10. Decolonising Conservation with Samirah Siddiqui from Global Environments Network.

A conversation with conservation biologist, Samirah Siddiqui

In my second novel, Conserve and Control, I wrote about the damaging effects of the conservation industry, albeit a fictional, futuristic one. I’ve been fascinated by conservation since I was very young and I was honoured to recently record this conversation with Samirah Siddiqui from Global Environments Network about her amazing work in conservation biology, her critiques on some of the colonialist aspects of the conservation industry and alternatives she has been witness to.

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Samirah Siddiqui is the Programme Coordinator for the Global Environments Network. Samirah is a conservation biologist, focusing on marine and coastal habitats. Her experience working within human rights, environmental, and social impact organisations, training in life sciences, and experience with art and activism have positioned her focus at the intersection of ecology, social sciences, and art. Her interdisciplinary and anti-colonial perspective is at the centre of her work, which seeks to disrupt silos between art, activism, and academia. Samirah is the Managing Editor for Project Myopia, an online magazine dedicated to decolonising university curricula by crowdsourcing diverse material from students.

Show notes

High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme

Project Myopia

Project Invisibility


Kes Otter Lieffe: Hi, I’m Kes Otter Lieffe and welcome to Margins and Murmurations the podcast. If you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends. As I don’t have social media, this is the best way for people to find out about me. And if you’d like to know more about my work, you can check out otterlieffe.com otter like the animal, L I E F F E, and you can support this podcast at patreon.com/otterlieffe

In my second novel, Conserve and Control, I wrote about the damaging effects of the conservation industry, albeit a fictional, futuristic one. I’ve been fascinated by conservation since I was very young and I was honoured to recently record this conversation with Samirah Siddiqui from Global Environments Network about her amazing work in conservation biology, her critiques on some of the colonialist aspects of the conservation industry and alternatives she has been witness to.

Samirah Siddiqui is the Programme Coordinator for the Global Environments Network. Samirah is a conservation biologist, focusing on marine and coastal habitats. Her experience working within human rights, environmental, and social impact organisations, training in life sciences, and experience with art and activism have positioned her focus at the intersection of ecology, social sciences, and art. Her interdisciplinary and anti-colonial perspective is at the centre of her work, which seeks to disrupt silos between art, activism, and academia. Samirah is the Managing Editor for Project Myopia, an online magazine dedicated to decolonising university curricula by crowdsourcing diverse material from students.

 Kes Otter Lieffe: Samirah! Hello! Hello. I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. I’m so excited.

Samirah Siddiqui: Thank you. Thank you so much for, um, inviting me to speak with you. It’s been a long time coming, so I’m really happy to be here.

K: Of course. Thank you. Um, yeah, so I’ll, I’ll start with my, um, traditional question of, um, where are you and what, um, other than human nature is around you today.

S: So I am in London, in southwest London, in Stratham, specifically at my parents’ home. So I’m in, um, a really comfortable and familiar place. Um, a lot of this place hasn’t changed since I moved, since we first moved here. , um, and which plants and animals and other-than-human nature do I have around me? Um, so, um, there’s quite a few house plants. My, my mum is, um, a house plant obsessive like myself, and I’m sitting in front of a, a, um, a Ficus benjamina. It’s, um, I think it’s called, it’s common name is the weeping fig. There’s an umbrella plant and, um, there’s a cat around here somewhere. Uh, but my favorite, other-than-human, uh, nature around me right now is, uh, the fire. There’s, um, there’s a little fireplace here and mm-hmm. , um, don’t get that in my home in Berlin. So, yeah, being in front of a fireplace makes me feel super cosy.

K: It’s so cosy. Oh my gosh. I really have such an image now of you in front of the fire. It sounds beautiful. With all the little house plants. Hmm.. thank you

S:. Um, what about you? Where, where are you?

