Promise of Change, Planting Tree by Tree

Promise of change, planting tree by tree
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Promise of change, planting tree by tree. Image: Aziz Kaouass

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Promise of change, planting tree by tree

The elderly’s stories about vast, fragrant, and cool forests in our village, Masaouada, in the Rif area of northern Morocco, puzzled me. Their true-life stories intertwined with Berber fairy tales of giants, witches, and talking animals.

In the area I grew up in, forests had long disappeared. It was unimaginable that the arid, dry earth had once been covered with life. It was also unimaginable that my grandmother, as a young girl, drank from many springs. It was inconceivable that water once flowed abundantly through the rivers—rivers that had now turned into dusty ditches. No wonder her stories about her youth seemed like fairy tales.

In just a couple of generations, a new reality emerged in an area that must have been full of life. Ancient forests were cleared to make room for grains and livestock. A process leading to the depletion and the disappearance of animals, birds, insects and soil life in a relatively short period of time. It is not surprising that so many people migrated for a living to cities in Morocco or Europe. Our fathers migrated in large numbers to Europe. In moments of cynicism, I sometimes think that Mother Earth drove our fathers and their children away because they had done her so much injustice that they had to leave like the birds.

Many years later, I reached a turning point when I realized that the process of deforestation is reversible—positive change is a choice! I realized that it is possible to restore the earth by planting trees, shrubs, and herbs. Our ancestors cleared many forests for annual agriculture and livestock with the intention of feeding their children. We now take the responsibility to restore those depleted lands for future generations.

For almost ten years now, I, along with like-minded friends and many involved people, have tirelessly and passionately worked to restore the Rif. We do this tree by tree and village by village. Nowadays within Riforest Foundation, a volunteer organization in The Netherlands. Our approach is simple. In collaboration with local partners, we distribute tree packages sponsored by donors and supplied by local nurseries among needy farming families.

The packages consist of a wide variety of local productive trees, such as olive, fig, almond, pomegranate, grape, and carob, combined with several local herbs. The families plant the trees and will eventually benefit from the harvests. The aim is a green area inhabited by people with a future perspective in their own villages.

Children planting
Children planting. Image: Aziz Kaouass

Recently, a new project was launched. In this project, we work with farming families to create five food forests according to permaculture principles. In addition to planting many trees, shrubs, and herbs, we will also provide structures for rainwater harvesting, composting, and mulching. Additionally, we will focus on short-term food provision by growing various vegetables and integrating chickens and bees into the permaculture design. These food forests will also function as a learning hub to educate local farmers about permaculture. Perhaps even becoming a destination for eco-tourism will add more opportunities for the local community.

Although we have distributed a considerable number of trees so far, it is just the beginning. The Rif region alone is an area equal in size to Belgium.  The depleted agricultural lands offer space for billions of trees and thousands of food forests. We know that we cannot achieve reforestation for the whole region as a foundation. However, we are convinced that we are doing the right thing. We especially hope that many people who have a connection to the region or people in general who have a connection to Mother Earth will be inspired to plant trees as well.

I believe in the power of good intentions, a holistic approach and small steps. We need heart, mind and hands to realize change. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is not a cliché. In the Rif region, Islamic beliefs play an important role. From these beliefs, we are also inspired by the Quranic verse: “God changeth not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts.” I am convinced of this divine command and promise.

I do not know which results I will witness during my own life, but I am convinced that God willing, the long-lived trees or descendants of the planted trees will witness a time when the hills will be full of life again. At a time when the harvests are abundant, a young man does not have to wonder, “What am I doing here?” when young children play in the food forests and drink from new water sources. Which stories will the children by then hear about the green mountains of the Rif?

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  1. A Ukrainian refugee myself, with memories of childhood spent in garden that belonged to a lady, my father’s church faithful, I now plant my garden in a foreign country across the ocean. Trying to overcome common misunderstanding and some of my neighbors disapproval in a region of sheer NPK monoculture. I find your story very inspiring and your dedication to good very noble. May God, Who planted the best garden Himself, bless you and make your people prosper!

  2. What a beautiful blog. Ive read it with a lot of pleasure. Truly inspiring. I hope you guys will post again when the project is further ahead. @Viktor good luck with your project.

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