In late 2018, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, in partnership with the High Atlas Foundation and the University of Central Florida, awarded a small grant to Peter Jacques and Yossef Ben-Meir to conduct a project in Morocco to look at the applicability of sustainable development goals in relation to the Amazigh people of the High Atlas Mountains.
Conducted in two parts, the project began with field work, speaking to a number of different rural groups and
individuals about sustainable development, food and water security, political challenges and opportunities, and overall challenges that Indigenous Amazigh people who live in the High Atlas Mountains face. Sites were selected for collectively organizing to participate in sustainable development projects facilitated by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF). The team interviewed with one women’s cooperative, two men’s associations, and several individuals.
The second phase hosted a conference. The weeklong visit to Marrakech ended with a three-day conference of stakeholders who presented key perspectives ranging from scientists to community organizers and former agricultural government officials.
The project in total resulted in several key conclusions:
- Morocco’s new constitution has allowed for more decentralized organizations to function which have rights to petition the regional administrators and governors. This provides opportunities for severely disempowered Indigenous Amazigh in the High Atlas Mountains, among other groups, to organize and have a formal voice for things that deeply affect their day-to-day survival, their children, and the environment.
- The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, has embraced sustainable development goals (SDGs), which also lend Morocco legitimacy in international circles. This is important because climate change in particular is going to drive changes in the hydrologic cycles that govern the barley and wheat crops— which already vary annually based on whether the rains come. Water was the most consistent threat/key to the future in every discussion. Thus, the tree nurseries that the various associations are planting are very important efforts for the SDGs in Morocco, because they are protecting whole watersheds.
- The Amazigh, an indigenous group of about 14-20 million people in Morocco and to a lesser extent Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. When asked whether they felt disadvantaged because of their ethnicity, people in the focus groups said they did not; however, they did feel highly disadvantaged because they lived in the mountains. Thus, the governments treat urban and rural populations differently, with rural populations largely outside the priority patronage that comes with government services.
- Education is a real challenge, as the school system is incomplete and sometimes makes it difficult for fathers to send their daughters, so the dropout rate after 6th year is high for females.
- Gender is large social factor in Morocco, and each cooperative organization the grantees met with was organized as either a men’s or women’s group. The cooperative model may provide a pathway for further economic empowerment. One woman interviewed was offered a higher-paying wage job, but said she refused it because her stake in the coop was more important and empowering.
- Civil society will be a central force if the lives of the Amazigh are to improve and if the SDGs are pursued in any serious way in Morocco. The cooperative and association members have built a relationship of trust in the communities. One of the main goals of the High Atlas Foundation has been to help communities build collectives that are self-governed so that the people of these groups can say what they want for their lives and their future. One consistent message heard through the discussions was that – while many were living on the edge of survival and faced numerous existential problems—they were in it together. “We are one,” “we are of one family,” “we are together,” and “we love each other” were messages of total solidarity.
In addition to producing a video highlighting the site visitations, the grantees also produced a podcast through the University of Central Florida. Further details about the project and its impact has been released in Op-Eds in numerous English and Arabic outlets.