19 Mar 2018
Rabat, Morocco
Organic Food and Agriculture

In Morocco, agriculture is a big deal. With about 85,000 square kilometers of arable land and a temperate climate, it is the perfect place to grow a wide variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables. Farming employs almost half of the country’s population, and is responsible for 15% of the gross domestic product.

But problems within the agricultural sector still exist, with many people financially incapable to farm their own land. Some of that land isn’t arable; with sandy or rocky soil, and those people are forced to travel and make money to support their families.

This is where Verd steps in an organization started by a group of five college students hoping to build a more sustainable Morocco, where people can plant fruits, vegetables and grains on their own land. This not only allows people to work for themselves, but also, to provide for their families.

“Verd is a social startup that has a goal to transform individual land into arable land,” says Chief Financial Officer, Wijdane Maadour. “Any land can be cultivated into good land by recycling organic waste.”

The students, who met through Enactus Morocco at the Faculty of Sciences at the Mohammed V University of Rabat, share a passion for building more agriculture presence in Morocco.

“There are 35 million hectares (350,000 sqkm) that aren’t used or exploited,”Maadour says. “So we can’t really be called an agricultural country if we aren’t using all the land. That’s how we started — to come up with a way to fix that land and actually use it.”

How Verd transforms land into fertile soil:

Plants only need a few things to grow sunlight, warmth, water, air and nutrient-rich soil. Verd takes on the soil part of the equation and adds recycled organic materials.

“We put organic matter in the soil that is brown and green, “ says Maadour. “The brown can be hay or dead leaves, and the green is grass clippings, plants, leaves, whatever you can collect that would otherwise be thrown away.”

They layer the brown and the green, which create a nutrient-rich soil. The farmer then plants the seeds and tends to them like they would on any other land, while Verd takes one-third of the land’s profits for the next three years.

So far, Verd has transformed 2.7 hectares (27,000 sqm) in the capital city of Rabat, and farmers are successfully growing vegetables.

Ahmed Sebbata, Manager of the social enterprise incubator, Dare Inc. (which chose to mentor and fund Verd), said he is inspired by their motivation to truly make a difference in the world.

“Verd is important to agriculture in Morocco because it’s the primary sector of our economy,” says Sebbata. “Its development will improve every aspect of life. Whether that’s the labor market, the quality of life or the purchasing power. I hope Verd achieves their vision on an even larger scale and conquers the MENA and South African regions.”

He said many of the farmers Verd is now helping worked on other farms at wages often lower than the minimum living wage, and helping them cultivate their own land increases their quality of life.

What Verd hopes to do in the future:

Verd is a new organization that was only founded in the summer of 2017, and is still working out the financing end of the project.

“To offset costs we make and sell gardening pots,”Maadour notes. “These pots are better than normal pots because they are lighter and retain more water.”

Verd is also working on gaining the trust of farmers.

“It’s hard to just go up to someone and tell them ‘we’re going to fix all your problems’”, Maadour says. “Sometimes, it can be problematic convincing them. If we had more money it would be easier. It would take less time to develop our process and we’d get bigger and faster to help more people.”

Verd is working on reaching out to some sources of funding, such as business incubators and private investors. Ultimately, Verd wants to make a huge difference to farmers by creating a new product — one that creates arable land in a desert.

“Part of the research is to create a new material that increases the water retention of the soil,”  Maadour explains. “This is a product that could also work in sub-Saharan countries that suffer from the same problem. This new material would increase the capacity of soil to retain water by 300%.”

 

 

 

Photos: Courtesy of Verd.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist who has a passion for the environment, sustainability, and science. She loves telling stories about people who are making a real difference in the world.Kristin Hanes
This Moroccan initiative wants to turn swathes of unusable lands to arable soil | The Switchers
Verd Organic Food & Agriculture
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