Establishing a new project and community plant nursery in Oukaïmeden, High Atlas

By Abdellah Aghraz and Pommelien da Silva Cosme

21 February 2020

Over the past five years, we successfully established three thriving community nurseries in Ourika, Imegdal and Aït M’hamed in collaboration with our local partner Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA). These community plant nurseries support the cultivation and enrichment planting of locally-selected endemic, useful and threatened tree crops and plants to boost wild populations and reduce harvesting pressure on these species.

To expand on these efforts, last year we launched our integrated programme in the rural commune of Oukaïmeden, 75km south from Marrakech, where we established a fourth community plant nursery. The first step in starting a new project involves consulting with local stakeholders, including authorities, associations, cooperatives and community representatives. After several meetings with these different stakeholders in Oukaïmeden, our partner MBLA signed an official agreement which allows us to carry out project activities ranging from conducting research and surveys on local plant use and traditional practices to delivering capacity building to local smallholders.

After signing the agreement, our team recruited two local community researchers, Youssef and Rachid, to manage activities on the ground. With help from Youssef and Rachid, we started looking for a suitable area to construct the community plant nursery. Building on the experience gathered at our other project sites, our team considered important criteria such as the proximity of a local water source, soil quality, accessibility and environmental and social impact assessments. Shortly after we found the perfect piece of land, our team designed a nursery plan, including a greenhouse, water basin and meeting area (see design above). Through a participatory approach, community members selected which plants to cultivate at the nursery, such as Iris Germanica L., a plant with high commercial value.

We started construction work at the end of March 2019 by preparing the parcels of land, removing rocks and adding soil amendments. While agricultural terraces were being built and divided into 24 plots, construction continued with the digging of a water basin to enhance water pressure for the drip irrigation system. The closest water source is only 5m from the water basin, thus ensuring year-round water availability. In case of severe drought, the capacity of the water basin can provide irrigation for two weeks.

In early September, we finalised construction by installing a large greenhouse and an efficient drip irrigation system, which supports year-round growing and maintenance of the plant nursery.

The community plant nursery after the installation of a drip irrigation system

Currently, we are cultivating 26 endemic, endangered and valuable plant species including Origanum majorana L. and Lavandula dentata L. Although we started cultivating only recently, we expect the total production of plants and trees in the nursery to be around 60,000 plants per year. Now that the plant nursery in Oukaïmeden (Aït Lekkak) is operational, community members are frequently visiting with our local community researcher Rachid, who manages the nursery.

This community plant nursery will permit the reintroduction of cultivated species to the wild as well as community-wide distribution of fruit and nut trees, and medicinal and aromatic plants, aimed at supporting local livelihoods and plant conservation in situ and decreasing harvesting pressure on wild populations in Oukaïmeden.

We also started studying and collecting local plants and seeds, which will be stored in the community seed bank and herbarium, located in the community centre of Aït Lkak, right next to plant nursery.

Collection of seeds and plants such as walnuts (Juglans regia L.) and Iris (Iris Germanica L.)

We’re very thankful for the support of MAVA Foundation, Darwin Initiative and the Semester at Sea Chapman Impact fund, which allowed us to expand our approach and projects by adding a new project site in the High Atlas. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with local community members and authorities who have been involved in establishing this project since the very beginning. This entire process would not have been possible without them!

The nursery during snowfall in December
Cultivation of Rosmarinus officinalis L., Iris germanica L. and Artemisia herba-alba Asso in the nursery
Construction of the greenhouse in August 2019
Construction of the waterbasin, to ensure drip irrigation for the entire plant nursery

Photos by Youssef Rochdi,  Abdellah Aghraz and Pommelien da Silva Cosme.