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Permaculture and Traditional Land Use in Morocco 2010

Editor’s Note: Elspeth Brock makes a great post-course update on the Tribal Networks Morocco project experience.

Wheat, almonds and wild flowers

I felt in some way instantly at home in Morocco. Ait Attab in the high Atlas has a similar climate to inland south-eastern Australia, orange-purple soil, masses of erosion, the hot burning sun, and a wide blue sky. Running wild are the ancestors of many plants familiar from English cottage gardens – poppies, gladioli, margarite daisies. We were treated to wonderful hospitality, beautiful gnarled olive trees, orange flat-roofed houses, home made bread – called bat-boot for the sound it makes when being made – and donkeys braying (well maybe not all so much like home).

Ancient Olive groves of Outhane

Water diviner does his work

It was good to be in a new environment, which complemented the new way of looking at landscape. To see the wealth of skills and difficulties faced by local people.

Many areas of Morocco face similar problems to us, just of a different scale – fast, cheap uninsulated housing developments on the fringes of cities, the influx of white flour, processed food, plastic bags and cheap, synthetic imports from China.

The resourcefulness of village people is striking, something I felt we could learn a lot from. Problems seem to them just an opportunity to find a creative solution. The quick thinking of Marwane, our local connection, is an example. When stronger string was needed to tie the poles of a dome together, he tied the string to the top of a bottle then spun it to twist the string, then it was folded in half and it all curled together for double thickness and strength. Voila!

Village girls of Al Garage nibble on fresh lentils

Travel by donkey up
to Igourdane

This ability to adapt and create something out of what you have on hand is invaluable. Quick problem solving is often lost in modern societies as it is cheaper to throw something out than fix it, and over specialisation can create problems with systemic and holistic thinking. Our overprotective health and safety laws sometimes also restrict ingenuity. I think this ingenuity is crucial in permaculture.

Being in a different country we also had to learn to adapt to challenges; 15 people in a small apartment, and the logistics of cars breaking down or the influx on market day that meant things didn’t run on schedule the way we are used to. As it was the only day the van driver could make good money we were then without a van! But things happen in their own time and patience is golden.

Each day we travelled out to the farm of Marwane’s Uncle, Ourthane, where the course was held under the shade of two carob trees. This area has been spared the onset of monoculture industrial faming so far. People are not fossil fuel reliant, donkeys are still a major mode of transport along with mules which ‘take two people’ as someone pointed out. Few if any chemicals are used on the fields, evident in the masses of wild flowers growing freely amongst the wheat crops. Most farms still produce a diversity of crops such as olives, wheat, fava (broad) beans, almonds, honey and figs. Diversity could still be improved with kitchen vegetable gardens, chickens perhaps need to be kept out, and small-scale production of high value products such as Argan oil or olive leaf extract could generate income.

Wheat, almonds and wild flowers

Making compost

Groves of trees, mostly olive, are planted in natural watercourses, and stonewalls built around them to reduce erosion on downward slopes. Water is a major issue, Igourdane the Berber village originally marked for the permaculture demonstration site is in an incredibly high and steep area. It has no reliable year round water source. As is becoming more common in many places, rain is less frequent and comes in heavy down pours. Little water is held by the soil. We were all mapping out swales and dams, as erosion is a big problem. Difficulties exist, as much of the land is fragmented into small-inherited holdings; to be effective works would need to be done collectively to hold water in the landscape. A village association is being formed that can hopefully work on some of these issues.

Dave expounds the value of
small prickly legumes

This brought up a lot of interesting discussion in the group about aid projects and how permaculture relates to human systems. Some of the issues raised were about how outsiders need to be cautious of telling people what they need, enforcing change on people that may not be wanted, and how a lack of trust can arise if promises are not fulfilled. There was discussion about how to work harmoniously, that some level of initiative for change needs to come from within (no forced function?) Houssa, from another local village, explained how important it is to intimately knowing the culture, such as how villagers make decisions and why individual people may act a certain way. The organisers of the course, Alex Metcalfe of Tribal Networks and David Spicer, demonstrated how Permaculture is a dynamic system that can adapt and change to circumstances or as more is learnt about a particular landscape and its people, as is so important in dealing with human systems!

Alex does wonders on a PDC’s
smallest ever black board

As Dave Spicer commented, local people have a lot of resourceful skills and that in the future it would be great to continue the exchange of knowledge between locals and visitors. Locals that see positive results in permaculture demonstrations may be interested to learn more and also share their techniques. Perhaps this could contribute to an awareness of the importance of their skills and traditional methods creating a dynamic exchange where living conditions are a bit less harsh, water is secure and young people are more interested in staying on in the villages. InshAllah as is said in Morocco.

Doing a PDC course in a ‘developing country’ is a wonderful experience getting a taste of other ways of life, different landscapes, issues of development, meeting inspiring people who have similar passions from all over the world and of course the wonderful world of permaculture!

One Comment

  1. Thanks Asiya – what a lovely account of our time at El Garage.

    Although our visit was short it did give us lots to think about.

    We saw that the village people of Igourdane do not have any of the everyday luxuries that we have. They have no year round source of water, even for drinking. There is certainly no electricity to power a fridge to preserve their food. And there is no road to bring building supplies up from town, although teh ttrack might be good enough for a bulldozer, Dave! By contrast, there was an amazingly strong mobile phone signal up there!

    There is no school for the children. So the children do not have the opportunity to learn to read or write. Instead they spend hours travelling on the mules or donkeys to simply fetch water. But they were avid for knowledge. We saw how, when we started learning how to survey, one young man was fascinated and joined in, learning very quickly.

    When talking to another young man, on the farm where we studied, we heard there was not only a shortage of water but a shortage of manpower. The head of the household is sometimes tempted away by the promises of riches abroad. People traffickers extort large sums (as a debt) from impoverished farmers, promising inflated wages for imaginary or illegal work in Europe. The farmer becomes so trapped whilst paying off this huge debt and living as an illegal worker that he may never be able to return home to visit his family and somtimes disappears from their lives.

    We had little contact with the local women, partly due to lack of a shared language and partly perhaps due to their reticence when meeting a group containing men who were not from their family. When we visited Igourdane there were no women present, although they sent us delicious tea and bread with olive oil for refreshments. The best they had, I’m sure. I wonder, where do they fit into the pattern which will be Permaculture in Igourdane?

    Thanks to the dedication and generosity of the course leaders and organisers, there will be funding for a borehole for Igourdane. That will be the first step toward greater self reliance for the villagers. It is also an essential prerequisite for the planned Permaculture Garden. It’s a huge investment and needs careful management and it seems that the village elders will take pride in doing this.

    A school is planned …..

    I would like to wish the project every success. And the people of Ourthane and Igourdane an abundant future.

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