Welcome to the third instalment of the “Collaborations in Conservation” series. This blog post features a project in the Moroccan High Atlas that through collaboration with Dar Taliba boarding school has created a community garden. The once vacant school garden is now teaming with life and encourages younger community members to get involved and improve their knowledge of local plants.
Co-creating an ethnobotanical school garden for Amazigh girls in the High Atlas, Morocco
The landscapes of the Moroccan High Atlas have been shaped by the close relationship between humans and the environment over the course of millennia. They are maintained by contemporary cultural practices that support a regional biodiversity hotspot and ensure ecological resilience. Through this project the Darwin Initiative co-funds Global Diversity Foundation’s High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme, which seeks to strengthen these traditional practices while enhancing sustainable land-based economies and wellbeing.
Foundational to this programme is our focus on capacity-building, particularly for the younger generation. One of our core training grounds is the ethnobotanical school garden at Dar Taliba, an all-girls boarding house in the Ourika Valley which was set up to enable students from remote villages to continue their education beyond primary school. What started out as a modest school garden has grown into a multifunctional garden and outdoor training space for students to develop new skills and knowledge in plant conservation, plant uses, permaculture techniques, beekeeping and indigenous practices. The garden also provides organic herbs, fruits and vegetables, which are used to prepare school meals for the 142 girls currently in residence – at least 15 of whom are able to attend Dar Taliba thanks to the funding from Darwin Initiative.
Today’s success of the Dar Taliba school garden is the result of strong partnerships built during the co-creation of this green space, including collaboration with the students who were actively involved throughout its construction process. In 2016, the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA), a local non-profit that implements integrated in-situ and ex-situ conservation measures through community-based research, provided invaluable input in identifying the first steps of reviving the old school garden.
We have also been long-time partners of the Association de Bienfaisance pour le Développement du Bassin de l’Ourika (ABDBO), the Moroccan association dedicated to rural girls’ education that established the Dar Taliba boarding house in 1998. Together, we elaborated a strategy for the creation of the garden with the direct involvement of the students. We then began working with a team of local permaculture design specialists, Radiant Design, who created a multifunctional garden using permaculture principles. The garden now includes a plant nursery, green house, ethnobotanical garden, vegetable garden, aromatic and medicinal plant garden and a recreational space for students to study.
In 2017, all of our partners’ hard work and joint efforts were rewarded when the Dar Taliba students started to spend a lot of their time in the garden. We continued to work with MBLA and Radiant Design, using the space to deliver weekly permaculture trainings. Since then, the students have been learning more about indigenous plant botany and sustainable agriculture techniques while practicing new skills such as seed saving, making organic fertiliser and composting. Through these capacity building activities, the girls are rediscovering their local cultural heritage related to plants and actively engaging in local biodiversity conservation efforts. They also have begun engaging in their traditional knowledge and practices when they return home to their communities, setting the stage for the long-term sustainability of our programme.
More information on the Global Diversity Foundation project 24-010 in the Moroccan High Atlas can be found by clicking here. The full article for this project and many others have been featured in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.