A small but significant revolution is underway amidst the golden wheat-covered hills of the Moroccan municipality of El Brechoua, 60 kilometers from Rabat. The fields of wheat extending as far as the eye can see do not belong to the local residents, though at times they labor for the big landowners who cultivate for profit. The villagers do not own land and are not farmers. In the past they raised livestock, but the droughts in the 1980s and ‘90s decimated their herds, forcing them to abandon the pastures and move a few kilometers from El Brechoua to form a new settlement around a source of water, called Lambarkien.
It’s hard to imagine a happy ending for these formerly nomadic people, now settled illegally in this grain-producing region. The luckiest managed to find work in the intensive wheat cultivation sector. The monoculture relies on the use of chemical fertilizers on a large scale, polluting the water table and the spring around which the village was founded. At the bottom of the valley, a small river clogged with algae testifies to the excessive use of nitrogen, applied indiscriminately in order to maximize yields. In contrast to a general reversal of trends in agriculture, here crop rotation is not even taken into consideration. Legumes could be used to naturally enrich the soil, or at the very least the nitrogenous fertilizers could be managed in a way that takes into account their actual absorption by the wheat.
In 2013, however, things began to change. It seems that a member of parliament decided to invest in wheat production and rented some nearby land through SODEA (the state agency that manages government-owned property through the “Green Morocco” plan). During the period of work in the fields, the politician employed men from other villages, leaving the people of Lambarkien without job prospects. After the villagers held a protest against this decision, the parliamentarian threatened to have the village, located illegally on government land, torn down. This threat created a spirit of solidarity in the community, and its members began to mobilize. Another, larger protest was held and the village now has the support of a national and international network and has launched a plan based on the creation of food gardens.
Each family has created their own food garden on their own plot of land, based on agroecology and permaculture training provided initially by Slow Food Morocco and RIAM (a network of argroecological initiatives in Morocco). Other associations have now joined in: the Mohammed VI association and the Eden ecotourism association of Rabat, which offers guided tours and picnics in the area for its members, plus many others. In just a few months, the villagers have gone from facing the threat of their village being demolished to having a new source of potable water and electricity, installed by the utilities company REDAL. Two cooperatives have been started (an association of modern farmers and an agricultural cooperative of Brechoua women) as has the Slow Food Had Brechoua Convivium, part of a strong locally based and collectively focused dynamic.
The number of visitors from Rabat is on the rise, as is the number of gardens, which provide the local families with fresh vegetables that previously had to be bought at the market. The village women have started to produce and sell Beldi chickens and eggs (a free-ranging local Moroccan breed) through the cooperative, as well as bread and different types of couscous. One delicious variety is made from Brechoua lentils. The women sell the village produce and their cooked dishes to the visitors who come from Rabat on increasingly numerous organized tours, which combine an enjoyable day in the countryside with a spirit of solidarity towards the inhabitants and their initiatives. The men and women of the village are now participating in an outburst of appropriation and capitalization of the same land on which they lived precariously for 20 years. The rural and urban worlds have been joined together in a pact of mutual collaboration which has the advantage of inspiring, in different but complementary ways, a reflection on the importance of the land and its fruits.
Lambarkien’s 50 gardens are now part of the 10,000 Gardens in Africa network, while the different types of couscous made by the women’s cooperative can be sampled not only in Brechoua, but also in Rabat, at the city’s first Chefs’ Alliance restaurant, Ch’hiwates du Terroir.