Thirty participants attended a two-day workshop on equitable medicinal plant trade, biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods in Morocco (31 May-1st June 2013). This gathering, the first of its kind, is part of a Global Diversity Fund project addressing livelihood improvement and threats to the sustainable use of medicinal roots, particularly among the Amazigh (Berber) communities of the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. Participants were from Ministerial departments, government agencies with jurisdiction over natural resources, environmental and conservation NGOs, the IUCN Species Survival Commission, scientific and academic institutions, private sector and horticultural organisations.

Morocco is the south-western edge of the continental part of the Mediterranean biodiversity hotspot. It is an important biodiversity corridor, providing connectivity between northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as from the west-central and eastern Mediterranean to the Atlantic islands hotspot in the West. To protect wildlife and biodiversity from agricultural, industrial and infrastructure pressures, Forest Departments have established National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Conservation Reserves. The resulting impact on the lives and livelihoods of local people and other community groups is, however, poorly understood.

During the last 30 years North African countries have developed a huge trade in wild plants that includes many species used for industrial and domestic purposes such as cooking, health treatment and make-up. Various species have been over-exploited, primarily for domestic use and international trade, to a total volume in Morocco of 30 000 tons per year (1). The most used plants are medicinal, cosmetic, aromatic, artisanal and industrial species.

Some of these plants are :

  • Medicinal : Thyme (Thymus satureioides), rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), African pyrethrum (Anacyclus pyrethrum) and iris (e.g. Iris reticulata)
  • Aromatic: Oregano (Origanum compactum) and saffron (Crocus sativus
  • Cosmetic: Henna (Lawsonia inermis) and argan (Argania spinosa)
  • Artisanal: Thuya (Tetraclinis articulata) and cedar (Cedrus atlantica) harvested at 600 000 m3 per year
  • Industrial: Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) and oak (Quercus suber), harvested at 15 000 tons of oak per year

Based on CITES regulations, the Department in charge of wild plants promoted stringent measures to reduce over-use by imposing a short harvest period and mandatory collection permits as well as organizing the local people in co-operatives to facilitate control and improve income.

Around 350 species are seasonally harvested in North Africa, of which 35 are collected for commercial purposes and the rest for subsistence, medicinal, cosmetic or non-agricultural purposes. Forest plant extraction is traditionally important to local livelihoods in the Maghrebian region and accounts for 33% of the total household income in Moroccan forest areas. Traditional forest management practices used to be respected, ensuring that harvest remains sustainable and that various ecosystems and their rich biological and species diversity were maintained in sacred lands, mythical ponds, communal forests (agdal) and wetlands (2). The multiple land-use approach that underpins traditional forest management system is both a livelihood strategy and a source of resilience against climatic change and natural resource fluctuations.

However, local people have been unable to secure an equitable benefit from the growth in trade due to the large number of intermediaries between field harvesters and large companies. They receive very low payments which drive them to collect more and more plants, while income remains minimal. Since 2000, many studies, including an IUCN project, were undertaken to find out the inner workings of this trade and the traceability of each chain of traders. In 2012, UNDP funded a three year long project for studying the status of the four most used species in four economic regions of Morocco.

The first result of the Kasbah-Angour workshop was that it allowed participants to explore potential collaboration between institutions and ongoing projects and to avoid duplication in work. The second outcome was that presentations describing the work done on the ten most exploited wild harvested plant species and their critical status can be used to influence decision makers to take the appropriate measures to prevent their extinction, particularly of those plants with high export rates to Asia (e.g. Anacyclus pyrethrum). Thirdly, the Moroccan Plant and Livelihoods Specialist Group (MPLSG) was formed, ensuring continued communication and cooperation among participants. As part of this emerging national and international network of volunteer experts comprising conservationists, natural and socio-economic scientists and practitioners, MPLSG members will contribute to documenting, conserving and promoting sustainably used plant diversity in Morocco, thereby leading to a measurable improvement in local livelihoods for poverty alleviation and a reduction in the loss of biodiversity.

The workshop participants expressed their support for the project’s objectives, including carrying out conservation assessments of economically and ecologically critical wild-crafted medicinal and aromatic plants. The various collaborating institutions include the Global Diversity Foundation’s official partners: the High Atlas Foundation; Scientific Institute of Rabat; Regional Herbarium and Ecology & Environment Laboratory of the Marrakech Cadi Ayyad University; Forest Department and Environment Department of the Moroccan Government. Financial support comes from the UK Darwin Initiative.

Dr Brahim Haddane is SSC Vice Chair for North Africa and SULi member


(1) Moroccan Forest Department

(2) CBD National Biodiversity study