Cultural Practices of Conservation generally refer to various traditional and customary practices within a culture that especially relate to the conservation of natural resources. These practices shape biodiversity and landscapes, maintain a vibrant mosaic of ecosystems and sustain local livelihoods. These dynamic living traditions are increasingly threatened by changing environmental, economic and social realities, such as the exodus of young people from rural areas, severe and prolonged drought, and low monetary rewards from traditional agriculture.
Through a community-based approach, we have identified, studied and documented over 30 different practices in the communities we work with in the High Atlas. Let’s introduce you to a few…
Tawala n anrar, translated as “Threshing in turns”, is the management system for threshing (a practice to separate the grain or seeds from hay in cereals and or other crops). Once the cereal is harvested and dried on rooftops, members of the community collaborate for the threshing of each other’s grain production. This activity requires a number of donkeys and mules, each contributed by the participating households.
Astour is an Amazigh word that refers to the practice of building small circular or square enclosures with stones (or branches) to protect fruit trees in home gardens. This practice provides shade for vegetation and increases soil humidity. Astour is also used to protect ash (Fraxinus dimorpha), juniper (Juniperus sp) or oak (Quercus ilex) saplings in grazed areas to promote reforestation.
As in many other agropastoral and indigenous societies, tiwizi is an important practice of solidarity and cooperation for the implementation of tasks that require significant effort and time. Amongst others, key tasks carried out by tiwizi are agricultural activities such as harvesting and threshing, and the cleaning of irrigation canals. However, this traditional non-monetary exchange system is increasingly monetised, and is one example of the commodification of cultural practices.
Toummite is a traditional desert prepared with barley either using flour made from ripe and dried cereal (called simply toummite) or fresh and unripe grains (toummite n azenbou). The grain is washed, dried, grounded and mixed with aromatic plants. This mixture of aromatic plants can include combinations of timija (Mentha suaveolens subsp. timija), lqezbour (Coriandrum sativum), azoukni (Thymus saturejoides), lhelba (Trigonella foenum-graecum), azuka (Tetraclinis articulata), izouran (a set of species used often medicinally), jnjlan (Sesamum indicum), fleyou (Mentha pulegium), and others. It’s delicious!
When driving through the High Atlas you may notice earth structures or houses that are weaved in the mountainous landscapes. These structures are called L aêzib and during grazing periods, herders keep their livestock here at night. During winter, the herds often stay close to the village at the valley bottoms, where temperatures are warmer. L aêzib that are located at higher altitudes may be snowed in during winter, and so these structures are mostly used during summer.
At each location, the herd (mostly goats and sheep) sleep in a specific building that consists of a roofed area (igourar) and an open patio (asguen). Access to summer grazing areas is regulated by customary law and the shepherds of big herds are always men, but both men and women participate in managing the livestock.
Ighrem refers to a stone and mud building constructed in places that are difficult to access, as a measure of protection. Ighrems consist of several rooms and are located close to water sources (aghbalou) necessary to construct the building and irrigate the fields around it. They are used throughout the year to store agricultural production and harvest, mainly alfalfa, cereals, pulses as well as nut and fruit trees. Each family has a room inside the ighrem, which is ascribed randomly.
Aderass (also known as Idersane) are stone walls, build to protect the land and increase agricultural production. They are used to delimit irrigated fields and home gardens, while keeping these areas free from rocks. Aderass can be built with larger rocks below and smaller above during agricultural cycles (seasonally/yearly). They are built individually or with support of tiwizi (see above) when located far from the house.
Azzwui refers to the practice of harvesting fruits, for which people need to climb the trees such as almond, walnut and olive trees). It requires a lot of physical strength and people practicing azzwui use long sticks to reach the fruit and make it fall to the ground. The time for azzwui is coordinated by the douar (village) or community if fields are shared, to ensure the order in which the fruit harvest proceeds.
Each landowner has a specific date for their harvest. The olive harvest (as shown above) proceeds in two ways: fruits that have naturally fallen to the ground are constantly harvested and those left on the tree are harvested through azzwui in January.