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Empowering Women with Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EWTEK (Empowering Women with Traditional Ecological Knowledge)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2018-05-31

Morocco depends largely on external financial aid (World Bank, UNDP, IFAD, ABD, GEF, GIZ, EU) to support its socio-economic development and seek to alleviate poverty and combat social exclusion. Despite incoming budgets and programs, the country’s performance remains poor to fulfil human capacities and potential. Rural women living in isolated villages are particularly poorly integrated in Moroccan society. Rural women however, are the gatekeepers of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) linked to natural resource management. They contribute to producing and securing food, manage natural resources, and are able to earn an income through these activities; largely undermined. Using an original interdisciplinary approach of ethnobiology, development studies and geography, the overall goal of the EWTEK project was to identify factors that allow women to gain empowerment, social status through TEK and its integration in income generating activities (IGA), in the initiatives of the Green Morocco Plan (GMP). The analysis of the political framework and strategies of the GMP vs an in-depth ethnographic analysis of the social cultural content of the communities revealed key factors that impeded the development of initiatives at village level. The ethnographic documentation of the women’s traditional knowledge and the transfer of traditional skills to IGA has major implications for women’s social status and socio-economic development. With a Shift on priorities, and focus on a bottom up approach collaborating with the local authorities, this new concept of development can create major impacts. It provides a unique opportunity to:

1. Advance the social recognition of women employed as a labor force in cooperatives, as their traditional knowledge skills are hardly recognized but play a vital part in product development.
2. Advance socio-economic development and traditional knowledge as a tool for participation, enrolment for IGA to trigger the women’s empowerment.

The EWTEK project is auspicious at a time when issues of poverty and socio-economic exclusion persist in the country. It is expected that these results will permeate the policy making realm and influence the Moroccan political agenda for a gender “rural traditional dimension” be integrated to improve the conditions of rural women.
In the US (2015- 2017), I followed courses on development theory-strategies, global development and environment issues and numerous seminars and panel discussions. These were relevant to my research and related to gender, agricultural and food security, value chains, development and political issues; it broadened my understanding of development and political issues. I taught “Environment and Society” to a large class of Sophomore students in 2016. I included vital perspectives of ethnobiology relating to natural resource management, value chains, indigenous knowledge, and social justice. My research permits were granted for field work in 2016, and I completed my field study successfully. I identified key factors that impede the success of the initiatives of the Green Morocco Plan. I then showed my work extensively at seminars and round tables at the University of Illinois (UIUC) and at conferences in India, Mexico and Canada. A policy brief was published for a special series of the Centre Jean Monnet Research of Excellence at the European Union Centre (UIUC); and a full policy report to the Foundation in Morocco with whom I worked. I informed them of key concerns likely to impact the future course of the initiatives in the province/other regions of the country. I conducted workshops at the University of Illinois and drafted articles and a book chapter for publication. I also advised PhD students at the Department of Geography and became a committee member of a MSc student who conducted research on urbanisation and participatory approaches in Morocco. I also designed a course syllabus on ethnobiology, geography and development studies based on my research.

At ISS during 2017 and 2018, I followed courses and attended several seminars and panel discussions, relating to issues of land access, farmers' and women’s struggle for political rights and representation. It showed that these issues are widely encountered and that the communities’ powerlessness when facing these intrinsic pressures as well as external demands emerging from an increasingly globalised world. This has reinforced my sense of activism and advocacy to help the communities with similar issues in my own work. I also attended the “EU for Facts Evidence Policy Post Fact World” Conference at the European Commission in Brussels. I learnt that that it is increasingly essential to provide clear evidence in research to be able to influence policies and make successful impacts. I attended several capacity building workshops for NGOs in Morocco and in The Hague. This gave me the opportunity to bring my experience on the lack of communities’ active participation, and the need for establishing solid mechanisms that foster accountability and transparency. I also taught “Ethnobotany and Development: “What do we have to gain or lose?” at the Department of Horticulture, Aromatic and Medicinal Plants (HAMP), at the University of Mizoram and gave a lecture “Ethnobotanical and traditional aspects for uplifting the social status of rural communities” at the Department of Botany at the University of Lucknow. I also visited the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic plants (CIMAP) and the National Botanical Research Institute. Both institutes conduct cutting edge research on aromatic and medicinal plants and development of botanical products and offer major opportunities for collaboration for my own work. I also learned of the Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) of the Nagoya Protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity in India; many people are able to benefit today. The results of my research will be available in two major journals: the Journal of Human Ecology and the Women's Studies International Forum.
The EWTEK project has identified several major key factors that jeopardise the “empowerment” of women within the initiatives of the Green Morocco Plan.
These include:
• A lack of authorities’ consultation, women’s participation exacerbated by geographical isolation, a lack of decent infrastructures and inadequate facilities for project enquiry.
• Lack of political representation and accountability to higher authorities by which the local populations could demand guidance and support for initiatives
• Lack of women’s participation in decision-making processes although prescribed by the Moroccan government
• Lack of recognising the traditional knowledge as a key instrument for triggering women’s social enterprise
• Lack of recognition of the traditional skills associated with vital processes of product development. This can have major implications for women with the article 8 of the Nagoya Protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The EWTEK project is timely. GIZ is currently working on implementing the Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) at government level which has not yet been fully ratified. However, this is in progress as many parameters have to be taken into account. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), can then be implemented once ABS funding mechanisms for the local communities has been developed and enforced. Only then will the implementation of IPR be possible.