The Region


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.




Mediterranean region


Lying between the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean sea and the Sahara desert, and divided from the rest of Northern Africa by the vast Atlas Mountain range, Morocco’s unique biogeography has resulted in high levels of biological diversity and endemism, particularly in the plant kingdom.

Morocco has a rich mix of Mediterranean, Arab, sub-Saharan, Jewish and Berber cultural histories and identities. Prior to the ninth century spread of Arab communities in North Africa, the geographic area that covered modern day Morocco was largely Amazigh (Berber) speaking. There are three main Berber languages: Tarifit is spoken in the northeast; Tamazight in the central Atlas, northern high Atlas and southeast; and Tachelhit in the southern high Atlas and southwest of the country. Although the Arab population and language dominate most of the linguistic and cultural landscape, Berber culture and language is very present and continues to contribute greatly to Moroccan culture and identity.





Our Work


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.


Future Plans


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.

Current Projects


Integrated approach to plant conservation in the Moroccan High Atlas

This three-year project, launched early 2016, focuses on integrating the three strands of GDF’s work in the High Atlas – agroecology, biodiversity conservation and water management. The project aims to support sustainable livelihoods and plant conservation while deepening knowledge of community-based conservation knowledge and practices in the region.

Plant collection in Ait Mhamed 


Integrated River Basin Management in Ait M’hamed and Imegdale Rural Communes

This project supports two rural communities in the High Atlas as they enhance their watershed management by reinvigorating traditional water management systems and engaging culturally appropriate innovative techniques. The project aims to address severe water scarcity and quality problems, help conserve biodiversity and improve people’s livelihoods.


Model ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba boarding house

This project builds on our school gardens project at Dar Taliba and in other locations throughout Morocco that rehabilitates degraded and unused school spaces into thriving school gardens. A model ethobotanical garden at Dar Taliba will educate students at the boarding house about Amazigh indigenous plant knowledge from their communities, located in the High Atlas mountains.

School gardens project

Past Projects


Medicinal Root Trade, Plant Conservation and Local Livelihoods in Southern Morocco

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.

Pulicaria odora 600


Identifying rare & endangered species commercialised in Moroccan markets

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.


Rehabilitating school gardens in Marrakech and its environs

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.

Aphrodisiacs & Botanical Livelihoods:

Gary Martin at TEDxMarrakesh

Gary Martin, Director of GDF, speaks about his journey of discovery of the diverse medicinal plants sold by herbalists in the Marrakech medina. He describes the use of several medicinal plants, including mandrake, pellitory and giant fennel, explaining the importance these botanical resources hold for health, local commerce, nutrition and wellbeing in Morocco.