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The Right Course (Morocco)

We are still going to be achieving a number of aims in Morocco with our first PDC in October, but I’m not convinced it’s the right way to introduce permaculture to our neighbouring farmers. It might even put them off!! But if that were the case, what would be the best introduction?

I wasn’t initially planning to run a PDC so early on in the development of the Fertile Roots Foundation. It seemed to me that a better way of weaving my way through the cobweb of local obstacles would be to introduce even just the idea of change in little steps, starting with water harvesting. When I first told them about permaculture and how it might help, it was the gabions and swales that ellicited the strongest response. With less than 500mm of precipitation in the last three years there’s not much that can happen before they’re in place in any case. But I wanted the men to hear Darren Doherty on the subject — my own gardening efforts have provided only amusement — and experts like Darren cost money, a resource just as scarce to us as water. The only way to get Darren was to have him ‘pay himself’ and we thought a full PDC would be the easiest to ‘sell’ to those with the means to pay.

It was in August last year that I enjoyed the local equivalent of a standing ovation for my two hour presentation on permaculture and how, coupled with a cooperative, it might help them. There were excited declarations of support and even those not present had soon been sent word of their enthusiasm.

Fast forward a few months, when I returned once more and mentioned the idea again it was as if I had never even opened my mouth on the subject. “Oh yes…that” was all I could finally squeeze out of Hassan, the man who had been the most enthusiastic of all. And when I tried to rally everyone towards actually starting the cooperative we’d discussed I began to fully understand just how hard this project is going to be. It was as if they had had a complete change of heart, and, for it’s the way here, couldn’t tell me to my face.

I do not profess to be able to understand the mindset of the people here. Even after eight years of living on and off amongst them, of working alongside them in building our eco-lodge, my Arabic is basic and I miss almost every nuance. But I do understand their mistrust of the authorities, of the written word and the unclear impacts of adding one’s signature to anything. In fact I share it also; the paperwork here is as illegible to me as it is to those — anyone over 30 years old — who didn’t get an education.

Of course this mistrust runs to outsiders in general and I wouldn’t even have a hope of starting anything were it not for the fact that I’ve been getting my hands dirty with them for so long. My wife and I enjoy a level of trust and respect from our neighbours that’s been hard won, and it’s not something we could have acquired in any less time or by any other means.

Their disposition towards living wholly in the here and now is one of the things I love most about Moroccans. It’s enviable, but it can also be hugely frustrating to my European sense of urgency. I know, however, that among my new friends it’s not as simple as being powerless in the face of God’s will. Property has a bearing on it also.

For each new generation the land is further carved up between sons and most of the men here have little more than an acre that’s actually theirs. It’s not enough to live on so brothers leave to make a life elsewhere, but they rarely relinquish ownership. Even with all the farmers of the land present at my meetings I am speaking to only a fraction of concerned parties. The remainder have no reason to trust me and some are understandably suspicious of my motives.

And I feel compelled to mention another obstacle to having a shiningly enthusiastic face looking out from every scholarship place on our course; it’s marijuana. Almost everyone over the age of 30 smokes, pretty much all day. The ancient Moroccan tradition of kif is a very far cry indeed from a huge fat reefer of skunk rendering the smoker inert, it’s more like tiny sips of the bottle, but nonetheless it doesn’t exactly spark off a flaming inferno of ambition in anybody.

That’s one reason I would like to be aiming all this equally, or even more, at the younger generation, who generally don’t smoke. Their choice of vice actually does nurture some ambition for the future, but ironically it’s the ambition to escape the land altogether. With the advent of electricity two years ago, out went the tiny black and white telly rigged to a feeble car battery with a life of one hour, and in came satellite. They are glued to it and they are educated too; nobody wants to be a goat farmer. In our first meeting they lined the walls, twiddling their thumbs. In subsequent meetings they have been absent altogether.

So, my hopes for the success of a long term project here rest initially on a handful of men among many. All fathers, all uneducated, they are the ones with the most land and who show the most drive to control their future. One, Abdul Kbir, in desperation last year, sold a field and sank three boreholes with the money: no water. He is key, but he’s busy also and two weeks is a long time to stay away from a subsistence existence. When I scan through the PDC syllabus I wonder how all that theory is going to keep their attention for two days, let alone for two weeks.

Olivier Vuillemin, of the Maroc Integral at Ouled Hammou, confirmed these doubts in a recent email exchange. Having held two PDCs there he is yet to see any of it being implemented, whereas more practical courses, such as on aquaponics, have had an almost instant impact.

I’m not going to stress about this. We will still have Darren Doherty coming to help us formulate a plan for improving the community’s land, and I will finally be able to show enough income to register our foundation properly and get that charity number, so helpful for donor fundraising. A PDC also pins us more firmly to the global permaculture map, and finally, for my understanding of the local mindset it’s going to be a journey in itself.

But I feel a series of short workshops coming on next!

10 Comments

  1. Hi, Mark
    I’ve been living for 4 years now with my familly il Tunisia and we just start our farming project and guess what, we are running the first PDC of Tunisia at the exact same time as yours! It’s always great news to hear about permaculture progressing in Maghreb countries and I’ll be glad to have your feedback on this experiment as what you describe in your article about the locals sounds familiar to me. Enjoy your PDC

  2. A superb and honest description of the challenges facing any social change programme; pure inertia and acceptance of discomfort and hardship is often the biggest obstacle

    Well done mark

  3. Excellent article! Thank you for sharing. We may soon be heading to a similar cultural area, and I have been wondering about some of these things. I will be interested in your progress and findings. Again, thank you for sharing even the trouble spots.

  4. We’ve found that the most compelling motivation is our incremental successes in “greening” our own version of desert. Even the local “tv watchers” have begun to comment on our “oasis”. Keep up the good work!

  5. Mark,

    We’ve been doing work within a similar setting in Yemen. We’ve been able to get significant traction there – but there are some “wrinkles” that need to be integrated with the material to give it added relevance.

  6. Hey Marc ,

    will contact you in a few months or sooner .; and we will pass by to come and see you and what you did /are doing !

    Kali and Sanae :)

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