By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Morocco Programme Director

14 April 2020

Community researchers are key actors in our High Atlas Cultural Landscapes programme. Originally from Amazigh communities in the High Atlas, these cherished team members have a deep understanding of the region and the communities we collaborate with. In close partnership with the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA), we trained nine community researchers, some of whom are highly involved as leaders of community associations or hold political or administrative positions in their respective communities.

Our community researchers in Aït M’hamed, Imegdal and Oukaïmeden contribute substantially to research design and implement a significant proportion of our data collection in the field. They also help organise community events, such as our Biocultural Diversity Fairs and Farmer Field Schools, and build important networks in these communities. Let’s introduce you to two of our community researchers: Fadma and Touda.

Fadma collects plants in the field

In 2014, after completing her studies in Geography at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, and a two-year experience working for a local association in Imegdal to increase literacy amongst rural women, Fadma started working as a community researcher at our project site in Imegdal.

What I love most about working with local communities is meeting people of diverse ages and backgrounds, and discovering the different customs and practices between people that live in different environments.

From the start, Fadma has shown great commitment to her role, which includes leading focus groups, organising community events, carrying out interviews, collecting seeds and plants for conservation at the regional and local herbaria and seed banks.

“Through my fieldwork, I quickly learned to adapt to the life and natural environment of local communities,” she says.  “I also learned various health treatments based on medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as traditional foods and recipes during interviews on traditional plant uses.”

Fadma during interviews (left) and during a team training on soil monitoring

Fadma is also actively involved in the development of community-based action plans in each commune to address key socioeconomic, management and biodiversity issues. Through these action plans we are identifying important employment and training opportunities for local youth. “One of the main challenges in these rural High Atlas areas is the lack of job opportunities. Therefore, it’s so important to support and collaborate with the local community to launch income-generating projects, especially for the benefit of young men and women, to reduce migration to the cities.” 

An Amazigh woman herself, Fadma feels a strong connection to nature, the High Atlas region and the local culture. “I love the simplicity of life in the High Atlas, and the people. What motivates me in my work is that we work towards the conservation of plants and landscapes, and at the same time we study and document traditional cultural practices such as Azzwui, Tawala n’waman and Azzyn,” she says. “The combination of these elements is essential to contribute to sustainable development projects for future generations.”

Touda during a workshop on traditional plant uses

In 2016, Touda joined our team as a community researcher in the rural High Atlas community of Aït M’hamed, where she was born. She enjoys working with the people she knows while discovering the cultural diversity and natural richness of the region she grew up in. “I like everything that is related to the environment, plants and raising awareness about their importance, especially endangered plant species,” she says.

At specific times of the year, Touda collects plants and seeds to store in the community herbarium and seed bank. This preserves seed quality and ensures the availability of traditional varieties for local farmers. She also organises focus groups to identify important and valuable plants that support local livelihoods.

Our work is not only contributing to the conservation of local biodiversity, but also provides important opportunities for the community and its development. 

Another important part of Touda’s work involves carrying out surveys on local plant uses and land management practices such as agdals, which are used by her community for seasonal grazing and foraging. “Local community members have a wealth of knowledge to share regarding traditional practices, land management and wild plant use” says Touda. “I was born and raised in Aït M’hamed and I continue to learn new things from members of the community every day.”