K: Ooh. Nobody ever asks me! Um, I am, uh, in south, uh, left. What is that? West of Scotland, uh, in a valley. In front of my window, there’s an Araucaria, like a monkey puzzle tree. Um, and, uh, many, many sheep and crows and ravens. Um, and so many buzzards and, um, funny little waders that I’m not quite sure what they’re doing here, but I saw a wader today, it was like, um, a dunlin or something similar, but like, we’re quite far from the sea. Mm-hmm. . Um, and I have been surrounded by chickens and a hyperactive puppy and some adorable cats. Um, And I’m having the best time. It’s so beautiful here. Any like walk anywhere is just like, oh, what an amazing river. Oh, what a gorgeous waterfall. It’s pretty beautiful. So I’m having a really good time.

S: Wow, that sounds dreamy. So gorgeous

K: It’s like one of these places that you’re like, I can’t really believe this exists. Um, yeah. Every day is just like, oh my gosh, what a view. Um, yeah, I know. It’s really, really good. Um, yeah. So would you like to tell us something about your work and how you got into it?

S: Yes, of course. So, um, I am a conservation biologist. That’s been my training. Um, and I, I work for, um, an environmental NGO. Uh, we work with, uh, environmental change makers around the world and work with them to make, um, flourishing, uh, ecosystems and environments and communities. Uh, it’s, um, we’re, some of our work is it’s, we call ourselves. We’re ‘everythingologists’, um, is because we really believe in systems thinking and, um, holistic approaches and really want to move away from siloed ways of working.

K: Hmm. Right.

S: So, uh, that’s what I do. And I, I also, uh, work for, I work on outreach for an initiative called Project Myopia which works on decolonising education. And, uh, we do that by crowdsourcing narratives directly from students. So if you’re a student and you see something on your, uh, see something that you feel should be on your curriculum. You can write in to Project Myopia, uh, writing about the piece of work. And it can be anything from literature to music, um, to the international human rights convention and talk about, um, Why it should be on your curriculum and, uh, how you engage with it.

And it’s a way of, um, decolonising education with a bottom up approach with the students contributing to the curriculum.

K: Right. Is it quite a new project? Is that what I remember?

S: Project Myopia has been, uh, going for five years. Uh, it, it was, uh, founded, uh, by my dear friend and peer and colleague Rihanna Walcott, um, when she was a student at the University of Edinburgh. Mm-hmm. So it’s been five years now.

K: Amazing. And how’s it going?

S: Uh, it’s going brilliantly. Um, it’s, um, it’s a steady, uh, pace at which we work, um, and that we, we’ve got quite a few exciting articles coming up, contributions from students. Um, and, um, one, um, of the things that I’m most excited about is, um, I, I joined Project Myopia because, um, So at the moment it’s got quite a, uh, big arts and humanities focus. That’s what most of our themes are.

K: Mm-hmm.

S: Um, there are of course a few, uh, alternatives to that as well, but I really wanted to bring in, uh, conservation into this, uh, equation and because I really, I’ve experienced both in practice, in the workplace and also in academia, how, um, siloed and divided, um, the ways of working are.

Uh, especially when, um, there, it, it’s on a topic which there are so many intersections with so many different fields of study or approaches and methods. When I was at university, I always found that there was a bit of a division. Um, so I wanted to bring, uh, conservation, decolonising conservation, into, um, into Project Myopia as well.

K: Mm-hmm. So making those connections that people haven’t been making until now.

S: Yes, absolutely. Um, yeah, I really feel like storytelling and, um, changing the narrative is the most impactful, important, uh, ways of making change. So that, that is the intention, uh, behind it. And, um, one exciting thing that, um, I’ve been bringing together my two worlds of work at Global Diversity Foundation and Project Myopia. Um, so this year, We won, we were one of the winners of, um, there was a call for an innovation challenge for the future of conservation NGOs, um, which was, uh, in partnership with, um, the Luke Hoffman Institute, um, uh, IUCN, um, and an organ, an organisation called Impact Hub. So they issued this challenge and they wanted innovative solutions, uh, for the future of conservation NGOs.

And we pitched to them, um, Project Invisibility, which aims to bring, um, the invisible stories from the front lines of environmental change to the forefront and take them into academia. And it would, we wanted to act as a conduit between frontline environmental change makers and academia where there can be such a divide, you know, with, with, um, with academic institutions being a bit of an ivory tower and we can talk for ages about like, um, uh, universities, you know, universities perpetuate, um, class barriers and um, elitism and universities are also the place where a lot of the, a lot of the knowledge which informs practice is created

K: Right.

S: So the aim is by bringing these narratives and stories from frontline environmental change makers to academia will make for more realistic, uh, solutions, um, to conservation which are rooted in reality rather than, uh, western imaginations. .

K: Right. And I think there’s, um, you mentioned decolonising conservation as a term for people who like, aren’t familiar with that. Could you tell us something about that and like, fortress conservation is something we’ve talked about before as well. Um, yeah.

S: Yes. So I’m, I have something, um, written on this, which I’m gonna just refer to quickly. So, yeah. Um, conservation means, uh, different things to different people. Um, there’s, you know, lots of diverse understandings of why, who, um, how, and what to conserve.

And, um, it might be helpful if I share my definition of, uh, conservation, um, where conservation leadership doesn’t come from, uh, from a, a top down approach, like the leadership must come from different and plural, people and communities who are at the forefront of social and ecological justice. And, uh, most importantly in the locations which are the most impacted by conservation challenges.

So when I talk about decolonising conservation, um, I, I really, truly believe that, um, the solutions come from the people who are, who are at the forefront. And this is historic. There is, um, um, you know, the, the World Bank did this research on, um, Indigenous people where, where they live and where they are, and there’s a, a statistic that where.

Let me find it. Sorry. You might have to edit some of my gappy bits.

K: No worries.

S: Yep. So while, um, Indigenous peoples own occupy or use a, just a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, and they hold extremely important, ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, um, mitigate and, um, reduce climate and disaster risks, and at the same time, um, protecting biodiversity.

So now that we know this, Why aren’t Indigenous peoples and local communities, the ones who are at the forefront of conservation decision making? That is my big question. Why is it that, um, you know, I, I question that about myself as well. Like I live in, um, in between London and Berlin, and frankly, they’re some of the most emaciated ecosystems that you can find.

Um, if, if, if you compare it to where the world’s remaining biodiversity is, so why are people from Europe, um, which is a part of the world, which has way less biodiversity, why are, are the decisions being made by, by people from our part of the world?

K: Hmm.

S: That’s a, a big question that I. . And, uh, the decolonisation aspect is important because we need to, um, to look at, look in the eye, the disproportionate legacy of, uh, Eurocentric knowledge.

And by Eurocentric knowledge, I mean, um, knowledge from Europe, which is, it’s considered the, the most important and the most, um, the, the pinnacle of knowledge. Um, and Indigenous knowledge or knowledge from local communities is considered fringe or alternative or on the side or, or, um, Indigenous knowledge is often seen as mythical or folk law.

K: Right

S: And Eurocentric knowledge is seen as valid enough to be in mainstream education. Um, I, I think that that’s unfair. and there needs to be a rebalance of the domination of European values and belief systems and carve out space for, um, the culture, philosophies and traditions, which has historically been shunned or co-opted by colonialism.

K: Hmm. Yeah, I mean, it seems to me that it like isn’t an accident that that happened as well. I mean, it seems like an integral part of, um, western conservation, like particularly industrial colonial conservation to have like constructed this idea of like wilderness, that this like very beautiful places need to be protected and they need to be protected from people because, um, there were never people there or something.

And it like this idea of fortress conservation, particularly of just like creating these national parks, evicting Indigenous people from the traditional lands. And there’s something, I think there’s like a, that whole construct of, of wilderness was kind of intentional. It’s kind of a land grab. Um, so it’s not that it kind of accidentally happened, I feel like it was just like a direct consequence of colonialism in a way.

S: Absolutely. Um, uh, it’s, it’s very, it’s so rooted with, uh, religion as well, and I would, uh, I would say with Christianity, um, and Islam, I can speak on those two because those are the contexts that are close and familiar to me. But there’s always this, um, concept that, um, mankind is, is the, is is the top, um, animal and the earth, the planet is our playground for our, our taking. And it separates people from nature and yes, exactly as you said, this idea of nature being a wilderness without people mm-hmm. whereas, um, historically that has, that has just, um, never been the case. Um, as, as long as, as humans have been evolving, um, they have been actively shaping the ecosystems that they live in.

And there is so much, uh, evidence of this despite the fact that the, the alternative myth is, um, is perpetuated. So for example, um, the Amazon rainforest, which again is seen as uh, somewhere pristine. Like it’s wild, the, the jungle, the rainforest without people. And, um, the reality was that historically there have been communities living there who have been actively shaping the ecosystem through, um, through methods such as agro forestry, um, and, uh, permaculture.

They all, these are all historic traditions, um, from Indigenous people.

K: Right. So this idea of yeah, this kind of pure and untouched, um, ecosystem just was all based on a myth. I mean, it reminds me also what you were saying about storytelling and, and myth making that I, I feel like that’s been an integral part of the industry as well, so that people can, um, yeah, people in those industries can be, can kind of justify their actions. I mean, I know it’s also a big thing when, uh, people will be like, ah, yeah, but like people are coming and they’re like, burning down the forest, or there’s like poaching and we just need to build the fences higher and that will somehow, somehow solve things rather than actually like getting into the politics of why people might be doing that or might need to do that.

Yeah, I think particularly poaching is, is a big one. When people have been evicted from their lands and they have no other choice but to poach, for example, um, it’s, yeah, it all just seems kind of a self replicating story or something. It’s like, ah, yeah, but look now, now these people are like burning down forest. It all just seems like built on racism that people just like how to protect their own lands or so. .

S: It’s exactly that. And as you are mentioning this, I’m, I’m remembering, um, some research by, um, uh, one of my professors, uh, from, from where I did my masters at, at the Uni of Sussex. So this is Professor James Fairhead. Um, and he did a lot of research in, um, Ghana and Guinea in West Africa. And the situation was exactly as you described. So there were, um, Indigenous peoples in, in Ghana who had a practice of burning back the forest and, um, the, the European, uh, the colonisers who were there at the time saw this and were like, oh, no, what are they doing? Look, they’re destroying the, the forests. Like they’re, they’re burning it. How horrible is this? And they created, they were trying to, um, create fortress conservation. So, uh, putting up walls, fencing off the nature and, and, um, displacing the people who live there, uh, from their ancestral lands. And then, uh, my professor, uh, did uh, ongoing research on this project and they found that the burning back of the forest was, was actually, um, an, an Indigenous methodology of growing the forest. Um, there was a, the small, um, the small term impact of, of burning the forest, but over time it the, that was beneficial for that, that ecosystem and it, the forest would, I can’t remember the specifics of how, um, but the forest would grow back, um, stronger, better, more abundant because of these practices and this method was something that had been being practiced there for, um, a really long time, historically, um, probably hundreds of years. And then when European colonizers came over into an ecosystem that they have very little understanding of, they didn’t understand and therefore they tried to, to ban it.

K: Yeah. It’s again, this idea of like protecting something, conserving something. Without humans imagining that like, I don’t know, that it isn’t a human influenced environment, but it’s like what you’re protecting is already human influenced since the beginning of time. Um, so yeah, just some myths, but it’s also, I mean, I think there’s also like an implicit, um, double standard as well, because often in national parks it’s like, okay, not these people, they can’t be there. Um, but, uh, tourists are fine or researchers are okay. Um, like certain people can be there, colonising people. Uh, but the people who actually created that environment and have been there since the beginning of time cannot. And there’s, it’s just like, it’s just kind of clear, um, that double standard, but it’s something that yeah, isn’t often talked about somehow or at least, um, yeah, in the west.

S: Mm.

K: and I, I remember, um, when we talked last time, there was yeah, um, because you were mentioning like the, uh, how do you call it, environmental change makers? Is that the term you were using?

S: Yes.

K: Um, like on the forefront and who are like being silenced and like not. And obviously like not in that conversation, um, and not being like intentionally marginalised from that, that, uh, conversation. It also reminded me like, yeah, that people did this big research and they discovered that, oh, actually Indigenous people are like part of the land.

And it’s like, wow. I’m pretty sure everybody knew that, um, in a way, and I’m sure those people knew that. And have been like, yeah, resisting colonialism in all of its forms, including conservation. And I remember we had the analogy in the last conversation about, um, like sex worker rights and like nothing about us, without us. This idea of, yeah, sometimes they can be a huge study and people are like, okay, we’ve invested all this money and we’ve done this big research project and we’ve written all these papers and it turns out that, um, criminalising sex work is bad for sex workers and we’re all like, wait? No, really? You did all that work and you could have just asked us.

Um, and I feel like yeah, some of the work you’re doing just sounds like it’s really like reversing that. It’s like, okay, we’re gonna start from there. Like, let’s start with like what people already know and yeah. Break some of those myths in a way.

S: Definitely. Yeah. There’s, there’s always when. There’s always this knee jerk reaction isn’t there when something isn’t under understood or, uh, it’s, it’s too complex. The solution is always ban it, put up a fence around it, um, put them in jail. And it, that’s, that’s always the, been the first mode of, uh, action. Um, and you, you see that. Quite recently as well, like there have been, um, scandals with, uh, organizations such as WWF, um, where they were, um, let, I’m just, uh, collecting my thoughts when I say this right before I like get sued for slander by WWF . Um, so. They would, there are projects on things like, uh, illegal wildlife trade or poaching or, or human uh, wildlife conflict, um, where western NGOs were found to be complicit in helping to police some of those sites.

So they, you know, they would be working with, um, the police or the military or um, or groups, armed groups, basically who were there to, to manage the poachers. And there have been incidents where, uh, Indigenous people and local communities have been killed because of these actions. Um, and so, um, I, I’ve, uh, was reading recently that there, this was a, big case and the, um, the big western NGO in question was actually absolved, um, from it. And they, they managed to not, um, they managed to, to displace the blame basically. Mm-hmm, but that, you know, they were able to absolve their name, but they were still, was still the institution that calling for the, um, the militarisation of, of these areas.

K: Right. Yeah. As you say, there’s the knee jerk reaction of like, criminalise thing. Um, I feel like it’s also, it can be a strategic one and in that case, I’m not sure, but like, it reminds me of like hate crime law, that that’s often like when people learn anything about, I don’t know, like a transphobic attack in Berlin or something. The first reaction that a lot of, um, I, I dunno if a lot of people, but a lot of people with a lot of power, um, will come up with this. Like, okay, yeah, we just need more hate crime laws. That’s, that’s the solution to this thing. We’re not gonna look at anything systemic. We’re not gonna look at transphobia, we’re not gonna look at any kind of institutional, we’re not gonna look at anything intersectionally at all. Um, what we probably need is more people in cages and more criminalisation. And if that happens to be in a neighbourhood where we were criminalising people anyway then or for the better. And I feel like it’s all just kind of, um, quite uh, strategic in a way. It’s like, okay, well this is a great solution because this is what we wanted to do anyway. And if, um, it means that, um, western NGOs can occupy a bit more land and, um, criminalise the people that they wanted to criminalise anyway on some level, then, uh, it kind of works. .

S: Exactly, because with criminalising something comes more surveillance, more policing, right? Mm-hmm. , uh, more arms. Um, Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting, isn’t it? How all, um, roads point to that one for, um, in good old capitalism.

K: Absolutely. And yeah, I mean, I, yeah. Conserve and Control, I just, what I’m thinking about. Why I put those two words together, it it does, it is like it’s part of a package and it’s easy to kind of, I don’t know. I’ve often felt, when I was learning about these things for the first time, I was like, oh, so it just kind of went wrong, obviously, like the intention was good, but you know, it just got a bit messy or something.

Or it’s just like something went a little bit awry. It’s like, no, this was maybe the plan all along, in fact. Um, and yeah, I’m kind of like quite cynical about it, I guess. I’m often just like, no, that sounds like colonialism. That, that seems like that would fit that, that whole project really well.

S: Yeah, you and me both, Kes. Sounds like it. Yeah. It’s, it’s a, um, becomes a manufactured crisis, right?

K: Mm. Yeah. But there are, um, Movements to actually, um, conserve non-human nature and human nature and all the rest. So like what, what are the alternatives to this trash, fire of the conservation industry. Like what are the good stuff? I think, I feel like you, you are the person to know about those things.

S: So, um, one of the, um, The solutions and alternatives that we’ve been, um, practicing at our work is working, um, on cultural landscapes.

So that means looking at a, a landscape and the cultures being indivisible, they come hand in hand and, um, we at Global Diversity Foundation, where I work, one of our most active field programs is in the High Atlas Mountains, where we work with, uh, we work with rural communities to, um, not just revitalise their traditional practices, uh, but sustain their livelihoods and restore nature.

So, um, for example, in, um, in Morocco, in the High Atlas, um, there is a nomadic community called ???. And they, um, for hundreds of years, this, these nomadic pastoral, uh, communities practice something called transhumance, which, um, is practiced in loads of parts of the world. Uh, we we’re looking more around, um, um, in the Mediterranean. Um, but it’s a practice of taking your, your grazing animals and, um, working with the land and in ensuring that, um, the biodiversity that, that is there, that the plants, the botany, um, is. it is, is there, it’s, it’s fed on by the animals and it’s, it’s maintained in that way. And so it continues, uh, to be present for, um, future generations of nomadic, pastoralists as well.

So we, um, work on biocultural diversity and we document and, um, conserve the in in conservation in the Moroccan High Atlas and. Also working with, uh, local communities and Indigenous, uh, communities there to, uh, create vibrant economies, alternative economies which are not extractive, which, um, practice things such as take what you need, leaving, leaving behind, um, most of, of the, the plant life, the wildlife there so that it continues to be present for future generations.

K; That’s amazing. I think the economic part is such an important element as well, that like, yeah, in terms of like sustainability, in terms of, and, and just in so many ways that all makes sense. Like it’s really kind of, it felt, sounds really integrated, like kind of doing all the things that need to be done.

It’s not just kind of reducing it down to just like one element that someone cares about. It’s like making it kind of connected in the way that the things that we were talking about before are not connected. Is that right?

S: Hmm. Yeah. It, it, it is, it also connected because these, this isn’t just biodiversity conservation. This, these are, um, people’s, um, livelihoods. There’s, they’re people’s, um, historic traditions, and it’s, um, it’s all regenerative. They’re regenerative, um, agro-pastoral activities. So, um, in, in Morocco, uh, we work with 200 rural cooperatives, and most of them are, are women-led. And we’re trying to pioneer a movement to improve livelihoods by, um, with innovative production and with marketing of, uh, things like local cosmetics or crafts or culinary goods, um, while conserving the biodiversity and cultural landscapes of, of the high Atlas.

So, um, that can be done through, uh, things like, uh, seed saving, uh, knowledge sharing, um, uh, transplanting, uh, indigenous plants, uh, growing more sustainable communities, populations of, um, endangered plants, uh, in the High Atlas in nurseries. And then, uh, using them to, to, to continue populating, um, the, the, the endangered plant species.

