Conserving plants and cultural landscapes in Morocco: a new project

With funding from the MAVA Foundation, GDF launched a new project entitled Integrated approach to plant conservation in the Moroccan High Atlas. The project will run from January 2016 to December 2019. This project is based on successful experiences from ongoing projects – funded by the Darwin Initiative and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund – in the domains of agroecology, biodiversity conservation and water management. Here we consolidate the integration of the three elements to create a unique approach that sustains livelihoods and plant diversity in the Moroccan High Atlas.

Walnut saplings growing with drip irrigation in a community nursery.

In this project, our Morocco-based team joins forces with partner communities – the communes of Ait M’hamed and Imegdale – to create new knowledge on plant conservation, including through conservation status assessments, ecological monitoring, and assessment of the impacts of climate change on plant populations. We also design participatory management plans for selected useful species that are harvested in the wild. The project continues the expansion of community plant nurseries, helping in the re-design of selected nurseries according to holistic, permaculture principles. These nurseries permit community-wide distribution of fruit and nut trees, and medicinal and aromatic plants. Produce can be sold to enhance household income or used for sustenance. Nurseries are further supported by the implementation of irrigation projects to support water efficiency and ensure increased water flow to ecologically sensitive areas.

GDF staff and community researchers discuss the project in Ait M’hamed.

In the second half of the project, we will consolidate this integrated agroecology-biodiversity-hydrology approach in an adaptable model for replication that will be implemented in another commune in the High Atlas and evaluated for use beyond.

Another important objective of the project is to engage in interactive processes with local communities to document, promote and strengthen local cultural practices of conservation. Among these are agdals, which are community conserved areas and landscapes that protect biological diversity while nurturing social, cultural and spiritual relationships and traditions. Working with community members and authorities, the project will examine the potential for agdals under strict local management to protect and promote plant biodiversity while also exploring possible avenues for strengthening this management.

The Ait M’hamed agdal – or community conserved area – covers 10,000ha of stunning High Atlas pastures.

In collaboration with the Global Environments Network, this project will support the implementation of a Global Environments Regional Academy in the Mediterranean area on the topic of Community-based resource use, landscape management and conservation at the regional level in the Mediterranean. Gathering emerging environmental changemakers from the region, the 10-day Academy will provide opportunities for training and networking, while discussing strategies to scale up protection of community conserved areas across the region – including agdals, which are a widespread phenomenon throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Integrating practical approaches for livelihoods support, plant conservation and water management with the more complex aspect of community-based conservation and landscape management, we hope this project will demonstrate the productivity of building mutual connections between indigenous knowledge, traditions and practices and new knowledge and approaches.