Ait Attab is a Tribal Region in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Tribal Networks first visited the region with the intention of putting in modern communications to enable the people to make their world better. We found that there is a severe shortage of water most of the year, and the whole area is slowly turning into desert. We were aware of permaculture and knew that this could make a huge difference. We approached Geoff Lawton, and he and Nadia visited the site to see what could be done.
The site is located near the top of a beautiful (if arid) valley. There are still quite a lot of trees in some parts of the valley, though there is not much new growth. The potential is great to regenerate the entire valley, which would alleviate the water problem totally in the long-term. I don’t like the idea of interfering with traditional ways of life, but still, a small change is all that would be needed. A tad fewer goats and sheep and a lot more trees. The work and research the PRI has done already in dryland permaculture would benefit the place immensely.
Sheep and goats are everywhere. Providing staple food for the locals, but at the
same time keeping the land from recovering, depleting the soil, exposing it to
erosion. This here could be a forest of palm trees with fruit hanging from the
branches. Instead it’s just a stretch of dry sand with a few blades of grass
sticking out of it, hardly enough for these sheep to bother staying for long.
Repairing the entire watershed would mean that the river, instead of having flash floods each winter (sometimes killing people) will flow for longer into the summer, and the wells downstream will have water for longer, perhaps even all year round. In the summer, many people have to walk 10 km each way to get clean water. Children especially get sick from drinking dirty water.
When: April 17 – 30, 2010 (with option to stay another week for holiday)
Where: Ait Attab, Atlas Mountains, Morocco.
Why: Taking this course in Morocco will subsidise the training of local people, helping to establish permaculture systems to restore this delicate environment.
Who: David Spicer has been involved in the permaculture movement for the last 10 years. In that time he spent 12 months as Farm Manager on Tagari Farm in Northern NSW, Aust with Geoff Lawton, and another six months at Geoff Lawton’s farm at the Channon Zaytuna Permaculture Research Institue.
David also spent six months working for Bill Mollison in Tasmania as the Sisters Creek Project Manager for the Permaculture Institute. He has a broad experience in implementation of permaculture systems as well as building, earthworks, horticulture, forestry, keyline, compost teas and portable saw mills.
The people are traditional Berbers. Many have left the area to seek their fortunes abroad, or in the cities. The place is dying. Instead of being part of the problem, they could be part of the solution, and set an example that will inspire the surrounding communities too. We bought a small piece of land on which to build a center from which to co-ordinate the larger watershed project, and the PDC course will lay the groundwork for that. The paying students will enable local people to take part, so that they can eventually take charge of the whole project.
We’re also setting up small businesses with the local people, so that they can sell their produce direct to the towns without having to use middlemen, as well as other ideas which came from them, such as (careful) tourism, and (once we have set up internet access) direct mail order businesses. Permaculture is crucial for all this to happen.
The people are very warm and welcoming, but also wary of outsiders because of previous bad experiences. This is why we bought the land, instead of asking them to trust us. We need to show them that permaculture is not just another scam. Many aid agencies get rich in places like this, and it’s up to us to prove ourselves to them. As an example, a few years ago a project was started to pump water from a lake a few miles away, all the way up to the village of Igourdane. An aqueduct was built, along with a pump house and distribution pipes to three villages. It then ‘ran out of money’. I have my own ideas about that which I can’t really go into here, but suffice it to say, all the construction companies got paid, and there is still no water.
For those who know anything about pumps, the rise between the lake and the top is one kilometre. It was a ridiculous idea from the outset. For this reason, we must show the people that we are different, and have a real solution. They’ve had plenty of promises, and are understandably skeptical. We have a few locals who are enthusiastic, so it won’t be too difficult.
From the point of view of doing a PDC course there, I can think of no better place. It will be spring, so it’ll be warm but not too hot. The food is fantastic and the scenery amazing. The Ait Attab region is not a tourist spot, we did not see one other European there the whole time. If you want to experience a different culture that has not been overly westernized, this is a good place to do that. The main town, Al Garage has a cyber-cafe, shops and a market. We will be based in a house in Al Garage, and travel up to the site by Land Rover.
Just the fact that students from around the world are coming to Ait Attab to learn, and showing an interest in the project, will boost the confidence of the people, as well as increase their appreciation of the value of permaculture. As more learn about it and start to copy the techniques used in the project on their own land, the health will return and the encroachment of the never-far-off Sahara will be reversed. The project will spawn similar projects all around, and we will see a start to a re-greening of the desert.
The people are friendly and hardworking. Distances are long and paths lead up
steep mountain sides, thus most families have a donkey or a mule or two for
transporting water and goods. And people.
Tribal Networks is also working with a project called Sahara Desert to Forest. The aim is to turn the Sahara into a forest. A lofty aim, maybe, but if it is to become reality, Morocco is a perfect place to start, because, geographically, the ground water, like the tides, flows from west to east, and the prevailing winds will take water transpired by Moroccan trees into the dry Sahara, to enable forest expansion.
For most students, the travel costs will be a significant part of the overall cost, so we thought it might be good to offer an extra week of sightseeing and relaxation for 300 euros. This will also help to kick-start the tourism business. Tourism will help the people immediately as a source of income, but also in the longer term, as people will make friends there, and keep in touch. That is the main purpose of Tribal Networks; to facilitate links between people. Friends help each other out, and in this hectic world, isolation is not good. As the tourism develops, we’ll be able to organize exchange visits with the school for other schools in the West. This will be a real two-way exchange, not just aid. The project opens the door for many things, most of which we can’t even imagine at this point.
The tourism will not entail any need for change in the way of life of the people. Visitors will be treated just like they are now, no special buildings or facilities. The Berber culture is still strong and there is no reason to change things to accommodate people who expect all mod cons. They have plenty of places to visit. It won’t be a big business, just a lot of small, personal ones, so there will not need to be a lot of tourists to pay off bank loans for hotels and so on.
For more details on the course, and to book, click here.
After the crops around the house are harvested, the long wait for next winter
begins. Only at the valley bottom where the ground water is near are crops
like these possible. There is no irrigation since water is scarce even
for drinking purposes.