GDF supports High Atlas rural communities to revitalise traditional practices, sustain livelihoods and restore nature.

Since the field programme was launched in 2013, we helped establish the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA), a local non-profit staffed by young Moroccan professionals.

In collaboration with MBLA and other national partners, the programme addresses income generation, sustainable agriculture, education and youth opportunities, land governance, policy-making, traditions and knowledge transmission, and biodiversity conservation. It currently operates in 5 communes, and continues to be scaled up nationally.

Click on the infographics below for snapshots of the HACL Programme, which includes an overview, and details of our work according to four thematics: “Biocultural diversity documentation and conservation in the Moroccan High Atlas”, “Creating vibrant economies in the High Atlas”, “Participatory governance in the High Atlas Cultural Landscapes programme”, and “Integrated management in socioecological systems”.


Ensuring the socio-ecological viability of High Atlas cultural landscapes (2022-2027)

Taking advantage of recent changes in national law and policy and growth in digital marketing opportunities during the COVID pandemic, this project empowers cooperatives to raise annual revenues of 5000 rural households through regenerative agropastoral activities over a 30,000 km2 area of central Morocco. We support 200 rural cooperatives – mostly women-led – to pioneer a movement to improve livelihoods by innovative production and marketing of local cosmetic, craft and culinary goods while they conserve High Atlas biodiversity and cultural landscapes.

Conserving High Atlas agrobiodiversity to improve Amazigh livelihoods in Morocco (2020-2023)

High Atlas agroecosystems sustain a regional biodiversity hotspot and diversified community livelihoods. Erosion of traditional knowledge and practices, poverty and environmental change result in a decline in agrobiodiversity, locally-adapted production methods, and community values – such as collaboration and reciprocity – that maintain traditional agroecosystems. This project supports Amazigh farmers in the communes of Ait M’hamed, Imegdal and Oukaïmeden to improve agricultural productivity and income from selected cereal and leguminous plant crops cultivated by these communities.

Maintaining Cultural Landscapes for Biodiversity and Livelihood security in the Moroccan High Atlas (2020-2022)

This project expands our efforts to maintain High Atlas cultural landscapes for biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods. Innovative actions are aimed at establishing markets for cultural products, building a progressive national policy environment for cultural landscape maintenance and strengthening governance systems that protect cultural landscapes. Focusing on agdals and terraced agroecosystems, we extended our geographical reach in the High Atlas. We are also promoting international political recognition of High Atlas cultural landscapes, including through the regional partnership that promotes sustainable land-use practices in the Mediterranean.

Preserving local cultural heritage through capacity building for girls (2017-ongoing )

In 2017, we started delivering weekly permaculture training to teach the girls at the Dar Taliba boarding house valuable skills, such as seed saving, cultivating aromatic and medicinal plants, making organic fertiliser, and growing and harvesting organic crops. Coming from different Amazigh communities, the girls share their knowledge and learn about traditional plants, as well as different land use and agriculture practices. Students take home plant saplings, vegetables and medicinal plants, planting them in their home gardens to practise and share their skills with their local community. They grow and harvest most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs used by the Dar Taliba kitchens.

Enhancing the resilience of High Atlas agroecosystems in Morocco (2019-2021)

In January 2019, we launched a two-year project to enhance the resilience of High Atlas agroecosystems by strengthening local seed systems in three Amazigh rural communes. Our research on the characteristics and availability of local, disappearing and new seed varieties supported the implementation of regenerative agriculture and revitalisation of diversity in local agroecosystems. We also improved community access to seed diversity through seed banks, plant nurseries, and seed saving and exchange networks. To sustain these efforts, we contributed to the creation of policy frameworks that support smallholders and seed sovereignty, and strengthen Moroccan civil society in the process of building resilience and relationships across scales.

Cultural landscape management in the Moroccan High Atlas (2017-2020)

In April 2017, we launched a three-year project addressing biodiversity conservation, agroecology and livelihoods. We implemented ecological restoration, biodiversity conservation and community plant distribution activities to promote vibrant and sustainable local economies. We worked with partners to assess and monitor the status of biodiversity in the context of environmental change, document sustainable land-use practices and how these are changing, and analyse the ability of traditional governance systems to be maintained in a shifting political landscape.

