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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Darwin for Climate Action – improving watershed management from Morocco to Bolivia

In the second of our climate resilience themed blog posts (read out first one here!), we take a look at the different watershed management approaches used by projects to address both climate change adaptation and mitigation. First, we visit Morocco for an introduction to the adaptation work undertaken by the Global Diversity Foundation’s plant conservation programme in the Atlas Mountains. We then travel half way around the world to see the Natural Bolivia Foundation’s watershed project and the impact it is having on livelihoods, deforestation and climate resilience in the Chaco.

Conserving threatened plant species to support community adaptation and resilience to climate change in the High Atlas

The Mediterranean ecosystem of the High Atlas in southern Morocco is home to significant plant biodiversity – including endemic, endangered and economically important species – that has been sustained for millennia by Indigenous Amazigh communities. However, High Atlas cultural landscapes are under increasing threat from interrelated socio-ecological problems that include overharvesting of endemic useful plants, intensive grazing, inadequate water management and the erosion of cultural practices of conservation and sustainable land use management. The effects of climate change, heightened in fragile montane ecosystems, are compounding the impact of all these factors.

Morocco 24-010 Irrigated thyme, Credit Global Diversity Foundation

Irrigated Thyme, Credit: Global Diversity Foundation

In April 2017, Global Diversity Foundation began implementing a three-year Darwin Initiative project. One of the ways the project is seeking to improve the resilience and adaptation of local communities to climate change is by building and restoring water management infrastructure to provide more efficient irrigation of large tracts of agricultural land and community nurseries in partner communities. This contributes to climate change adaptation in partner communities whilst also ensuring that precious water resources are used wisely and can therefore continue to sustain the broader ecosystems within which these agricultural terraces are embedded. To support this work, the project team collaborate with diverse partners to provide training courses for local communities and associations on cultivating drought resilient crops and using water economically to improve resilience to climate change and increasingly arid conditions.

As part of this programme, the Global Diversity Foundation are establishing community seed banks to secure improved availability of locally adapted plant species, and carrying out research on the impact of climate change on the High Atlas flora to identify potential new climate change refugia for target endangered or endemic plant species. The results of this research will inform our ongoing conservation actions in the High Atlas. All of these activities enrich partnerships with Amazigh people, who continually assess the impacts of climate change on their cultural landscapes and devise further strategies to lessen its effects on their socio-ecological wellbeing.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here.

Watershared: adaptation, mitigation, watershed protection and economic development in the Bolivian Chaco

Bolivia’s Gran Chaco encompasses swamps, salt flats, scrublands, and the largest virgin dry forest on earth. Although the region offers high soil fertility, it receives minimal rainfall. Most of the economic activity in Chaco requires water, so there is an urgent need to increase water efficiency and, most importantly, ensure that the water arrives in the lowlands in the first place.

Upper watershed farmers in the Chaco often have no economic alternative other than to deforest their land for agriculture. Forests are destroyed and cows enter streambeds to drink, forage, urinate and defecate. The subsistence agriculture of upper watershed farmers is unproductive, while downstream water sources are contaminated. Children miss school with diarrhoea as a result of contaminated water, and waterholes dry up.

Bolivia 21-008 Compensation in the Chaco, Credit - Natura Bolivia

Compensation in the Chaco, Credit: Natura Bolivia

Reciprocal watershed agreements – otherwise known as Watershared agreements – are simple, grassroots versions of incentive-based conservation. They help upper watershed forest and land managers to sustainably manage their forest and water resources to benefit both themselves and downstream water users. Watershared agreements focus on changing behaviour through economic and non-economic incentives and building institutional capacity: in other words, by showing local authorities and water users that watershed protection is in their own interests, and then facilitate the creation of the institutional framework needed to plan and implement it.

The Watershared model was first developed in 2003, in the Bolivian village of Los Negros. Six downstream irrigators negotiated a ground-breaking deal with their upstream counterparts. “For every 10 hectares [ha] of forest you conserve for a year,” Andrés Rojas told Serafín Carrasco, “we will give you a beehive and training in how to produce honey.” And so the first reciprocal watershed agreement was struck. The Reciprocal Watershed Agreements Darwin Project helped another six municipal governments create and consolidate Local Water Funds. These funds were designed to catalyse local investment in the upstream “Water Factories” of the Chaco and thereby simultaneously:

  1.  Mitigate climate change (conserve old growth forests);
  2.  Adapt to climate change (maintain water sources);
  3. Increase food security (maintain quantity of irrigation water and diversify upstream production systems); and
  4. Improve human health (enhance water quality).
Bolivia 21-008 Handing out conservation incentives, Credit - Natura Bolivia

Handing out conservation incentives, Credit: Natura Bolivia

Most importantly, by having water users and municipal governments pay for the conservation activities, the project developed the institutional framework for sustainable financing of climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. In addition to the 96,510ha that the project conserved under Reciprocal Watershared Agreements, there was a high demand from local authorities for the creation of new municipal protected areas. The project used Darwin Initiative funds, along with counterpart support, to help create three new municipal protected areas. The creation of these areas protected another 500,000 ha of the Chaco’s forests.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here. To read more articles about how Darwin projects are working towards improving climate resilience in developing countries worldwide, see our special edition of the newsletter from November 2017.