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Community supported agriculture is sprouting in Morocco.
Now similar partnerships between consumers and growers are taking root on the temperate, cactus-lined farms of Morocco.
The founders of Belhacha’s CSA group, called Sala Almoustaqbal, began with little more than enthusiasm, a garden and a friend’s garage. Touriya Atarhouch was a biologist by profession but three years ago she decided to indulge and expand her passion for gardening. She and her husband, Najib Bendahman, with the support of several friends hungry for organic produce, started their own farm and convinced two other growers to retool their operations.
In exchange for doing so, the farmers were promised a steady salary of about $1,200 each month.
“Plenty of farmers came to us at first, saying this is super interesting, 10,000 dirhams a month is good. But what does that entail? It entails working every day, from morning to night, and all year long,” Atarhouch said. “It’s a continuous, diversified production. You’re always learning. There are always problems, so it’s not easy. That’s why we don’t have that many new farmers joining the project.”
They have graduated from handing out produce in a co-founder’s garage to doing so at an upscale school in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city.
She estimates the 100 customers in their network pay about 20 percent more for their vegetables than they would at neighborhood markets. As a result, the group’s clientele — about half of whom are foreigners, half Moroccan — tend to be educated and affluent. As the program grows, Atarhouch said she hopes to be able to offer weekly vegetable packages priced within reach of working-class Moroccans.
“Honestly we cannot help both growers and consumers at this point,” she said. “There’s less support converting to organic in Morocco than there is the U.S. and France. We have to take care of ourselves. So that means for the moment, we can only help the growers.”
Besides the steady pay, the project’s farmers cite other benefits of going organic. “Chemical fertilizers are expensive,” said Radouane Elkhallouki, who runs a farm a few miles south of Belhacha’s. “We cut costs by using plant and animal waste — which also help the land stay productive.”
The slightly higher cost hasn’t seemed to diminish enthusiasm for the project’s produce in Rabat. The waiting list to join the group is 100 families long, with friends of departing expats jostling for rare open spots.
“I have a little boy and it’s much better to give him organic than chemical vegetables,” said Saloua Mnissar, 37, who joined the group six months ago. But what does she think is the biggest advantage organic produce?
“The taste,” she said, “the taste.”