Good areas for growing and selling dried figs
The High Atlas Foundation is a non-profit organization registered in both the US and Morocco that focuses on empowering rural Moroccans and their communities through sustainable agriculture and community-led development projects in health, agriculture and education. HAF’s status as a nonprofit organization necessitates the creation and partnership with the High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal subsidiary to provide support for the commercial aspects of the value chain.
The Project Company of this business plan is the Morocco and US-registered High Atlas Foundation, with the support of HA3 regarding commercial processing and sale of organic product. By engaging in the purchase, processing, and domestic and international sale of organic seeds and fruit, HA3 then returns its net profits to Moroccan farmers and its own internal fund for reinvestment in sustainable development projects in agriculture, health, education, water efficiency, and social enterprises with women and youth.
Moroccan fig varieties – such as Homrana, Mounouacha, Lamdar Labiad, Lamdar Lakhal, Sbaa Ourkoud, Qoti Labiad, Qoti Lakhal, Ghouddane Rond, Ghouddane Oblong and Doukkar (caprifiguier, or male fig), which have been identified for planting at the proposed nursery – are under threat due to a lack of adequate water supply, low profitability and untapped potential in value-added processing. Old fig plantations are dying out due to this negligence, and farmers are limiting new and existing crops to lands otherwise unsuitable for farming such as mountain slopes, which cannot easily be reached for commercial marketing purposes. Farmers also lack the means to store figs, which spoil quickly without cold storage facilities and gentle handling. They do not possess incentives to dry enough of the crop to reach more profitable markets and, as a result, figs are largely absorbed in fresh form by local, low-value markets.
On more accessible land, farmers are replacing existing cultivars with more resource, pesticide and labor intensive plant species like wheat, apples and pears. In some places, over half of fig plantations have disappeared, and many figs rot while still on the branch.
At the same time, 80 percent of Morocco’s 14 million rural inhabitants depend on revenue from the agricultural sector. This sector is minimally profitable, however, for farmers: rural Moroccans make up 43 percent of the country’s 32 million population, and 75 percent of these households earn less than the national average.  Marginalized within this disadvantaged group are women, who provide up to 35 percent of family farm labor, but own less than 5 percent of land and have greater challenges than men in obtaining credit in rural areas to expand their businesses and improve their livelihoods.
Youth also represent a marginalized group with untapped potential where agriculture is concerned. Nearly half of Moroccan youth are neither studying nor working. As youth comprise 30 percent of the nation’s population, their unemployment represents a significant lost opportunity for Morocco’s intellectual and economic potential, and a large risk regarding social instability and unrest. Due to a lack of work opportunities in rural areas, youth are moving to cities, thereby increasing strain on rural and urban areas as their labor is lost and they come to rely on urban infrastructures while often still unemployed.
Opportunities for raised standards of living are further lost as farming families continue traditions of planting barley and corn, thereby thwarting economic growth, as these staples are planted on more than 70 percent of agricultural land yet account for only 10-15 percent of agricultural revenue.
Some farmers, however, are transitioning to cash crops, commonly fruit trees and plants, to generate greater income. The high demand for young trees has made them too expensive for many families, and nurseries and skills to maintain them are not well dispersed. The Ministry of Agriculture suggests billions of trees and plants are needed to make a significant impact on rural families’ lives. There is also a lack of value-added projects. Dominant barriers to realizing value-added and market opportunities include a pervasive need for irrigation infrastructure, broad market, a processing line, and federated associations to promote human development.
The proposed HAF-HA3 model specifically addresses these factors, and has been developing, expanding and solidifying them for the past 10 years. This model provides farmers, with a special emphasis on women and youth workers, the revenue and job opportunities necessary to moderate any uprising that could affect Morocco as it has the rest of the Middle East and North African region. Youth and women are key targeted beneficiaries, and the profit generated through this model allows these individuals and their associations to improve their own livelihoods and develop their country’s economy.
Morocco is a world leader in fig production: in 2009, the country ranked among the world’s top five fig producers (among Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and Iran), and, for dried fig production, climbed to second place globally in 2013, with 22,438 tons produced behind Turkey’s 48,000. Figs grow especially well in Morocco due to the country’s hot summers and full sun throughout the growing season. This climate ensures one to two bountiful crops a year, as long as fruit trees receive adequate water to ensure fruit does not drop early due to drought stress. Figs are harvested between June and October, depending on the region.
