How to benefit local communities through conservation action: a young researchers workshop in Morocco

By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Communications and Field Officer, Global Diversity Foundation

In November 2017, we gathered a select group of 19 young Moroccan researchers for an inspiring and interactive three-day workshop in the Auberge Dardara in Chefchaouen to exchange innovative ideas on how to transform new knowledge on biodiversity into conservation action that benefits local communities.

The gathering was organised with generous support from the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (IUCN-Med) and in collaboration with the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA). The young researchers who attended are associated with the Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tétouan, Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II in Rabat and Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech.

For this event, we built on an earlier workshop held in May 2015 called “Best practices in biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods in Morocco”, which brought together key researchers and institutions to establish a platform for mutual learning about these particular topics. This time, with a special focus on the promotion of plant products to improve livelihoods, this event provided a great occasion to strengthen the capacity of young researchers in this specific field of research.

The gathering kicked off with a relaxed introductory dinner, a great opportunity to get to know one another and exchange details on research topics and field of expertise.

The following day began with a lively discussion on how small producers can operate in the context of ecotourism, with a focus on the valorization of plant-based products. GDF friend and collaborator Lhoussaine El Rhaffari, Professor at the Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, led the session. Throughout the day, young scholars, as well as GDF and MBLA team members, presented and discussed their research. Topics included the impact of argan commercialization on the empowerment of women’s cooperatives in Tiznit, essential oils as a source of income for rural communities, and the benefit of using certified seeds, amongst others.

Workshop participant Abdellah discussing his research on essential oils during a group session.

In the afternoon, Jaber Elhababi, founder and owner of Auberge Dardara, gave us a tour of his beautiful property. Jaber explained how guests from all over the world learn about local products and practices during their stay in his lodge. The food, furniture, textiles and artisan goods found in the auberge are all locally produced.

In the evening, Mohamed Ater, Professor at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tétouan, gave a presentation on conservation of agrobiodiversity in Morocco. This was followed by an in-depth discussion with participants about the promotion of local products as an opportunity to improve income of small farmers while maintaining traditional practices.

After a delicious local breakfast on the third day, remaining participants presented their research. The diversity of the topics discussed, ranging from the process of making vinegar from dates to neglected food plants in northern Morocco, really captured the essence of the workshop. By sharing their knowledge of the immense potential of Morocco’s rich biodiversity, participants were able to co-develop ideas on the promotion of plant-based products to benefit community wellbeing.

We concluded with a final round table discussion, a perfect occasion to evaluate the workshop. Participants particularly enjoyed the setting and interactive manner in which the discussions and presentations were held. They also discussed the Moroccan Plants and Livelihoods Specialist Group, established in 2013 under a previous GDF project. It is an emerging national and international network of volunteer experts comprising conservationists, natural and social scientists and practitioners. They contribute to the documentation, conservation and sustainable use of plant diversity in Morocco. It was great to see our participants express their interest in joining the network and supporting its work. They also shared their ideas and suggestions on next steps, such as creating a database and electronic library for ethnobiological, agroecological and socio-cultural studies in Morocco.

We look forward to our continued collaboration with these inspiring and talented young researchers and to supporting them in their work to conserve Morocco’s rich biodiversity.

Group picture of the participants at Auberge Dardara.