Medicinal plants empower women and save oases in Morocco


Women working in a field in Morocco
Oases constitute a natural vegetative and microclimatic barrier against the encroachment of the desert. Photo: UNDP Morocco

The women of the Ksar Tizagharine Oasis in the Errachidia Province in Morocco used to depend on their husbands, fathers or sons. "Today, the opportunity to travel and to participate in training courses and exchanges gives us a little more self-confidence every day," said Lkbira, president of the Annama Association for the Development of Rural Women.

The Association, founded in April 2012, has received support from the Tafilalet Oases Sustainable Land Development Programme, initiated by UNDP. The aim of the programme, implemented in cooperation with the Government and with UN Women, is to combat desertification and poverty through the conservation and development of oases.

Highlights

  • Medicinal and aromatic plants make it possible to fight poverty and desertification because of their high economic yield and low water requirement.
  • Nearly 1,500 farmers have been trained in good practices for harvesting wild plants, and four species have been evaluated for commercial production.
  • Four targeted communes received support in establishing a municipal information system integrating gender, enhanced by indicators for vulnerability and for climate-related disaster and risk reduction.

Oases constitute a natural vegetative and microclimatic barrier against the encroachment of the desert and play a major social, ecological and economic role. Yet, already weakened by climate disruption, the oases are also threatened by poor management of water resources and inappropriate agricultural practices.

The women of the oases are particularly affected, due to insufficient access to resources and land ownership. Yet in area where 90 percent of economic activity is derived from agriculture, they have valuable know-how in the area of propagation by cutting, plot maintenance and harvesting. Capitalizing on this potential, the programme promotes the creation of women's groups and associations for the processing and development of local products.

That’s why Lkbira and a group of 38 other women who were determined to achieve financial independence made medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) their flagship. Traditionally run by men, the sector is extremely lucrative in Morocco: almost 400 species are known for their medicinal and/or aromatic uses and for their development potential, particularly for export.

These plants are especially abundant in arid and desert areas, due to their low water requirements. Their economic profitability is higher than traditional crops, and products derived from medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) provide many job opportunities.

"By learning to cultivate saffron, we acquired know-how. We visited places we would never have gone to; we participated in exhibitions; we shared experiences with many associations and cooperatives," said one of the women of the association.

Association members were able to make contact with national distribution platforms, signing two major contracts for the production and delivery of MAP products.

In order to maintain production and the achievements of the project, an MAP economic interest group was set up as a pilot model for climate change adaptation. Four communes targeted by the project received support in establishing a plan and a municipal information system integrating gender, enhanced by indicators for vulnerability and for climate-related disaster and risk reduction.

Another UNDP project promotes the integration of biodiversity into the MAP value chain by developing skills and market access while ensuring the sustainability of production. Four target species – rosemary, thyme, oregano and pyrethrum – were categorized and assessed for conservation and production. In addition, a guide to best practices and MAP collection was published in French and Arabic, and 64 theoretical and practical training sessions were organized for nearly 1,500 MAP harvesters.

As for the Annama Association, it has succeeded in acquiring a hectare of land, a right usually reserved for men in the oasis. In a few years, it hopes to acquire another plot of land, professionalize the production of MAPs on its site, forge additional partnerships and extend its experience to neighbouring oases and villages.

"Through the [project], we met women who make date coffee. It inspired us to produce it as well, in addition to aromatic plants. Now we would like to learn French so that we can be on the Internet”, concludes one of the members.

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