The Biocultural Festival is back with dynamic new presentations, discussions, events and workshops


25 April 2023

Photos by Badr Al Hardag

Celebrating biodiversity and conservation: the essence of preserving the cultural aspects of the indigenous community conserved areas (ICCAs) for the future. Participants from around the world came together to share experiences, suggest solutions and discuss forthcoming ideas.

The Biocultural Festival is a gathering of national and international actors where ICCAs’ issues in Morocco are presented and deliberated. Unlike the previous year’s edition, the second edition was in-person, giving participants the chance to meet and delve deeper into conversations on diverse topics related to ICCAs, from seed sovereignty to network-building among ICCA communities. Last year’s edition was a four-day festival taking place in Azilal and Ait M’hamed between the 25th and 28th of July with a rich and diverse programme. 

The first day consisted of a hybrid webinar gathering an audience from around the world as well as local actors including programme coordinators, presidents of associations, provincial councils and rural communes in the High and Middle Atlas such as Géoparc M’Goun Association, Global Environment Facility, the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA) and more. The main theme of discussion was “Territories of Life and the Global Framework on Biodiversity Post-2020”.

Following a brief presentation of the festival, there was a first panel on sustaining the “Territories of Life” and supporting nature conservation efforts at the global level. This panel covered conclusions from the 2021 report on the Territories of Life, in addition to presentations on various perspectives of biocultural diversity. Topics included in this exchange varied from community conserved life territories, how to promote community engagement on ICCA-related issues and recommendations for aligning the post-2020 global biodiversity framework with the priorities of the Territories of Life. This was followed by a second panel focused on addressing the needs of specific regions and communes, discussing important treaties dealing with the territories of life and conservation of cultural landscapes.

After a fruitful day-long hybrid webinar, the remaining days of the festival were in-person. The second day focused on seeds and more specifically, the development of the seed market and how they’re used today. The day started with a discussion panel on developing a rural seed industry. Participants provided valuable suggestions on creating a rural seed industry and its long-term benefits for the rural communes and regions in Morocco. The day continued with attendees participating in a workshop on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and its implementation in Morocco to discuss how different stakeholders can engage with the framework of the Treaty and its relation to ICCAs. A session on bartering seeds between rural seed suppliers also took place and highlighted the historical and contemporary importance of seed exchanges across the High Atlas. 

The second day concluded with a culinary arts competition honouring traditional Amazigh food, impelling women from around the High Atlas to share their regional treasures. All the used ingredients were organic and grown by the participants. Fatima Amagar, President of Amagar cooperative, Oumnia Himmi, Ecology Professor at Mohamed V University, and Chef Hacene, former rapper and creative French chef, were part of the judging committee. They tasted all the dishes and had a difficult time ranking them. “Once I started tasting, I could not stop. The ingredients used by the participants elevated the recipes. I can safely say that all of them are restaurant worthy”, the Chef said. “It is truly remarkable how the participants are preserving traditional Amazigh fare and passing them down from one generation to the next. Such practices are one of the ways cultural aspects of the High Atlas region are conserved”, he added.

“It is truly remarkable how the participants are preserving traditional Amazigh fare and passing them down from one generation to the next. Such practices are one of the ways cultural aspects of the High Atlas region are conserved”.

The third day, focused on transhumance and accenting the High Atlas cultural landscapes, marked a key event of the festival. The Ait Atta nomads came to the festival to share their inspiring testimonies on the making of the documentary film Ait Atta: Nomads of the High Atlas, a documentary filmed by Inanc Tekguc and Eda Elif Tibet that follows the Benyoussef family’s transhumant journey from the desert-like landscape of Nkob to the green Agdal (protected grazing land) of Igourdane. They were also very keen on answering questions about their lifestyle and the difficulties often encountered during their long transhumance journey. Benyoussef Ichou, the protagonist, and his family described their day-to-day struggles and how rewarding it is to reach the Agdal at the end of their journey. A discussion panel on “unlocking the potential of pastoralism for biodiversity conservation and mountain development” and on “appreciating the Amazigh art of artisanal weaving” followed. Many suggestions were shared during the discussion, inspiring the participants to take action and create implementation frameworks to carry out some suggested ideas. The last event of the day was a photo exhibition showcasing the territories of life and the pastoral communes of the Mediterranean mountains. The photos celebrated transhumance around Morocco, capturing significant moments of nomads and breathtaking High Atlas cultural landscapes.

The Festival concluded with a cultural day where traditional activities like equestrianism, dancing, painting and sculpture were highlighted. The day started with a Tborida show, also known as Fantasia, a traditional exhibition of horsemanship in Morocco performed during Tbourida festivals (Moussems), cultural events, national holidays and agricultural events. Many types of dances were performed, from the Ahidous dance of Ait M’hamed and Kalaat M’Gouna to the Ahwach dance of Ait Bou Oulli and Amazer Taznakht, the festival was teeming with joy and cheer. 

The workshop on painting and sculpting gave an opportunity to everyone with a keen interest to gain more knowledge on these arts and practice the skills needed to create elegant and meaningful traditional crafts.

The Biocultural Festival remains a hub for exchange and meetings between ICCA communities in all the regions of Morocco and different parts of the world. The second edition, held in 2022, was a celebration of the continuous efforts conducted by rural communities and ICCA actors. 

The second edition of the festival was organised by MBLA with the support of Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) and the collaboration of the province of Azilal, the commune of Ait M’hamed and the ICCA Consortium.

A huge thank you to the MAVA Foundation, the Darwin Initiative, the Sigrid Rausing Trust (SRT) and the ICCA Consortium for their continued support in celebrating biodiversity and cultural landscapes.