Natural landscapes are deteriorating worldwide. Approximately 30 % of the world’s natural forests are expected to be lost by the end of this century. Furthermore, 25 % of all land on earth is currently threatened by desertification. The implications are severe soil erosion, reduced agricultural productivity, food insecurity and the dwindling of biodiversity.
Morocco is no exception. Over 90 % of Morocco’s historical forest cover has already been destroyed. The reasons are overexploitation, overgrazing and the worsening climate. The disastrous extent of Morocco’s environmental degradation puts the country’s flora and fauna at risk. Over 223 plant and animal species in Morocco are endangered, according to the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the umbrella organisation of government agencies and non-governmental organisations.
Severe erosion, water run-off, floods and soil depletion have a grave impact on human well-being too. That is particularly true in the Atlas region, where communities’ livelihoods depend on natural resources. The people concerned are socially marginalised and live in systemic poverty.
Mitigating the destructive trend
In this stressful scenario, environmental conservation is an important development issue. The political objective must be to mitigate all destructive trends. Accordingly, a wide range of projects has been started to provide communities with the twin goals of giving them control over their natural resources and generating socio-economic benefits. However, it can be challenging to tackle environmental and societal issues at once. Many projects have failed to achieve either their conservation or their developmental goals – and some have not achieved either.
It is therefore essential to identify effective practices and share the lessons learned. The High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a non-profit organisation that is registered in Morocco and the USA, runs a pro-poor agroforestry programme in the North African country. I assessed it, on behalf of the HAF, using a new methodology that allowed me to analyse the links between conservation management and community intervention, as well as what they mean in terms of poverty reduction and biodiversity improvements.
My work included the desk-based review of relevant documents, 34 interviews plus discussions with six focus groups. Using this data a group of independent professionals scored the performance of the programme, determining which practices were successful, identifying gaps and giving recommendations for further improvement. The evaluation revealed that the programme was highly effective and should serve as an international model.
Helping people to help themselves
Since 2003, HAF has planted 3.6 million seeds and trees. A strong increase occurred in 2018. The reason was that four new nurseries were established in partnership with Morocco’s High Commission of Water and Forests and Ecosia, a social business based in Berlin.
One successful intervention was to distribute fruit trees. As a result, subsistence farms that cultivated barley and corn started to sell surplus organic fruit, considerably improving peopleʹs livelihoods. There are environmental benefits too as the trees reduce both soil erosion and flooding. The cultivation of fruit trees thus helps to preserve the natural environment.