Mobilising useful plant conservation to enhance Atlas Mountain community livelihoods (2017-2020)

We focused efforts on conserving 12 threatened and culturally-important plant species through community action. We collected plant seeds for cultivation in community nurseries and conservation in community seed banks. We distributed plants to marginalised households to help meet community needs and reduce pressure on wild populations. We provided training for cooperatives to add value to plant products and strengthen their institutions to increase their competitiveness. We also built and restored water infrastructure to provide safe drinking water and irrigation of arable land to enhance crop production, and improved access to medical care and secondary education for Amazigh girls.

Educating individuals for meaningful engagement in the global community (2019)

GDF hosted a field programme in October 2019 for Semester at Sea voyage students designed to inform them of our work with indigenous Amazigh communities in the High Atlas. Twenty five students participated in practical activities in the field, allowing them to learn about Amazigh culture and experience participatory action research first hand. At Dar Taliba, they took part in an essential oil quiz and workshops on collecting seeds, making compost and preparing organic fertiliser. At the Imegdal community plant nursery, they were introduced to enrichment planting, seed saving and training for local farmers, and learned about the 33 plant species being cultivated there.

Integrated approach to plant conservation in the Moroccan High Atlas (2016-2018)

This project supported sustainable livelihoods and plant conservation while deepening community-based conservation knowledge and practices in the region, with a focus on agdals. We worked with partner communities to create new knowledge on plant conservation and developed participatory management plans for selected wild-harvested species. We also continued the expansion of community plant nurseries, redesigning selected nurseries according to holistic, permaculture principles. Irrigation projects supported water efficiency at the nurseries and ensured increased water flow to ecologically-sensitive areas.

Integrated River Basin Management in Ait M’hamed and Imegdale Rural Communes (2014-2016)

GDF supported two High Atlas rural communes in their efforts to enhance their watershed management. We helped reinvigorate traditional Amazigh water management systems and develop culturally-appropriate, innovative techniques to address climate change-induced droughts and water quality issues. We collaborated with local authorities and community members to develop a participatory water resource action plan that resulted in more efficient water use for domestic and agricultural purposes. This in turn ensures greater flows for the surrounding High Atlas ecosystem and traditional agroecosystems.

Medicinal Root Trade, Plant Conservation and Local Livelihoods in Southern Morocco (2013-2016)

In 2013, GDF launched a collaborative project to address livelihood improvement and threats to plant diversity in the Moroccan High Atlas. We focused on wild-crafted medicinal roots that are intensively harvested in two rural communes, Ait M’hamed and Imegdale. Over three years, we carried out research on plant biodiversity and the socioeconomic status of the Amazigh communities. We established community plant nurseries, enhancing community income through the distribution of fruit and nut trees, and medicinal and aromatic plants. Conservation knowledge and research baselines were established through the creation of community herbaria and improvement of national herbaria.

Model ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba boarding house (2016-2017)

Building on our school gardens project, we developed a model ethnobotanical garden at the all-girls Dar Taliba boarding house as a platform to educate the students about Amazigh indigenous plant knowledge from their communities. Over two years, the girls engaged in biodiversity conservation action, while rediscovering their cultural heritage relating to plants. We organised hands-on educational activities and offered horticulture and botany workshops, encouraging the girls to bring seeds and cuttings of useful plants from their villages. They worked with their families to document Amazigh names of plants, their uses, traditional classification and associated beliefs. These efforts are featured in Relearning lost traditions in Morocco.

Rehabilitating school gardens in Marrakech and its environs (2012-2016)

Understanding the barriers faced by schools in Marrakech and its environs, we launched our school gardens project in the all-girls Lalla Aouda Saadia high school, providing material resources to rehabilitate their grounds. In 2015, we began emphasising the exchange of information and awareness of traditional knowledge, providing opportunities for students to learn directly from their communities. Drawing on rural and urban farming traditions, students from schools in Marrakech and beyond learned about horticulture while creating school gardens that exemplify the garden culture of Marrakech. School gardens were transformed into educational and recreational spaces, providing fresh organic produce for young Moroccan students and conducive learning environments.

Identifying rare & endangered species commercialised in Moroccan markets (2003-2005)

Collaborating with local and international researchers, GDF conducted applied research on plant species traded in Marrakech markets and surrounding regions. Our team identified, documented and catalogued commercialised rare and endangered plant species. To decrease the number of endangered species sold in markets, we developed a methodology with local partners to identify these species, thus reducing misidentification. This enhances the conservation of endangered species through proper identification and educational programmes aimed at both local consumers and tourists. The endangered species database, including the most commercialised species, expands as local partners catalogue both individual components of multiple plant mixtures.