Making dates for coffee in Morocco
Jorf, Morocco: With its 800,000 palms producing various species of date, Morocco’s Tafilalet oasis is considered the biggest palm grove in the world. Not surprisingly, agriculture is based on the cultivation of the date palm. However, most of the area’s population of 500,000 people live below the poverty threshold.
In May 2010, Ana Maria Martin Mosquera (Spain), a biologist, and Ralph Schmidt (Germany), a food production engineer, began a two-week mission at the Al Mostakbal Women’s Cooperative in Jorf, in the Tafilalet oasis, to help the co-operative improve its production of a coffee-like product based on date pits.
The mission was part of the active support the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme now provides to local communities and the Moroccan Government to help them achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Ana and Ralph served as corporate volunteers in Morocco’s private sector and were sponsored by the Kraft Foods Company in partnership with UNV for the duration of their mission.
The Al-Mostakbal Women’s Cooperative was created to support a Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) initiative to introduce chicory technology using date pits. It employs a dozen women to process date pits using traditional practices on machinery provided by the JICA.
Morocco’s Habitat Urbanism and Space Management Ministry is supporting the eventual construction of a new plant and the provision of necessary machines and packaging furniture. However, the association needed technical assistance to improve quality management.
During their mission, Ana and Ralph gave onsite training in Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in Arabic. They also developed a basic quality management manual which they introduced onsite in Arabic.
“The cooperative is a team of very friendly and hard-working women who made us feel very much at home,” the technical experts wrote in their final report on the mission.
“My experience of being a volunteer on the UNV mission in Morocco was extremely positive,” said Ralph. “Applying the knowledge I have gained in a global food company on a small and very basic scale, while interacting with the local people and experiencing the beautiful country and culture was an experience of a lifetime."
"That the transfer of technology and provision of tools and guidelines will hopefully be relevant for many years to come is a particularly rewarding outlook,” he said.
The volunteers established a list of required sensorial and technical analyses to enable the cooperative to better control their product’s quality and provided input about suitable packaging and product shelf life.
They even made some repairs. A quick adjustment to the date pit roaster’s hardware significantly improved its efficiency, halving the time and energy needed for the roasting process. The adjustment also resulted in an improved batch yield and a safer work place.
Clearly, all of the parties involved are interested in seeing the Al Mostakbal Women’s Cooperative stand on its own feet and to grow and distribute its products into the regional, national and even international market.
The cooperative still has some way to go before its date pit coffee product will be ready and able to reach even local store shelves. Even so, the corporate volunteers’ mission did lay the foundation for a sustainable production process to eventually manufacture a marketable product.
This will provide local people with stable employment and a steady income. There was a great sense of achievement by both the volunteers and the cooperative members at the end of the mission.
Ana confirmed Ralph’s sentiments and added, “My experience of being a volunteer on a UNV mission in Morocco was also extremely positive. We had a wonderful opportunity to share some knowledge that could help to improve the current situation of the Women’s Cooperative."
"On the other hand, it was a journey for growing in a spiritual way. I feel it was the best thing I have done in my life for many years,” she said.
The mission provided an opportunity for the cooperative members to learn about good manufacturing practices, quality procedures and relevant measuring methods, which all build the basis for quality control in a food manufacturing facility. The mission also helped to establish good friendships and links with a major international company.
Both technical experts brought considerable expertise in industrial food production to mission. Ralph worked for 10 years on developing and improving chocolate and coffee manufacturing processes. He currently works for Kraft Foods in England.
Ana brought 20 years of experience in food quality assurance. She currently works for Kraft Foods in Venezuela. Kraft Foods has been supporting the UNV corporate volunteer programme for many years in a wide and diverse array of missions.
Southern Morocco, located at the gateway of the Sahara desert, has been identified as a region “vulnerable” to climate change and has therefore drawn the full attention of policy and decision makers as well as external donors and development partners involved in Morocco in order to counter the threatening desertification of the country.
A large share of external development assistance is concentrated in this geographical region from the European Union, USAIDS and JICA among others. The joint Morocco-UNDP sponsored Oases-Development Program is designed to preserve the oases as eco-systems and cultural heritage sites.
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