Building community capacity in sustainable agricultural practices in Morocco

In early September, after a hot and dry summer, our team organised a capacity building week in the rural commune of Imegdal (Al Haouz province) in collaboration with our partner Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA). These activities, which are part of our High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme, were aimed at training local community members and trainers in different agricultural practices such as water harvesting, plant commercialisation, sustainable plant harvesting and seed banking.

On the first day, our team and local community members–22 men and women–gathered at the Imegdal community centre to learn more about valorisation of plant products. Rachid, our facilitator of the day and founder of the holistic centre Terre d’éveil in Marrakech, began the workshop with a group discussion about the value of aromatic and medicinal plants in their community. In order to better understand how to increase a plant’s commercial value, Rachid used lavender as an example. He explained that transforming lavender into an essential oil significantly increases its value after which he demonstrated the process of oil extraction using a distillation method. The whole group, including our team, were very excited to learn the practice themselves and to smell the end result.

We were pleased to see that participants were eager to learn about other methods of transforming locally-harvested plants into commercial products such as essential oils, especially as they provide vital economic opportunities to support local livelihoods.

“We would really love to further develop our knowledge in the usages of different aromatic and medicinal plants and how to transform them to commercial products such as oils and soaps”, Khadija, member of a local cooperative Imgharine d’Imegdal, said.

Workshop on essential oils led by Rachid from Terre d’eveil

We started the second day of the week with a session on water management and sustainable water harvesting, led by Brahim from RESING, an independent engineering consulting firm and local partner. As most of the participants work in agriculture, this session was very relevant to their work. Several of them raised local water management issues such as water shortage and non-functional water canals (segiyya’s) as key issues. In response, Brahim discussed different solutions such as building water basins and using drip irrigation systems to improve the management of local water supplies.

We continued the session in the community nursery to demonstrate how these systems work in practice and especially how they benefit local plant production. Participants showed a special interest in the drip irrigation system which Brahim explained in detail by demonstrating the use of drip emitters in different parcels of the plant nursery. This system delivers water and nutrients directly to the plants’ root zones, in controlled amounts, which in turn decreases water waste–a crucial benefit in areas where water is in short supply.

Participants take a closer look at the drip irrigation system in the community nursery

“I found today’s training very useful and interesting, especially the demonstration of the drip irrigation system in the nursery”, local farmer Brahim said. “On the land that I work we don’t have a drip irrigation system; I think this practice would really benefit growing crops in our parcels”.

Making the most of our time in the community nursery, we continued the day with a session on best practices for plant and seed collection during which our colleagues Hassan, Soufiane and Rachid shared important knowledge and techniques to consider when collecting plants and seeds of wild species. “When I collect plants, I usually take the whole plant including its root”, community member Aïcha said. “Through Rachid’s explanation I learned I can collect the flowers and seeds without taking the root.”

Soufiane (right) explains the process of seed collecting

For the final session, we all gathered one last time in the community nursery for a practical permaculture training, facilitated by Frederic from Radiant Design, a permaculture expert and partner in our school garden project at the Dar Taliba boarding house for girls. Participants were taught different techniques such as building a ‘one stone dam’, a practice that prevents loss of minerals and organic matter by creating a horizontal line of stones to reduce the rate of water infiltration into the soil. In addition, this technique doesn’t require any advanced knowledge or materials and can be applied by using natural materials at any scale.

Gathering stones to build a ‘one stone dam’

Our capacity building week was a huge success thanks to our expert facilitators, the engagement of our participants and the support of the local community. We look forward to continuing our capacity building programme in Imegdal and other communities we work in.