Festival season in the High Atlas – engaging with communities on conservation and traditional plant knowledge
Written by Christina Ashford, Global Diversity Foundation
A central goal of GDF’s High Atlas Cultural Landscapes programme is to encourage the maintenance of cultural practices of conservation, which play a vital role in protecting biodiversity and enhancing community livelihoods. To support communities as they strengthen these cultural practices and resource management systems in a challenging context of increasing urban migration and gradual abandonment of traditions, it is essential that these conservation practices be widely recognised and respected. An important part of our work involves targeted outreach to communities and authorities, building foundations for long-term sustainability of our programme’s impacts.
To this end, we are developing innovative and engaging tools to reach youth, women, men, community and regional authorities, and local cooperatives. These include, for example, the dissemination of colourful materials on traditional plant knowledge in primary and secondary schools, and participatory workshops where community members are invited to collaborate on programme development. Recently, we have also begun attending community festivals to introduce ourselves and our work, and to discuss activities and ideas with community members and authorities. In the High Atlas, these festivals typically occur at important moments in the agricultural calendar, such as the start of Spring or the early Autumn, and draw large numbers of visitors.
In October 2017, our partner Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association was invited by the ‘Friends of Toubkal National Park for Conservation of the Environment and the Walnut Tree Association’ to join the annual Asni Walnut Festival. Each year, the festival enlivens the streets of Asni, a village to the south of Marrakesh, with music, markets, and celebration. This year, there were more than 50 stands where individuals and cooperatives sold local crafts and produce. This gave us the opportunity to conduct an inventory of some 25 aromatic and medicinal species and products, including price and point of origin. This snapshot of commercialized medicinal diversity enhances our understanding of wild plant harvest and trade in the area.
MBLA staff also hosted a festival stand, discussing our work with more than 100 visitors and distributing informational flyers. A key conversation topic with visitors was the project’s cultivation of threatened, useful and valuable plant species (such as lavender, thyme and sage) in community nurseries. With two nurseries now in operation and a third one under construction in the Ait M’hamed commune, this is a central part of our work. Once plants are cultivated, we will distribute 2,000 of each species every year to local communities to plant in their terraces and beyond. This will help improve household incomes and enhance wild plant populations. Visitors expressed great interest in being part of this process as they are convinced it will benefit them and their communities.
Given the success of our stand and the wealth of ideas and information gathered through our lively discussions with community members and figures of authority – not to mention the enjoyment of attending the festival! – we plan to make active participation in community festivals such as these a regular part of the project calendar.