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Advancing Participatory Democracy in Essaouira Province

Updated: Jul 20

By Lynn Sheppard Program Manager, Essaouira Province

HAF is very proud to be the recipient of an additional grant from the National Endowment for Democracy to transfer the type of training we have implemented in the community in Al Haouz Province to Essaouira Province, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast.

In order to ensure a broad geographical coverage, we plan to hold community meetings in three key locations across the Province. As Essaouira is the only city of any significant size, the inhabitants of the Province live largely in rural areas and gain their income from agricultural activities. To reach these people, it is necessary to get out of the city and meet them in proximity to where they live.

The city of Essaouira sits on an ethnic, cultural and geographical boundary between Arab, Berber and – formerly – Jewish tribes. North of Essaouira is the Chiadma area. The Chiadma tribe is Arabic-speaking and settled between Safi and Essaouira, along the Atlantic Coast, between the 13th and 15th centuries. South of Essaouira, towards Agadir, is the region of the Haha, an Amazigh (Berber) ethnic group belonging to larger Chleuh group who speak Tashelhit. Not only are these regions linguistically and culturally different, but their geography and therefore their agricultural practices also differ.

Our training consists of six main modules:

  1. Introduction to participatory approaches and facilitation.

  2. The importance of organic cultivation and commercialization of fruit and plants, value-added production, and the greater financial returns set to be reinvested into new local projects in education, health, and business development.

  3. The global importance of Cooperatives and successful examples, introducing concepts of labor unions and organized civil associations among agriculturalists and community members, and building tools for advocacy.

  4. Technical elements involved in creating Cooperatives, including by-laws, governance, financial management, and systems of good governance.

  5. Community elements involved in Cooperatives, where the participants problem-solve, negotiate the process of bringing individuals and groups together for a common purpose and managing needs and interests, and become familiar with potential partners.

  6. Implementation training and evaluation.

We are currently working with a group of six local people – three men and three women – to develop the content of these training sessions, using materials developed by HAF, by partners and from other sources. Our 6 trainee trainers are all engaged, dynamic actors in civil society. They will work together in pairs: one man, one women; one experienced, one less so. In this way, we can build individual capacities, strengthen the leadership skills of these individuals and ensure comprehensive transmission of the training modules to the local community members.

On Monday 26 May, Project Manager, Rakia, and I visited the Environmental Education Center in Smimou. Smimou is a key town in the Haha region. The center is attached to the Sidi Bouskri school and was created through a partnership with the British Council and an English school. It is a great resource, providing hands-on, interactive education to children and adults on various aspects of environmental conservation and rural life. It is the perfect location for our training courses and we look forward to working with the Mr Ait Zaouit, the Director.

On Wednesday 28 May, I went with Hassan – one of our trainee trainers – in a grand shared taxi to Talmest. Talmest is the main town in the Chiadma region and plays a function as a regional hub for the rural communes which surround it. Here, we met the helpful staff at the centre run by the newly-created Regional Agricultural Council (ONCA), who took us to meet the Basha and Caïd (local representatives of the Governor in Essaouira). They told us of the need for capacity building in the area – many associations had been created but were inactive and there was potential for greater implementation of revenue-generating projects to promote local produce and stimulate economic development. We are looking forward to working with them, the ONCA staff and the Delegation of Youth and Sport to hold our meetings and training sessions in the Dar Chabab (Youth Club) in Talmest.

Typically, the Chiadma area is more fertile, being served by several rivers such as the Oued Talmest and Oued Tensift which run across lowland plains before reaching the sea. Agricultural activity is based around olive, milk and beef production. The more arid and mountainous Haha region is known principally for its argan oil and goat herding, which is leading to some niche cheese products.

Our training aims to empower rural people across the 52 communes of the Province, including in the greater Essaouira area and along the axis from Essaouira towards Marrakech. For this central region, inland from Essaouira we will hold meetings and training at CREPA, the Regional Agricultural training centre in Ounagha. The aim is that the training will give them the skills they need to participate in HAF projects and design human development and income-generating projects with the civil society organizations in their own areas. Our hope is that the 20 most engaged participants in the training will receive further coaching to become local facilitators to act as a kind of intermediary between the local networks of CSOs, government bodies and other donors to identify needs and stimulate development at the local level.

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