January 2021, the sun shines in the Moroccan Atlas sky. Patrick Heinemann, a French advisor in fruit growing, climbs the tree and starts to prune while giving explanations. Patrick knows the Fert approach well. For nearly 20 years, he has been working in several countries with Fert’s partner farmers’ organizations. This time, he is meeting Moroccan fruit growers from the Rich circle (Central High Atlas), supported by Fert since 2014. Together with us, he looks back on his mission.

What was the objective of this mission?

It was initially a discovery mission: I know Morocco, Algeria, etc. but I did not know this mountain area, nor the farmers, nor their family farms. The objective was to support them in the management of their orchards. At the moment, it is the pruning period, so it was an opportunity to exchange on this technique, to observe the trees together and to share my knowledge and experience in this field. Rich’s farmers have a lot of questions about this technique that they are recently practicing.

What can you bring to these discussions?

My experience as an arboriculture advisor in France. For 4 years, a technician has been intervening regularly with Rich’s fruit growers, but my posture was different and complementary to the technician’s. I operate as an advisor, my job is not to say what should be done, but to see what is wrong and what is right, to listen to the farmers, their way of working and the problems they encounter in order to show them new and more adapted techniques. Then they will decide if they want to adopt them or not.

I know from my experience that it is necessary to be as concrete and visual as possible. The long technical and scientific explanations have little impact, the demonstration is in my opinion essential. It is also necessary that the farmer makes the decisions himself and feels confident to apply them.

What did you do concretely during this week?

Each day I met a different group of producers, in different douars. And I visited several of their orchards, about 6 per day. With my own tools, I did demonstrations on the pruning.
I conducted a pruning demonstration and explained what I had done and why. Then I would suggest that they do the same thing. Everyone took a tree, explained what they were going to do, how and why, and then did it. It’s important to be able to explain your choices, it allows you to understand what you are doing.

How was this mission?

Very good. This mission was very interesting for me and the farmers. They don’t always have a good grasp of pruning techniques, they seemed really interested. There was a real desire to learn in all the groups I met. And these days allowed us to exchange on other aspects, like soil fertilization or diseases.
We had a good, convivial and rich exchange. I think that I can still bring my experience on other techniques, especially thinning. And I will have to come back at other times of the year to see all the steps of apple growing, such as the harvesting process. As the contact is very good on the spot, other missions are probably to be planned. But it is also necessary that the farmers can advance on the analysis of the soil, it is a little the base to be able to reason its contributions, to adapt its purchases and to live better from its production.

Following this week, Fert gave Rich’s farmers a guide summarizing the technical recommendations discussed during the visits.

Fert works in Morocco in partnership with the IECD.