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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Mitigating desertification in Morocco

For the last several years, experts from the United Nations Industrial Organization (UNIDO) have been working closely with local communities in Morocco to identify ways to reverse the degradation of the rangelands and to boost local livelihoods. These efforts are part of a project which combine institutional and technical activities, and cover more than 3.5 million hectares of land with the aim of restoring and regenerating degraded soils, and optimizing storage and use of rainwater.

The “Participatory project against desertification and for reducing poverty in arid and semi-arid ecosystems in the High Plateaus of Eastern Morocco” is co-funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). It is joint effort between UNIDO and the Government of Morocco.

“The project is in alignment with ongoing national and local initiatives to fight desertification, and to mainstream sustainable land and water management practices for rangeland ecosystems. We provide training in order to develop the capacity of grassroots organizations and help them adopt participatory approaches to improve rangelands, as well as to identify and manage investment opportunities in production systems,” says Jaime Moll de Alba, UNIDO Representative to Morocco.

The High Plateaus region of Eastern Morocco is an ecologically and socio-economically fragile area. Opportunistic short-term use of pastoral resources, combined with traditional rules concerning property and land-use rights, have caused severe deterioration of pastoral ecosystems. Large areas have been stripped of their vegetation, and wind and water erosion are widespread. As a result, desertification has been identified as a major constraint for economic development and poverty reduction in this area.

“To this end, the participatory project in the High Plateaus of Eastern Morocco was initiated to offer a sustainable land and water management approach that provides both environmental and economic benefits to the region,” says Moll de Alba. “In this sense, the participatory approach is rather innovative for it brings together the fights against desertification and poverty.”

He continues, adding that the project has demonstrated concrete achievements. One example is the lushly green areas ploughed by the Vallerani system, a mechanized water harvesting method based on the use of patented ploughs that create a system of ground pits to collect rain water and other organic material. Preliminary results show that the furrows cut by the Vallerani plough have successfully captured and concentrated rainfall, thus providing a microenvironment that encourages the establishment and growth of range species. This method is among the best practices of sustainable land and water management for rangelands ecosystems.

Such technologies, together with other sustainable land and water management interventions such as micro-dam construction, sylvo-pastoral improvement, sand dune fixation and rainwater harvesting, have been successfully implemented in three vast pilot sites of 35,000 ha each.

UNIDO's Moll de Alba believes that “it may be too soon to give a definitive verdict on the success or validity of these technologies, but preliminary results with such a mechanized water harvesting technology show promise for restoring the biodiversity and productivity of large areas of communal rangeland in eastern Morocco. Further monitoring is needed, as is development of improved grazing and land management practices to ensure the long-term benefits of the restoration work.”

By ZHONG Xingfei
Posted March 2014