Fig crops from Morocco may tap potential markets in the U.S. and E.U. Despite high U.S. production, for example, acreage dedicated to fig production has decreased by at least 5,000 acres in recent decades. This decrease, combined with stress on California’s agriculture due to severe drought, presents a strong opportunity for
Figs can be sold fresh, dried or processed into many value-added preventative care, medical, agricultural and household products. Organic fig production, especially, can provide great health advantages to local and international consumers. Figs’ calcium content is higher than those of apples and grapes, and their potassium levels exceed those of apples and dates. Figs contain higher levels of phenolic compounds than red wine and tea, high levels of amino acids, and no fat or harmful cholesterol.,,22
Figs can be used in epidermal, endocrine, reproductive, respiratory, anti-allergenic and anti-epileptic applications, and to counter conditions like hay fever, eczema, asthma and hives., According to Shamkant and colleagues (2014), Ficus carica presents “a promising candidate in pharmaceutical biology for the development/ formulation of new drugs and future clinical uses.”
Fig trees can quickly be propagated through fertilized seeds or hardwood cuttings from female trees, in which one to three-year-old branches are cut, kept in nurseries for three months to two seasons and planted at permanent locations., With enough time, a small number of fig trees can give rise to a large plantation at a minimal cost.
Small-scale Moroccan fig crops are important to the sustainability of fig crops and nutritional systems worldwide. Through growth in small cultivars and breeding between cultivated female and wild male trees, farmers uphold and propagate genetic diversity among figs, thereby providing bulwarks against diseases and effects of climate change that may affect fig cultivars of different sizes and regions.28
HAF and HA3 have built strong and long lasting partnerships with Moroccan farmers through community-based participatory planning meetings and agricultural, health and training projects suggested and planned by rural communities. Furthermore, the “nursery to market” or “farm to fork” agricultural production line enables strategic planning for the steady growth of supply and critical components of the entire development process, including participatory planning, training, irrigation infrastructure, organic certification, value-added activities, etc. – all stages that are critical to overall success. Finally, the public, private and civil partnerships that are in place ensure shared responsibility, investment and risk, as well as commitment to the project – vital elements for long-term sustainability. Thus, the HAF-HA3 Enterprise is especially, and even uniquely, poised to realize these socio-economic and environmental opportunities in rural Morocco.
The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and High Commission of Water and Forestry have agreed to partner with HAF: in addition to providing nursery land for ten years of use, they are providing technical training support. In this partnership HAF-HA3 aims to create a fig nursery, distribute saplings for free, create a scientific teaching garden with all regional fig varieties, train farmers in production and value-added processing techniques, and create a fig growers’ association to further explore opportunities in cultivation and marketing. Ten varieties of fig will be grown, and saplings will be distributed three years after seed planting.
Through this nursery, HAF-HA3 plans to reach 35,000 beneficiaries (20 percent of whom will be rural women in Ouezzane province and the greater Tangier-Tetouan region), extend fig crops by 11,000 hectares and reach a 126 percent increase in fig production by 2020.
While the Moroccan government is contributing land and training, HAF is seeking funding for the remainder, without which it cannot pursue the opportunities for rural Moroccans accessed by this project.
Since 2003, HAF has planted over 1,300,000 seeds and trees in eleven provinces of Morocco. We hope to further this success by pursuing fig agriculture with rural communities. By supporting small-scale fig cultivation, Moroccan farmers and HAF can have an impact on local communities, the nation and food security around the world.
Purpose: The purpose of this request for support is to provide the HAF-HA3 social enterprise with the necessary funds to support operations and bring organic Moroccan product to the international market. Fig crops must be planted, and fruits must be organically certified. Support of these measures would allow HA 3 and HAF to create Morocco’s first domestic organic fig market. Furthermore, this investment facilitates the revolving purchase and sale of the product, allowing the social enterprise to reach its full potential. Budget costs will include, but are not limited to: planting community-managed fig nurseries, securing organic certification, experiential training, cooperative-building, purchasing product from farming families, processing, marketing, shipping, and administrative costs.
Investments: To date, HAF board members, staff and volunteers are supporting HA3 efforts, in addition to the Lucky’s Farmers Market, Baked by Melissa, and La Delicias Patisserie enterprises. HAF has received funding from various donors to support part of the actions of the HA3 social enterprise, in particular the US Government’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), National Endowment for Democracy, Paperseed Foundation and SEED Initiative. HAF continues to mobilize resources for the farmend, while HA3 focuses on fork-end resources. The main and key funding challenges include: planting the seeds in nurseries; building water efficiency systems; purchasing the product from farming families; securing adequate and safe storage to house figs fresh, during drying and once packaged; sufficient resources to purchase quality packaging materials for local varieties of product, including training and maintenance for these materials; and funding to conduct an evaluation of operations to capitalize on lessons learnt.
