Monday, June 03, 2013

Morocco's National Parks and Enclosure

Right now I'm reading the edited volume Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa, which includes some interesting chapters on the region's environmental history, and growing field with clear importance for understanding its contemporary economy, society and culture.  In one chapter, Diana Davis talks about the development of national parks in North Africa.  Here is a bit about Morocco:
In Morocco...the two original national parks from the French colonial period - Toubkal and Tazekka - still exist and eight new parks have been established...The Moroccan government established three-quarters of these new parks - including Iriqi, Talassamtane, Ifrane, Haut Atlas Oriental, Khenifra, and Khenifiss - in areas long perceived as problematic for overgrazing or pastoral incursions.  Khenifiss National Park is located between Tan Tan and Tarfaya, at the border with the occupied Western Sahara.  It is in a coastal pastoral era that has obvious geopolitical significance to the Moroccan government, as does the planned national park deep within the Western Sahara at Dakhla.  The Moroccan state has long been preoccupied with the control of nomads in this area.  The creation of these new parks, then, must be considered not only in light of the Moroccan government's stated interest in environmental protection but also in the context of its political interests in retaining the Western Sahara and controlling nomads who are seen as a threat to national security.
The colonial national parks law in Morocco was abrogated in 2008 with a new law regulated protected areas, including national parks.  The primary goals of nature protection in Morocco now include "sustainable development," protecting biodiversity, and conserving natural and cultural heritage - in addition to the earlier goals of tourism and preventing ecological degradation.  The new law includes significantly elevated fines and penalties for violations.  Eighty percent of national parks in Morocco are located in seasonal or drought pasture areas important to different pastoral groups, and the prohibition on even passing through these areas has impoverished their way of life.  While the enforcement of rules prohibiting grazing and gathering firewood, for example, is said to be far from perfect, fines are frequently levied and are often very high.
Here is a 2008 account of life near Tazekka National Park by a Peace Corps volunteer. It is clearly a poor area, which Davis ties in part to the fact natural resources once available for subsistence purposes have been placed off limits.  The defense of this national park policy would be the existing land use was unsustainable, but Davis's, which builds on her book, is that such conclusions about the sustainability of North African land use practices were introduced in Algeria by the French in alliance with their colonial interests, and are actually wrong, depending in part on long-standing urban assumptions about nomadic life.

If this is correct, then the creation of such nature reserves in the absence of economic growth capable of providing alternative livelihoods is definitely questionable.  However, I wonder if population size matters here.  There are simply more people than there were a century ago, and that is exactly the kind of thing that can lead to over-taxing resources even if you are just following practices that were perfectly sustainable with smaller populations.  That said, there is clearly a scientific issue in here which I am not qualified to answer.

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