Back to the future: Sustainable management of heritage resources and traditional landscapes in Morocco


Read this article in Arabic here – اقرأ المقالة باللغة العربية

Morocco’s rangelands are vital to the country’s wildlife and people. It protects the land against flooding and soil erosion, as well as the replenishment of underground water reserves. Unfortunately, the Moroccan territory suffers from progressive desertification. In some areas, this process is accelerated by encroachment of rangelands for agricultural production and overgrazing, which deprives the land of its natural vegetative cover.

However, animal husbandry plays a vital role in the country’s society and economy and is the main source of pastoralist income for millions of people in Morocco, and is of particular importance in the High Atlas, where around 26% of rural households depend on animal production. . Maintaining the right balance between environmental and socio-economic aspects therefore requires wise management.

Fortunately, the centuries-old traditional ecological knowledge of pastoralists has shown that it is possible to find this balance. The Agdal is a community governance system whereby pastoralists managed communal lands and regulated livestock grazing, according to specific standards and rules. Formerly, the establishment Agdals ensured that resources are not depleted and that the plant and wildlife communities of the region remain intact.

Agdals have shaped the cultural landscape of the High Atlas Mountains through the centuries. They encompass spaces, resources and specific access rules formulated by local authorities to manage their territory. The Agdal The system is based primarily on the rotation of pastures and the timing of the opening and closing dates of the pasture. Grazing is prohibited in the spring to allow the vegetation cover to complete its reproductive cycle, including flowering, pollination and seed production. These regulations help the entire landscape come back to life each spring, restoring the plants as well as the animals that feed on them.

Revitalizing the Agdal system in Morocco – © Zaid Salmad, AFMI

In recent years, however, there has been a major shift from nomadism to sedentarization in Morocco. In the past, pastoralists moved between mountains and valleys, ascending the hills in the spring and summer to feed their livestock on the mountain sides, and settling in the valley in the winter. Nowadays, many communities stay put, build permanent houses and develop farmland. This change in land use has a negative effect on the natural resources of the region.

In order to address this issue, BirdLife (through its role as a regional implementation team for the Mediterranean hotspot of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF)) supported two organizations, the Biotope Foundation and the AFMI (Association Forêt Model Ifrane), to revive traditional practices and conserve Morocco’s cultural landscapes.

Settlement of local communities in Toubkal National Park, Morocco – © Fondation Biotope

Offer sustainable management choices for courses in Ifrane National Park

Overgrazing has placed a heavy burden on the natural landscapes of Ifrane National Park, Morocco. One of the biggest problems is that pastoralists often took their sheep to cedar forests for grazing, causing the number of trees to decline rapidly. AFMI organization believed that the solution to overcoming these problems and avoiding further degradation lay in the traditional practices of the past.

Agdals long abandoned in Ifrane National Park, and tribal conflicts, mainly over water resources, further complicated the situation. Urgent action is needed to bridge the gap between local communities and government institutions. Thus, the AFMI, thanks to the CEPF grant, worked hand in hand with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests and local communities within the national park. They agreed to relaunch theAgdal system on 67 hectares of communal pastoral land.

AFMI supports traditional grazing, Morocco © Zaid Salmad, AFMI

The area was closed to grazing for six months, with rangers in charge of monitoring it. Meanwhile, AFMI has planted native vegetation in three priority sites with the aim of restoring endangered plant species. It was finally decided that September would be the fixed grazing period, instead of spring. This would ensure that native plants have time to grow and mature and allow livestock to disperse the seeds as they move through the area. To ensure the continued success of the pasture management process, AFMI also provided pastoralists with water resources at five sites around Ifrane National Park.

Agdals can only be sustained in the long term if they have the agreement and participation of local populations. To help with this, AFMI held a number of different conversations with local communities and tribes over six months to highlight the benefits of Agdals for livestock and biodiversity. After witnessing the growth of plants and the enrichment of wildlife such as insects and small animals, local tribes made a commitment to the adoption of the Agdal system and protect it from violations.

