Ethnobotany in the High Atlas – Evolving Indigenous Amazigh Landscapes in Morocco by Elspeth Mathau

*This footage is from Elspeth Master’s fieldwork, conducted at the University of Kent, Canterbury England in the School of Anthropology and Conservation. Below is her film and photo essay. Enjoy!

The High Atlas Mountains are a vast biocultural landscape and a biodiversity hotspot. They have been shaped over the millennia through human-nature interactions in agropastoral and communal land management systems of indigenous Amazigh communities. Snow melt from the range peaks cascade down into the high pastures, mountain slopes, small prairies, farmland irrigation, and transhumance plainlands, nourishing the plants and providing water to the rural communities.

Biodiversity Hotspot

Morocco’s substantial topographic and climatic variation foster great biodiversity, one of the most diverse regions for flora in the Mediterranean. Conditions in the High Atlas Mountains have created high biodiversity and plant endemism with 65% of endemic Moroccan flora residing in the range, including 250 rare species. 

Agriculture and Fodder

Animal agriculture through transhumance has been a key biocultural practice in shaping the landscape and sustaining agro-pastoral systems in mountains of the Maghreb from at least 5000 BCE. Access and knowledge fodder plants is essential in continuation of traditional livelihoods in many rural agricultural and pastoral communities. High Atlas Amazigh rely on a combination of wild and cultivated fodder ‘touga’ for their animals. Their use, cultivation, sourcing, and conservation are foundational daily biocultural practices carried out predominantly by women, creating direct connections between humans and the landscape.  

Challenges to livelihoods

As Amazigh communities modernize and face climate change, they are challenged with how to preserve and practice their biocultural traditions and continue life in the High Atlas. Climatic shifts in the High Atlas are intensifying drought, ecological degradation, desertification, and unpredictable weather and flooding events. Economic and social change through agricultural and infrastructure developments have also significantly impacted plant access. The resultant water scarcity, over harvesting, and land-use conflict, have severely decreased wild plant abundance and crops. 

Adaptive Ecologies- Community led Conservation and Transformation

Amazigh communities are responding to the ecologic and development changes by altering environmental management strategies including harvesting practices, applying transhumance traditions, diversifying their livelihoods and crops, and maintaining community resource, labour, and seed sharing networks to sustain their mountain subsistence. Their persistence is resistance, allowing a continuation of cultural heritage, autonomy, traditional foodways, and community led conservation of local biodiversity. 

For more photos and my fieldwork journal visit https://ethnobotanyexplora.wixsite.com/explorations.

Footnotes All photos were taken by and are the property of Elspeth Mathau, from her Masters Research Fieldwork with the Global Diversity Foundation while at the University of Kent, U.K. Ethnobotany Programme. 

Bibliography

Barrow, C.J., Hicham, H., (2000). Two complementary and integrated land uses of the western High Atlas Mountains, Morocco: the potential for sustainable rural livelihoods. Applied Geography. 20 (4):369–394

Cultural practices of conservation in the High Atlas, First internal report. (2017). Global Diversity Foundation. GDF. Mediterranean Ethnobiology Programme. Morocco.

Domínguez, P. (2016). A comparative study of two Mediterranean transhumant systems and the biocultural diversity associated with them. In Biocultural Diversity in Europe (pp. 105-122). Springer, Cham.

Gellner, E. (1969). Saints of the Atlas. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Hammouzaki, Y. (2013). Desertification and Its Control in Morocco. In Combating Desertification in Asia, Africa and the Middle East (pp. 91-111). Springer, Dordrecht.

Montanari, Bernadette. (2013) The Future of Agriculture in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco: The Need to Integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge. In: Mann S. (eds) The Future of Mountain Agriculture. Springer Geography. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

Montanari, Bernadette. (2014) Environmental concerns, vulnerability of a subsistence system and traditional ecological knowledge in the High Atlas of Morocco. In Mountains, Geology, Topography and Environment Concerns, edited by António Bento-Gonçalves and António Vieira. Hauppauge New York, Nova Science.

Rasse M (2008) La diffusion du Néolithique en Europe (7000–5000 av. J.-C.) et sa représentation cartographique. Mappemonde. Retrieved 20 June, 2018 from: http://mappemonde.mgm.fr/num18/articles/art08205.pdf.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: