The Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism

Learning from Morocco and Italy: exchange visits on restoration

Year published: 13/12/2022

In 2022, the International Association for Mediterranean Forests (AIFM) and key local partners coordinated exchange visits between Morocco and Italy, under the umbrella of the Mediterranean regional component of the International Climate Initiative (IKI)-funded project “The Paris Agreement in Action”. 

The aim of the exchange was to allow Italian and Moroccan experts working on the restoration of degraded land to observe and discuss best practices and experiences in the field with other members of the Mediterranean forestry community. The visits provided an opportunity for them to see restoration activities on the ground, implemented through landscape, multidisciplinary and participatory approaches.  

During the first part of the exchange, three Italian restoration experts from the Mediterranean Model Forest Network travelled to Morocco from 23 to 27 May 2022, to visit the Talassemtane and Ifrane National Parks. 

The Talassemtane National Park (PNTLS) covers an area of 58 950 hectares (ha) of land with unique biodiversity, remarkable landscapes and rich cultural heritage. Due to the highly diverse flora that grows on varied bedrocks under a rainy and mild climate, this area stands out as the most original entity of the Rif mountain range, or even of the whole of Morocco. The experts learned about the experience of Moroccan colleagues with silvicultural management of Abies marocana, focused on stand conservation, in the context of the RESTOR’MED FORESTS project. This project established a pilot site for post-fire restoration in 2015, when a mixed stand of Moroccan fir and maritime pine was destroyed by fire. The pilot area was restored by removing residual woody material, preparing the soil with holes and subsequently planting maritime pine. The Italian experts also visited a PNTLS site where land-use change and deforestation are a growing problem. Through the participatory approach implemented as part of the RESTOR’MED FORESTS project, awareness is being raised among the local population of the importance of the forests for the area and their own well-being. Local associations have been involved in reforestation and management, with participants receiving compensation for their activities. 

The Ifrane National Park is in the Middle Atlas mountain range and is part of the Atlas Cedar Biosphere Reserve, where also AREBICA association operates. It was created in 2004 and expanded in 2008 to cover approximately 125 000 ha. The main species present are Atlas cedar, holm oak, maritime pine and thuriferous juniper. The area is under severe anthropic pressure, especially from overgrazing and overexploitation of the forest. One of the park’s main activities is therefore to cooperate with the sylvopastoral management association (SPMA) to develop a pastoral plan in collaboration with the local population. Another important activity is environmental education and ecotourism (monkey watching). The Italian and Moroccan experts visited a cedar forest, part of the Ifrane Model Forest, located on the edge of a fenced grazing area. The Ifrane Model Forest covers an area of approximately 116 000 ha, with cedar, holm oak, maritime pine, thuriferous juniper and zeen oak as the main forest species. About 15 to 20 years ago, Atlas cedar seedlings were replanted, which have generally taken root well. This example shows how, in contexts where cedar is spontaneously present, the suspension of grazing can lead to natural regeneration. The experts visited the SPMA, which manages flocks of approximately 20 000 sheep on a grazing area of about 15 000 ha, half of which is forest. The traditional grazing cycle can no longer be maintained, and grazing activity is now permanent. With the support of women members, the SPMA has dedicated 30 ha of pasture to growing lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) to provide an alternative income for women and their families. Another activity implemented is the sowing of herbaceous species. Seed collection was carried out directly by a group of SPMA women members in an area close to the cedar forest.

The second part of the exchange took place from 24 to 28 October 2022 and involved a visit by Moroccan experts to the Montagne Fiorentine Model Forest in Italy, which is also part of the Mediterranean Model Forest Network. Montagne Fiorentine Model forest aims to improve the integration and sustainability of forest and land management. It increases awareness of the social and economic components that directly or indirectly shape the surrounding landscape. It aims to develop local products, product commercial distribution and marketing, natural resources, tourism and local cultural heritage, while ensuring environmental, social and economic sustainability.  

The exchange involved an intensive tour in Tuscany, where the experts visited the following sites and activities: 

  • the Granatha LIFE project which promotes the restoration of shrub-invaded heathlands by prescribed burning and the management of Erica scuparia for local and artisanal broom production, thus improving local livelihoods and enhancing the local landscape and natural resources with the involvement of citizens, artisans and farmers; 
  • the restoration of a forest destroyed by a windstorm in 2015 with Abies alba plants through grafting; 
  • the training centre for the prevention of forest fires, “La Pineta”, and the demonstration sites for prescribed burning as a traditional local forest and land management method, and other preventive measures;  
  • post-fire restoration activities after a forest fire in Calci, near Florence; 
  • the Cafaggio district heating plant, which operates strictly in conjunction with the sustainable management of forest resources; 
  • the chestnut forest and vineyard value chains at the landscape level, whose sustainable and integrated management is a key source of revenue for the region; and 
  • dissemination and outreach activities at the Vallombrosa arboretum and the sharing of technical and scientific outcomes with the general public.

Valentina Garavaglia