After our encounter with Mohamed Aglagane and the saharan yellow bee, we’re now heading for Ait Ben Haddou, a village close by the mythic Ouarzazate, nested in the High Atlas foothills.
There we have a meeting scheduled with Mohamed’s friend, Loubna, who has the fantastic ambition to create and grow an edible forest, the Wild Seeds Forest… And whose vision and commitment go much further, as we’re about to find out!
Rendez-vous in Ait Ben Haddou
Arriving in Ait Ben Haddou, we meet with Mohamed and his family who also came to visit the Wild Seeds Forest’s team and learn about their work. Lounbna won’t be able to come today after all, but she’s inviting us to come to Casablanca where she lives with her husband, Hicham. Which is perfect since we already have a meeting there with Mr Yaacoubi, a specialist in agrohomeopathy!
So today it’s down to Abdallah and his team to welcome us. They are farmers and members of the local association Ait Aissa and just a few days ago, with Ralph’s help - a German agronomist - they launched the first tests for the plantation of the future forest. We leave our home on wheels behind and jump in with them to go and check it out.
Some fifteen minutes later, « it is much faster on foot » says Ralph with a blink, we arrive on site… We have crossed the Mellah oued (which means salty river) and are now two kilometres away from the village in a completely barren area, at least at first sight.
Looking closer, we can actually make out the few frail and young trees newly planted and fenced against the goats, that would otherwise eat everything on their way. Abdallah tells us that this is the first experimentation that will allow them to understand the land better, in order to be successful when planting the 40 hectares forest.
In that regard, they started with some of the best suited species to survive in this environment. They chose them, among other things, for their ability to repair or prepare the soil for other targeted species (like fruit trees), for exemple by absorbing salt. For fresh water is a rarity here, and that running down from the mountains is absorbing salt as it flows (a phenomenon possibly due to the presence of old salt mines upstream). We discovered that very fact recently when using river water to make tea… Very bad idea indeed!!
Thus the water available is found deep in the ground - but in limited quantity - and high in the sky. They will focus on the latter, setting up mini dams around the forest in order to collect and store water coming from the rains. In the meantime, each tree foot is covered with mulch, acting as a sponge by retaining moisture and therefore limiting watering to once every two or three weeks!
« This is a multiple lifetimes project » Abdallah
The challenge is huge, especially because of the rocky and extremely dry soil that makes the work harder. « You cannot imagine how difficult it is to simply dig a hole in these conditions » adds Ralph. But it is worth it, for soon there should be a forest here, able to produce enough fruits and veggies for the hole community to consume and use for a Garden Restaurant project, where people will be ale to seat in the middle of the gardens and forest and eat freshly collected products.
« This is a multiple lifetimes project » explains Abdallah, while we’re heading back to the village through his permaculture garden. And in our minds, we already know we will have to come back to see the evolution of the Wild Seeds Forest…
Summit-level meeting for Ait Ben Haddou’s sustainable development plan
Astonished by the scale of the project led in Ait Ben Haddou, we now wish to know more about the people who made it possible. A few days later (for we are quite slow on the road), Loubna gives us a rendez-vous in Casablanca, in a coworking space dedicated to support social and solidarity economy projects.
We land in the middle of an animated reunion, led by four determined students arguing their presentation point by point in front of Loubna and Hicham, founders of the We Speak Citizen collective, and its treasurer Hassan. The slide projected on the wall speaks of solidarity market, legal structure and governance… To understand, rewinding is needed.
Marie, Camille, Peggy and Zakaria are now studying in Rabat and working on social entrepreneurship projects in Africa. For their final year mission and essay, they were - sort of - hired by We Speak Citizen to evaluate the feasibility (it seems quite ok!) and set up a proper business plan for Ait Ben Haddou’s solidarity and social tourism development plan.
Thus Marie rewinds for us, and comes back to the presentation’s beginning. And we realise that we actually only had a small glimpse of the project in its hole. For it is the entire value chain that has been rethought here, the result of a vision that goes way beyond the « simple » plantation of a food forest…
An innovative concept for a homestay experience, the redefinition of each village’s proper identity in the valley, a solidarity market to promote the local production, the creation of a food forest… All of it thought through and supported by the village’s inhabitants, which is this initiative’s true strength!
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The meeting goes on for a long time, each point meticulously studied. We are impressed by the objectives held here, and buy the amount of work this incredible team has put in… After sharing a delicious couscous with everybody, Loubna and Hicham invite us to continue the discussion at their place around a coffee. No need to say that we gladly accept! Part#2 coming up soon 🙂
Contact Wild Seeds Forest
Localisation: Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate region, Morocco
Contact Ait Aissa