By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Global Diversity Foundation

As with most of our partners, COVID-19 deeply impacted our (field) work due to long-lasting lockdown restrictions. At the High Atlas pilot site, the Global Diversity Foundation tried to use this desk time wisely, and together with local partner Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association, launched a new resource: the High Atlas Biocultural Database. This database, the result of years of research carried out through the High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme, can be used to search for plants that grow and are being used in the Moroccan High Atlas. “This integrative and living biocultural database will be of great use for researchers as well as anyone else interested in learning about the rich biological and cultural diversity in the Moroccan High Atlas region. Seeing this multifaceted effort come to light to the public is a great pleasure and delight,” says Ugo D’Ambrosio, GDF Scientific and Technical Advisor. 

In addition, we developed and distributed a colourful booklet that features local and useful plant products selected by local students in different regions in the High Atlas, including Imegdal, Aït M’hamed and Ourika. The “Amazigh Household Basket” booklet also features beautiful drawings produced by these students, including olive trees, corn, cherries, carrots and thyme and is available for download here

Photo credit: A student in Dar Taliba Ourika shows her olive tree drawing in the Amazigh Household Basket booklet – by Pommelien da Silva Cosme, GDF

Despite COVID-19, local community researchers have continued to cultivate endemic, valuable and threatened plant species at community plant nurseries in Imegdal, Aït M’hamed and Oukaïmeden. Earlier this year, we distributed 24,900 medicinal and aromatic plants to 517 families in the High Atlas. These plant distributions help reintroduce selected species back to the wild, enhance rural incomes and decrease harvesting pressure on wild populations, which the community often heavily depend on for their livelihoods. 

More recently, our team was finally able to return to the field and started carrying out research with local community members in Oukaïmeden on their traditional pastoral land management system, also known as agdals.

Photo credit: A local community member is interviewed on the agdal system in Oukaïmeden – by Youssef Rochdi

Meet #MedFoodHero Ambassador: Renato Álvarez

Renato Álvarez was born into a “neo-rural” family who were trailblazers of organic farming in Andalusia. They were also members of the first social movements and associations dedicated to the production and organic food. Since he was little he was involved in agriculture until he decided to study Environmental Sciences at the Pablo de Olavide University (Seville).

Meet #MedFoodHero Ambassador: Fábio Bernadino

Fábio Bernardino is a Chef, the CEO of Travel & Flavours, a teacher, gastronomic consultant, trainer and event organizer; a young Chef whose excellence opened the doors to major Portuguese hotels and restaurants, like the Pestana Hotéis & Resorts group or the Heritage Lisboa Hotels, where he left his mark of professionalism and rigour. With a great passion for cooking, and especially for pastry, he started his career at the age of 14, when he attended the Professional Cooking and Pastry Course of the Lisbon Hotel and Tourism School.

Meet #MedFoodHero Ambassador: Alfredo Sendim

Alfredo Cunhal Sendim was born in Porto and spent his childhood between Lisbon (the city), Montemor-o-Novo (the countryside) and Ferragudo (the sea). Studied veterinary and zoo technical. In 1990 he moved to the Monte of Herdade do Freixo do Meio, a territory where, step by step, he has been developing a structural project in the agricultural and social field.

Meet #MedFoodHeroes Ambassador: Sahar Elhallak

Nine years ago, Sahar left her home in California and landed in Morocco in a quest to find herself. While she started a new life in Marrakech, she found some challenges to find restaurants that catered to vegetarians like herself. Since she always enjoyed hosting dinner parties and food-related fundraising events, she started cooking for friends which grew into welcoming people into her beautifully restored hundred-year-old house, for unique culinary experiences.

Meet #MedFoodHeroes Ambassador: Najat Kaanache

Born to Moroccan parents in a small town near San Sebastian in Spain, Najat Kaanache has been cooking at home since childhood. Now based between the US, Mexico and Morocco. She now creates magic in the kitchen as the owner and chef of the beautiful restaurant Nur in the ancient medina of Fez, named World’s Best Moroccan Restaurant in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She also opened CÚS (a Moroccan bistro in the heart of Mexico City) and Nacho Mama (a funky Mexican cantina in the medina of Fez).

Meet #MedFoodHeroes Ambassador: Driss Mellal

Driss Mellal was born in a small town in the south of Morocco, near the beautiful Dades valley. His love for cooking started at the age of 20, when he was in art school in southern France. He missed Moroccan food and flavours and so started cooking and experimenting himself. After graduating from art school, he didn’t work in the arts as planned, but instead went to culinary school. “I finally got to combine my art background with new cooking skills, and it became the start of a new life for me,” Driss says.

Sheep to Combat Climate Change

Asociación Trashumancia y Naturaleza collaborated with the city council of Madrid to organise the annual Fiesta de la Trashumancia Madrid 2019 (Transhumance Festival)—which saw 1800 sheep and 200 goats pass through the centre of Spain’s capital city. The event, now in its 26th year, was successful in creating awareness on the importance of maintaining this ancestral practice of which Spain is a global example and that is a very valuable tool in the fight against climate change and rural depopulation, among other benefits.

Travelling with Birds

In September last year, we set out to observe and learn about migratory birds and their flight paths. Joined by local and international bird experts, we worked alongside the Hima Hammana community to observe the birds that flew overhead, while learning from the experts about bird monitoring processes.