The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Collaborations in Conservation: The power of community

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.

If you would like to read the full “Collaborations in Conservation” series, follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

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.

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Dar Taliba students watering newly planted seeds in greenhouse, Credit – Pommelien da Silva Cosme

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.

Morocco 24-010 Students in garden during a planting session, Credit - Fabien Tournan

Students in school garden during a planting session, Credit – Fabien Tournan

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.

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Collaborations in Conservation: Combining Science, Education and Art

Our latest Darwin Initiative blog series highlights the importance of collaboration between project organisations and local communities, Governments and NGOs. We feature projects which have benefited from strong relationships between project partners and stakeholders, and who work together to achieve their goals.

This first blog post shares the success of a project working to protect the Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris) in Samoa. The project leader teamed up with a local school teacher and artist and through the combination of science, art and education they published a children’s book to raise awareness and promote the conservation of Samoa’s national bird.

Can a story save the little dodo?

The Manumea or the little dodo is the last of its kind, found nowhere else in the world apart from Samoa. The national bird of Samoa is seen by locals and visitors to the Pacific nation every day on the 50 sene coin and $20 tala note, yet it is a rare sight in its natural forest habitat. The Manumea is often referred to as the ‘princess of the forest’ and is one of the rarest birds in the world. It is considered as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Research funded through this Darwin project has allowed scientists and researchers from the Samoan Government Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and local conservation NGOs to undertake research to determine the reasoning behind the disappearance of this symbolic bird.

Unfortunately, the results from this critical study were not as wide reaching as was originally anticipated and the scientific publication did not attract many readers. The complex jargon and lengthy nature of the publication meant that the information was not easily shared with a wide audience – a solution was needed.

Project leader Dr. Rebecca Stirnemann summed up the dilemma – “To prevent the species’ decline, the science needed to be in the hearts of everyone”. Because the aim of the study was to prevent a further decline in species numbers, the results needed to accessible to everyone and in a format that was suitable for both adults and children in the community.

Samoa 21-001 Miss Samoa 2018 reading to school children, Credit - Jane Vaafanga

Miss Samoa 2018 reading ‘Mose and the Manumea’ to a group of local school children, Credit – Jane Va’afusuaga

Aiming to create awareness around the decline of Samoa’s national bird, as well as increase literacy among Samoan children and adults, the two authors – Rebecca Stirnemann and Jane Va’afusuaga – joined forces to write “Mose and the Manumea”. Prior to the publication of the book, the authors contemplated making a poster or a brochure but decided to write a children’s book that would be available in both Samoan and English.

Mose and the Manumea

The cover and illustrations for ‘Mose and the Manumea’ were done by artist Christina Brady and represent the colours and beauty of Samoa, Credit – Christina Brady.

It was important to the authors that the beauty and colours of the Pacific Island were accurately represented in the story and artist Christina Brady was recruited to the team as the illustrator. As a team they combined science, education and art and through dedication and teamwork were able to publish “Mose and the Manumea”.

The creation of the book is the true definition of collaboration. Author Jane is a school teacher and even the children in Samoa helped. In order to make a book that children would love the authors made several visits to local schools and had 8-10 year olds critique the text and help shape the book. The book is complete and has been published by Little Island Press and is a prime example of the success that can occur through collaboration. The book will fund active conservation on the ground to save the iconic species.

“Mose and the Manumea” is available on Amazon and all royalties are donated to the conservation of the Manumea by the authors.

For more information on project 21-001 lead by the Australian National University please click here. This article is featured in the February 2019 edition of the Darwin Initiative Newsletter, you can read the full newsletter here.