Mobilising useful plant conservation to enhance Atlas Mountain community livelihoods

Funded by the UK Government Darwin Initiative, this project established an integrated ex-situ and in-situ sustainable conservation strategy for 12 priority species. These species have been identified (in consultation with the local community as part of our 2013-16 Darwin funded project) as culturally important, locally threatened, easy to cultivate and profitable. The project is a core component of GDF’s broader High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme, which aims at strengthening traditional practices of conservation and enhancing sustainable land-based economies and wellbeing.

As a first step, we conducted detailed conservation assessments to inform the development of participatory conservation action plans. We collected wild and endangered plant seeds to allow cultivation of the 12 threatened species in community nurseries and for conservation in community seed banks. Each year, GDF distributed plants of each species to local communities (targeting marginalized and vulnerable households) for enrichment planting in agroecosystems and cultural landscape to help meet community needs and reduce pressure on wild populations. Simultaneously, ongoing participatory ecological monitoring was carried out to assess the impact of enrichment planting and plant quality.

The project also worked to enhance local livelihoods. In a region where local communities were seeking access to rapidly expanding national retail, wholesale and export markets for plant products, a central goal of this project was to support this process whilst ensuring sustainability. This was achieved through the commercialisation of plant resources, building community capacity to add value to plant products and strengthening local cooperatives to increase their competitiveness. Working in partnership with communities, we identified species (and their products) with commercial value, are available in community territories in sufficient quantity for sustainable harvest, have a cultural relevance and a solid potential for cultivation in community nurseries. Market analyses and business plans were developed to guide the process. To accompany the commercialisation process, we delivered capacity building and training sessions for local men, women and youth on plant transformation and value-adding skills.

Households gained from access to further livelihood benefits that enables them to stay in their communities and manage their cultural landscapes and plant resources. With co-funding from other donors, we built and restored water infrastructure to provide safe drinking water and irrigation of arable land to enhance crop production. To support the most vulnerable households, who often depend heavily on wild plant harvest, we provided supplementary food during ‘famine months’. We also provided communities with improved medical care from annual public health caravans and access to secondary school boarding houses for young women.

This project is funded by the UK Government Darwin Initiative.