The Mediterranean region boasts a unique combination of mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, thousands of islands, heterogeneous coastline and of course the semi-enclosed Mediterranean sea itself. This geographical complexity is paralleled by an incredible diversity of cultures and languages, intertwined histories and some of the most influential human civilisations our planet has known. The Mediterranean climate is very propitious for plant diversity, making it a centre for endemism and species richness. The Mediterranean region is therefore one of the most bioculturally diverse areas on the planet, as well as one of its biodiversity hotspots.
The region is also plagued by significant environmental degradation, human deprivation and inequality. On the Mediterranean’s northern shores, intensive tourism and agriculture, pollution and the rural exodus are major issues, whereas on its southern shores, extreme poverty, migration and water scarcity take centre stage. Exacerbated by climate change and unsustainable development, these factors put the region’s rich patterns of biocultural diversity, ecological knowledge systems and resource management practices at risk. In times of social strife, the sea itself becomes the stage for human tragedy, as it becomes the escape route – and the graveyard – of thousands fleeing war, famine and oppression in Africa and the Middle East.
GDF has worked in the Mediterranean region since 2000, when it launched its Morocco programme. Here, in collaboration with local and national institutions, GDF has documented local knowledge systems and identified plant species sold in southern Morocco marketplaces, helped maintain agricultural and horticultural traditions in the Marrakech medina and helped establish participatory ethnobotanical and educational gardens in schools throughout the Marrakech region, with a view to supporting the transmission of traditional knowledge.
Currently, we collaborate with Amazigh communities in the Moroccan High Atlas seeking to sustainably manage their changing environments while enhancing their livelihoods and wellbeing. Ongoing projects address interconnected threats to Important Plant Areas and indigenous livelihoods: water scarcity and poor water management, loss of plant diversity through overgrazing and overharvesting and livelihoods erosion resulting from overharvesting and marginalisation. Our projects strengthen local practices of plant conservation, including community conserved areas, and reduce overharvesting of economically valuable species, while supporting communities to cultivate and market high value medicinal and aromatic plant species. We also work with communities to restore traditional water management systems and to enhance them through innovative technologies. We provide them with useful, marketable fruit and nut trees to provide a culturally appropriate form of income generation. Throughout our projects we maintain a strong focus on building local capacity through trainings, workshops, and school and university courses, and through the training of community researchers.
Currently, GDF is exploring the expansion of its Mediterranean programme through projects that address the conservation and sustainable use of wild useful plants, cultural practices of conservation and community conserved areas both in the Moroccan High Atlas and possibly further afield in Italy and Spain.
This project addresses livelihood improvement and threats to the sustainable harvesting of medicinal roots. Our focus is on wild-crafted medicinal roots that are intensively harvested in two rural townships of the High Atlas mountains – Ait M’hamed rural commune in the Azilal province and Imegdale rural commune in the Al Haouz province.
In collaboration with Cadi Ayyad University and the University of Uppsala’s Department of Evolution, Genomics and Systematics, GDF conducted research in 2003 to identify species traded in Marrakech markets and the surrounding regions, identifying, documenting and cataloguing commercialised rare and endangered plant species.
Drawing on rural and urban farming traditions, students learned about horticulture while creating school gardens that exemplify the garden culture of Marrakech. School gardens were transformed into educational and recreational spaces, providing fresh organic produce for young Moroccan students and conducive learning environments.