As part of a past initiative, farmers in Ifrane National Park received funding to establish apple farms. As apple trees need a lot of water, artesian wells were drilled, which resulted in the depletion of groundwater. Thanks to the CEPF grant, AFMI encouraged farmers to replace apple trees with lavender bushes. These pretty herbs have adapted to survive hot, dry conditions and do not need to be watered. They can also be an important ingredient in soap making, which will provide alternative income to farmers, thereby reducing the pressure on natural resources. Adaptive solutions like Agdal have forged new partnerships that allow this initiative to be extended and deployed on new sites.

Planting lavender to improve livelihoods, Morocco – © Zaid Salmad, AFMI

Agdal is the best solution to revive biodiversity in Morocco ”, declares Lahcen Oukanno, Agdal Expert for AFMI. “This municipal management system has proven its effectiveness over the centuries.

Building a solid knowledge base at Toubkal National Park

In south-central Morocco lies the Toubkal National Park, which stretches over 380 km2 breathtaking mountains. Pastoralism is prevalent here, but until recently there was no updated management plan for the park. Planning needs a strong knowledge base, and the park urgently needed information about the park’s wildlife, the people who lived there, and how they used the land. A limited attempt had already been made to map activities in the park, but due to lack of budget and resources, this study did not cover the entire 380 km2.

To fill knowledge gaps, the Biotope Foundation, an international consulting firm, worked with a grant from CEPF to analyze the current situation in Toubkal National Park in terms of grazing and biodiversity conservation. This information would be used to update and improve the park management plan. Thanks to their previous work with the authorities of the Toubkal National Park, Biotope was able to identify priority areas of action. In cooperation with the park authorities, they have chosen to focus on the central area of ​​the park, where most of the activities take place.

Field survey to assess biodiversity in Toubkal National Park, Morocco – © Fondation Biotope

The project team, in cooperation with the park authorities and a master’s student from the University of Marrakech, interviewed more than 100 members of the local community. This helped to strengthen the relationship between the local community and the park authorities, giving them the chance to sit and speak for the first time in parts of the park. These interviews, along with the fieldwork, helped improve knowledge of flora, natural habitats, land use and traditional practices – such as Agdal – inside the park. Talking to older people and pastors helped the team better understand traditional knowledge and the evolution of traditional practices over the years.

Given these ideas, relaunch the Agdal can be a good solution to overcome the transition to sedentarization in the park. However, this requires the engagement of local communities within the park. Therefore, the next step of the project will be to develop a tribal charter which will be signed by members of the local community. Through this charter, they undertake to practice good course management and to contribute to the restoration of the courses in their territory.

Since animal husbandry will be banned in the spring in some areas of the park to allow vegetation regeneration, alternative income must be provided. Thus, Biotope is studying a compensation program, similar to those put in place by the Moroccan authority for forest conservation, to compensate pastoralists during the ban period. They are also working to identify new opportunities in the national park to market the local community’s products to tourists.

Recently in Morocco, a new national law aimed at improving the management of pastoralism was published and regional management plans for pastoral areas are being drawn up. Biotope is consulting with Moroccan authorities to understand the regional panorama and recommend best practices to improve governance of land use.

Toubkal National Park, Morocco – © Fondation Biotope

“The improvement of knowledge within the Toubkal National Park is a great success”, declares Cyril Barbier, Biotope Foundation, Project Manager. “This could not have been achieved without the CEPF grant. Through this project, the private sector, park authorities, university students and local communities have worked together for the benefit of the entire landscape.

* The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of the French Development Agency, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. Additional funding was provided by the MAVA Foundation. A fundamental objective is to ensure that civil society is engaged in the conservation of biodiversity.

CEPF is more than just a funderA dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (Expert Field Officers) direct funding to the most important areas and even to the smallest organizations; build the capacity of civil society, improve conservation outcomes, strengthen networks and share best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International and its Partners: LPO (BirdLife France), DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia) and BPSSS (BirdLife Serbia). More information on

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