In May and June of this past summer, ten MSU students and two faculty members from MSU travelled to the the Central High Atlas Mountains of Morocco where they spent five weeks studying in the region of Zawiya Ahansal. The students gave presentations about their experiences living in Morocco and studying agriculture, food and nutrition on Nov. 20.
Students received three credits in the Sustainable Foods and Bioenergy Systems program as well as three credits in the Food and Nutrition program while focusing on the agriculture system and nutrition in Morocco. The group spent their time working with local Moroccans by helping farmers grow new crops, working in school systems, studying how balanced the Moroccan diets are and going to the weekly market, among other activities.
Dr. Tim Seipel was one of the two faculty members who traveled to Morocco. Seipel focuses on the agricultural side of the program and considers what they learned about agricultural systems in the developing world to be one of the greatest benefits of the trip. “I think the highlight was really working with local farmers and gardeners to really realize we have agriculture in common and can learn things from each other,” Seipel said.
In addition to agriculture, students also focused on food and nutrition. Dr. Carmen Byker focuses in this area and said the trip was a life changing experience. Byker sees the cultural exchange that happens on the trip as one of the most important aspects. “I think students learn a new cultural perspective about how people eat, how it impacts their health and how nutrition transitions around the world are impacting people’s health everywhere,” Byker said.
Those on the trip interacted with women and children, seeing how they process, serve and eat food and how these practices impact their health. The Moroccan people also learned about food and nutrition practices in the U.S. from the MSU students and faculty.
The cultural exchange from this trip worked both ways. Seipel believes that the students and faculty on the trip learned as much from the Moroccans about agriculture as they did from students and faculty. The small-scale agricultural practices of the Moroccan people has sustained them for 700 years and Seipel cited learning about this ancient agriculture to be one of the greatest experiences of the trip.
In addition to the small-scale agriculture, food and nutrition that students can focus on in Morocco, he pointed out that students in agricultural majors like range sciences and animal production may also benefit from traveling Morocco in the future. “There’s a whole aspect that has to do with grazing and animal production that we haven’t even touched yet,” said Seipel. Due to the cultural exchange that occurs on the trip, both Seipel and Byker believe any student could greatly benefit from traveling to Morocco. On the last trip, three students and one faculty member studied architecture.
The program is run through the Atlas Cultural Foundation and the Office of International Programs at MSU. The Atlas Cultural Foundation focuses on improving the Moroccan people’s quality of life and developing community through cultural preservation, public health and community education. Students in all majors of all class levels are encouraged to consider traveling to Morocco. Another group of students will be traveling to Morocco from May 20 – June 24 next year and interested students can visit the MSU Office of International Programs’ website and atlasculturalfoundation.org/ to learn more.