HAF was the recipient of the SEED Initiative, a UN partnership fund to support sustainable development and green economies. This funding aided HA3 in business development and commercialization of organic crops by facilitating initial international market and domestic legal research. The US Government’s OES support is helping Morocco to green its production of walnuts and almonds, creating a scalable model to develop green economy in Morocco and support future sustainable projects, including organic fig cultivation. NED enabled HAF to build cooperatives with local communities, and strengthen skills in participatory planning and project management
Partnerships: Public and private partnerships are the core to sustainability for the HAF-HA3 Enterprise for green growth and human development. Key partnerships include:
- Communes: Assist in coordinating activities to establish nurseries, coordinate with provincial government agencies, and assist communication and authorizations
- Province: Supports the implementation of projects and cooperatives financially through the INDH for new projects, determined by the communities during participatory planning
- High Commission of Water and Forestry: Advances human development with communities by lending land for community nurseries; may provides seeds and saplings to supplement project, including its expansion in other provinces; also assists in technical training
- Ministry of Agriculture: Supports technical training, could supplement processing facility with equipment and provides authorizations that assist with marketing of product
- ONSAA: The project will work closely with ONSAA on the facility design, layout, production process, audit inspections, and authorizations to enable domestic and international sale of products.
- Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth and Sports: Plant trees and botanical gardens with schools, conduct environmental training, and identify with communities new school construction and programmatic support
- Current Local and Private Nurseries: Provide technical support, seeds, and saplings; and share knowledge
- Women’s and Youth Associations and Cooperatives: Participants in capacity-building workshops, drivers of project design and managers, maintainers of nurseries, supporters of new project development and implementation
- ECOCERT: Conducts product organic certification and audits, consults on areas for improvement, provides training on acquiring and maintaining certification
- INRA (National Institute of Agricultural Research): Provides technical agricultural support and expertise for project implementation
- Kahina Giving Beauty: Facilitates consultations with industry experts, supports the purchase of organic product and partners to increase HAF membership and nursery planting
- A participatory training program was launched as part of a new partnership with Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. Students and community members gain participatory training. The HAF Training Centre at Hassan II Mohammedia University is a model for developing partnerships between the HAF and post secondary institutions.
- Buyers are identified and secured by Open Hands Marketing, based in New York and California; established buyers of HA3 affiliated products include Lucky’s Farmers Market and MTP Investment Group.
- HAF-HA3 continue to build new partnerships to enhance the impact of the project and promote national and international sales.
Figs are grown mainly in southern oases, the northwest and Rif mountain zones. Fig cultivars are highly diverse and localized, with higher diversity in northern crops (in Achtak’s study, every site studied in the Rif produced around eight unique, localized types of fig). Trees are usually propagated through cuttings (cloning), and ensuing fruits are traditionally fertilized by hanging male fig fruits, often wild, in female trees. 
Moroccan fig varieties – such as Homrana, Mounouacha, Lamdar Labiad, Lamdar Lakhal, Sbaa Ourkoud, Qoti Labiad, Qoti Lakhal, Ghouddane Rond, Ghouddane Oblong and Doukkar (caprifiguier, or male fig), which have been identified for planting at the proposed nursery — are under threat due to a lack of adequate water supply, low profitability and untapped potential in value-added processing. Old fig plantations are dying out due to this negligence, and farmers are limiting new and existing crops to lands otherwise unsuitable for farming, such as mountain slopes, which cannot easily be reached for commercial marketing purposes. Farmers also lack the means to store figs, which spoil quickly without cold storage facilities and gentle handling. They do not possess incentives to dry enough of the crop to reach more profitable markets and, as a result, figs are largely absorbed in fresh form by local, low-value markets.
On more accessible land, farmers are replacing existing cultivars with more resource and labor intensive plant species like wheat, apples and pears. In some places, over half of fig plantations have disappeared, and many figs rot while still on the branch.
To safeguard its biodiversity and encourage its agroeconomic market, Morocco has created National Frameworks for the community-based participatory planning method to be applied in all municipalities in an effort to advance sustainable development. Examples include the National Initiative for Human Development, the Communal Charter, decentralization, the Green Plan Morocco (Morocco’s response to the Convention on Biological Diversity to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets by 2020), and frameworks for social justice and people’s empowerment, especially for women and youth. Therefore, organic agriculture and value-activities that generate reinvestment in development can engine widespread participatory, democratic planning of development that would end the subsistence agriculture poverty trap for the great majority – 70 percent – of rural families.