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The Native Perspective, Episode 5: Amazigh

The Native Perspective is a Food Circle project that discusses taking urgent climate change action in order to protect indigenous peoples who depend on their natural environments for survival, food, shelter, and to maintain their cultural identity. Because climate change affects those who rely on nature the most, it is crucial to support indigenous communities worldwide which in turn ensures the preservation of ecosystems, as indigenous peoples have developed a balanced rapport with their natural surroundings and there is much knowledge to be gained from their lifestyles for more sustainable living. The dialogue also draws talking points from ecocriticism; it examines people’s attitudes towards nature, and indigenous studies; centering and elevating the voices of different indigenous cultures and promoting their experiences. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Amazigh: The People and History

For more than two millennia, the coasts, vast Sahara, and green mountains of North Africa have been occupied by semi-nomadic desert dwellers called the Amazigh. Sometimes called Berber, a name given to them by ancient Greeks and Romans, the Amazigh have been included in recorded history for more than three thousand years. The Amazigh live in the North African countries of Morocco and Algeria, where they are mostly populated, but smaller populations can also be found in Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania, as well as populations who have immigrated to France and Belgium. With no proper survey, the Amazigh population is estimated to be around 36 million people, with 35 to 60 percent of the population in Morocco being Amazigh, and 15 to 33 percent in Algeria. Many of the Arab-identifying people living in North Africa have Amazigh ancestry, which makes a more precise estimation of this ethnic population more challenging. Still, Tamazight, the Amazigh language, is spoken by around 14 to 25 million people. [1]

Amazigh cuisine have had a huge impact on modern Moroccan dishes. Local foods such as figs, olives, and dates have been incorporated and traditional Amazigh dishes have made their way into a more widely recognized North African cuisine. [2] As a lifestyle, many Amazigh-identifying people have integrated into urban life, in major cities, where they hold discussion meetings concerning the Amazigh identity in nation-states, utilize the internet to reach a broader community, as well as produce literature, poetry, and music. [3] However, there is a significant population of Amazigh who still live semi-nomadic lives in rural villages in the mountains, rearing animals and depending on them for meat, milk, as well as their skin for tent-making. Raising livestock is managed by the men and boys, while the women handle cooking and handcrafts, which are either kept for personal use or sold in markets. [4]

The Effects of a Changing Climate

With the increased shift in climate, the Amazigh way of life is changing drastically. The most notable is the transition from remote areas to large cities, causing the population in rural villages in the mountains to dwindle. This subsequently affects the overall culture and language of the Amazigh, as they become forced to abandon their traditional way of life and assimilate into city life, and use the metropolitan languages Arabic and French in order to better socialize. [5]

This transition is caused by the radical changes in the climate. In 2011, for example, a storm provoked a flood that devastated crops, roads, and houses in the village of Agoudim, Morocco. The ongoing effects of climate change also means an increase in temperature, erosion, and reduction in rainfall. This is especially harmful to farmers, since agriculture is composed of 44% of the labor force and generates a GDP of 19%. But it also disturbs the day-to-day life of the rural Amazigh population, as it is becoming more difficult to herd cattle, manage small-scale farming, and gather firewood. [6]

The change in climate also affects Morocco’s most distinguished plant: the Argan tree. The tree has a protected status given by the United Nations and, since 2014, is considered to be an intangible cultural heritage by UNSECO. [7] The tree, its fruit, and, especially, oil, is a source of income for many indigenous women and it also contributes to their independence. [8] Moreover, the Argan tree is important for the culture and identity of the Amazigh. Before the protected status, the trees were once under threat of extreme deforestation for wood-harvest. [9] Now, however, their growth and health is afflicted due to global climate change trends, as well as an increased demand for Argan oil. [10]

What’s more, increased direct human activity affects Amazigh villages and settlements. In Imider, Morocco, for example, indigenous people are experiencing the impact of a nearby silver mine, the largest in Morocco. Amazigh activist Linda Fouad states that accessing water has become much more difficult since the mine was established, since “the mine uses 1,555 tonnes of water per day – 12 times the daily consumption of the village,” according to Global Amazigh Congree report from 2015. Activists from the village has successfully stopped around 3 million tons of water from supplying the mine, which has thus increased agricultural production. Still, these activists face hardships and aggressive arrests. [11]

Combating Climate Difficulties

A cooperative founded in 2007 by Nadia Fatmi called Coopérative Tighanimine Filahia aims to provide indigenous women with business opportunities using Argan oil, while combatting the effects of climate change against the tree and its overall natural habitat. This cooperative is multifaceted. Besides the economical gain, the cooperative also helps women who are marginalized through widowhood or divorce, and it has introduced a literacy program as well as family planning. This project is part of 103 initiatives in the Climate Initiatives competition. Moreover, there are discussions regarding reforesting at-risk areas in Morocco within the climate talks in the United Nations. [12]

Throughout the centuries, the Amazigh have demonstrated incredible resistance against forces that would otherwise diminish their existence. Despite these hardships, they have still been able to preserve their culture, language, and traditions. Now, with climate change as an added adversity, they are in the frontline of the struggle to ensure that their natural habitats can survive and for their civilization and identity to thrive.

Author: Rima Qayed


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  1. Berber - New World Encyclopedia

  2. The History & Culture of Moroccan Cuisine | Le Trou Au Mur

  3. Essentially Amazigh: Urban Berbers and the Global Village, Available at:

  4. Berber nomads in Sahara desert: Morocco Top Trips

  5. Indigenous World 2020: Morocco - IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs

  6. The Sahara Desert creeps north | A More Vulnerable WorldA More Vulnerable World (

  7. International Day of Argania | United Nations

  8. Value-added argan oil increasing women’s independence in rural Morocco | UNIDO

  9. This is everything you need to know about the Argan tree | World Economic Forum (

  10. Protecting the argan forests of Morocco (

  11. Morocco: An Amazigh community’s long wait for water rights - Minority Rights Group

  12. How Berber women are fighting desertification - SWI