This article is part of sponsored series from the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity
EL BRECHOUA â€" A small but significant revolution is underway amidst the golden wheat-covered hills of the Moroccan municipality of El Brechoua, 60 kilometers from the capital of Rabat.
The fields of wheat extending as far as the eye can see do not belong to the local residents, though at times they labor for the big landowners who cultivate for profit. The villagers do not own land and are not farmers. In the past they raised livestock, but the droughts in the 1980s and â€˜90s decimated their herds, forcing them to abandon the pastures and move a few kilometers from El Brechoua to form a new settlement around a source of water, called Lambarkien.
Itâ€™s hard to imagine a happy ending for these formerly nomadic people, now settled illegally in this grain-producing region. The luckiest managed to find work in the intensive wheat cultivation sector. The monoculture relies on the use of chemical fertilizers on a large scale, polluting the water table and the spring around which the village was founded.
At the bottom of the valley, a small river clogged with algae testifies to the excessive use of nitrogen, applied indiscriminately in order to maximize yields. In contrast to a general reversal of trends in agriculture, here crop rotation is not even taken into consideration. Legumes could be used to naturally enrich the soil, or at the very least the nitrogenous fertilizers could be managed in a way that takes into account their actual absorption by the wheat.
In 2013, however, things began to change. It seems that a member of parliament decided to invest in wheat production and rented some nearby land through SODEA (the state agency that manages government-owned property through the â€œGreen Moroccoâ€ plan). During the period of work in the fields, the politician employed men from other villages, leaving the people of Lambarkien without job prospects.
After the villagers held a protest against this decision, the politician threatened to have the village, located illegally on government land, torn down. This threat created a spirit of solidarity in the community, and its members began to mobilize. Another, larger protest was held and the village now has the support of a national and international network and has launched a plan based on the creation of food gardens.
Each family has created their own food garden on their own plot of land, based on agroecology and permaculture training provided initially by Slow Food Morocco and RIAM (a network of argroecological initiatives in Morocco).
Other associations have now joined in: the Mohammed VI association and the Eden ecotourism association of Rabat, which offers guided tours and picnics in the area for its members, plus many others. In just a few months, the villagers have gone from facing the threat of their village being demolished to having a new source of potable water and electricity, installed by the utilities company REDAL. Two cooperatives have been started (an association of modern farmers and an agricultural cooperative of Brechoua women) as has the Slow Food Had Brechoua Convivium, part of a strong locally based and collectively focused dynamic.
The number of visitors from Rabat is on the rise, as is the number of gardens, which provide the local families with fresh vegetables that previously had to be bought at the market. The village women have started to produce and sell Beldi chickens and eggs (a free-ranging local Moroccan breed) through the cooperative, as well as bread and different types of couscous. One delicious variety is made from Brechoua lentils.
The women sell the village produce and their cooked dishes to the growing number of visitors who come from Rabat on tours, which combine an enjoyable day in the countryside with a spirit of solidarity towards the inhabitants and their initiatives. The men and women of the village are now participating in an outburst of appropriation and capitalization of the same land on which they lived precariously for 20 years. The rural and urban worlds have been joined together in a pact of mutual collaboration which has the advantage of inspiring, in different but complementary ways, a reflection on the importance of the land and its fruits.
Lambarkienâ€™s 50 gardens are now part of the 10,000 Gardens in Africa network, while the different types of couscous made by the womenâ€™s cooperative can be sampled not only in Brechoua, but also in Rabat, at the cityâ€™s first Chefsâ€™ Alliance restaurant, Châ€™hiwates du Terroir.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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