­ja­cent to the tomb of Rabbi Raphael Ha­Co­hen, one of over 600 Jewish burial sites dot­ted across the coun­try, in ru­ral as well as ur­ban ar­eas.

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, at a cer­e­mony presided over by the Gover­nor of Al Haouz, Mr. Younes Al Bathaoui, 30,000 seeds and saplings were planted and a fur­ther 30,000 two-year-old trees – olive, fig, pome­gran­ate and le­mon – were set aside for dis­tri­bu­tion to lo­cal farm­ers.

At the same time, the pro­posed ex­ten­sion of this scheme across the en­tire King­dom was an­nounced, five fur­ther con­tracts hav­ing been put in place. There­after, in June, dis­cus­sions were fi­nal­ized re­sult­ing in the endorsement by the CGI of the pro­ject in Azi­lal, Es­saouira and Ouarza­zate prov­inces in the con­text of a pro­posal to plant a mil­lion or­ganic fruit seeds at Jewish sa­cred sites.

“This ini­tia­tive will give more life to these re­gions and will re­in­force the hopes and per­spec­tives of their in­hab­i­tants,” noted Gover­nor Al Bathaoui.

Ru­ral Moroc­cans com­prise 43 per cent of the coun­try’s 32 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion, with 75% of ru­ral house­holds earn­ing less than the na­tional av­er­age (IFAD, 2013).

Cur­rently, farm­ers rely pri­mar­ily on rev­enue from bar­ley and corn; while these sta­ples are planted on more than 70 per cent of agri­cul­tural land, they ac­count for only 10 to 15% of agri­cul­tural rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to Morocco’s Agency for Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment. Farm­ers there­fore are mak­ing the tran­si­tion to plant­ing cash crops, typ­i­cally fruit trees and plants, to gen­er­ate greater in­come.

One bil­lion trees and medic­i­nal plants are needed as part of the process of over­com­ing sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture, which is at the root of ru­ral poverty. Their es­tab­lish­ment would also help off­set se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges fac­ing the King­dom, par­tic­u­larly soil ero­sion, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and de­for­esta­tion.

Mod­ern Morocco is com­prised of sev­eral cul­tures in­clud­ing its Jewish com­mu­nity, present in the re­gion for two thou­sand years and pos­sess­ing an im­por­tant ar­chi­tec­tural legacy. The King­dom is com­mit­ted to the

A Moroccan-US non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, HAF, based in Mar­rakesh, Morocco, was founded in 2000 by for­mer Peace Corps Vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing HAF Pres­i­dent Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir.

The foun­da­tion uses a demo­cratic, par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach to en­able marginalised, mostly ru­ral, Moroccan com­mu­ni­ties to de­ter­mine what they most need and to fa­cil­i­tate pro­ject suc­cess.

The broad goals are twofold: to cease sub­sis­tence agri­cul­tural prac­tices that trap com­mu­ni­ties in a vi­cious cy­cle of ru­ral poverty and to de­velop the lo­cal and na­tional econ­omy through a va­ri­ety of green growth busi­ness ini­tia­tives, over­seen ini­tially by the foun­da­tion.

Ru­ral co­op­er­a­tives are cre­ated as a nec­es­sary mech­a­nism for busi­ness ac­tiv­ity; HAF - through HA3, its sub­sidiary cor­po­rate ser­vice - en­sures a fair mar­ket price, en­abling farm­ers to re­ceive greater in­come. A sig­nif­i­cant added value is achieved when the pro­duce is mar­keted as or­ganic, fair­trade and en­vi­ron­men­tally and so­cially re­spon­si­ble.

Prof­its are rein­vested in fur­ther projects pri­ori­tised by the com­mu­ni­ties them­selves, in ed­u­ca­tion, health, wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture and small busi­ness de­vel­op­ment par­tic­u­larly for women and young peo­ple.

All of this is con­ducted in the con­text of a zero waste strat­egy. HAF an­tic­i­pates us­ing the wal­nut and al­mond shells and hulls to pro­duce low emis­sion fuel bri­quettes.

Ul­ti­mately, the aim is to ex­port Moroccan fair-trade, or­ganic pro­duce to the US and EU mar­kets.

Re­cently, HAF’s work has ex­panded be­yond Morocco and its ethos and method­ol­ogy hold the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit com­mu­ni­ties world­wide.

In Moroccan terms, HAF’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment vi­sion, as shared with CGI, mir­rors the King­dom’s vi­sion for it­self, with the House of Life pro­ject, link­ing Morocco’s Mus­lim farm­ing fam­i­lies and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, ably em­body­ing a mul­ti­plic­ity of goals.

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