K: Hmm. I mean, it sounds amazing. Um, you were just there, right? Would you like to, uh, tell us about how it was to be there?

S: Yes, absolutely. So, um, um, this was my, uh, first time, uh, visiting our field sites in Morocco. We have, um, an incredible team of, um, uh, my, my colleagues, uh, who are Moroccan, and they’re, they’re, um, Um, their backgrounds are in food science and technology and, uh, in policy, and they’re, they’re, they’re a Moroccan team. And we work, uh, really closely with a, uh, Moroccan, um, organisation called the Moroccan, um, biodiversity, wait, let me say that again. Yep. The Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association, MBLA. So that’s a local nonprofit just staffed by young Moroccan professionals. And, uh, this, this was my first time visiting these, uh, field sites, which have been, uh, uh, functioning, thriving for about the, the last, um, five to seven, five to 10 years.

Um, and the, the High Atlas, um, is absolutely extraordinary. It’s, um, just outside Marrakesh. And, um, they. They are, uh, rocky mountains, which are, um, abundant with like lush green. Um, it, it was absolutely beautiful being there. And, and there’s, there’s a lot of, um, uh, sheep and goats, uh, grazing everywhere, which was really lovely to see.

Reminded me of, of, I’m in the UK as well, right. Um, and we went to visit some of our field sites. So one of them is a, it’s a school called Dar Taliba. Uh, and it’s a school for, for girls where, um, young women from the High Atlas, uh, come for, um, education and there’s a lot of vocational education there. So there’s, uh, activities on, uh, seed saving or sharing knowledge and, uh, so we went to visit the school and then we went, also went to visit, um, uh, an one of our nurseries, which is in Oukaïmeden, which is a part of Morocco, which, um, it’s, it snows there and it’s got, um, uh, I think the only, um, ski resort in, in Morocco as well.

K: Oh, wow. Okay.

S: Yeah, so it, it was really amazing to see the High Atlas agro ecosystems there and, um, the regional biodiversity and, um, seeing traditional knowledge and practices being, um, given so much precedence.

And it’s, it’s always, uh, participatory approaches. So the, the solutions always coming from the people who’ve historically held them

K: Mm-hmm. Um, I mean, it sounds super inspiring. Are these the things that kind of inspire you to, to keep doing the work that you’re doing? Because I can imagine that it’s quite difficult sometimes.

S: Yes, absolutely. So in, in the High Atlas, um, the, the in Indigenous people in Morocco are the Amazigh, and the, they’re are farmers. , um, the nomadic pastorialists who, um, live not just in the, the High Atlas, but, uh, the, these are the, the, the localities are projects. Our, our field programs are in. Um, and they work in these communes, um, of, uh, Oukaïmeden where I just mentioned, uh, Imegdal, these are some of the locations and it’s their traditional knowledge and practices which are being implemented to improve, um, agricultural productivity, um, and maintain the, the biodiversity. Hmm. That’s, yeah. Historically been cultivated by these communities. Um, and yes, to, to go back to your question, um, uh, absolutely. So. When, when I first, uh, learned about the, this, this statistic about how 80% of the world’s biodiversity exists in the same places where Indigenous people live.

This has been the biggest question that I have been asking. Why aren’t these voices at the forefront of environmental change? Like when, uh, we, we saw at COP in, um, Egypt just last month, um, that we were seeing all of these photographs of our world leaders who had flown there on private jet at this conference, which was being sponsored by Coca-Cola.

K: Right.

S: Nobody, um, you know, amongst other brands, um, uh, not to single out Coca-Cola. Um, but a lot of people were asking the question, oh, look, there’s, there’s not enough people of colour there in this group, or there’s not enough women and. I would say we can go even further. Where are the Indigenous people in, in these photographs?

Where, where are their, their voices? Are they being heard? When, when we know that the world’s biodiversity, 80% of the world’s biodiversity exists in the same places where Indigenous people are. That to me is a no-brainer. So in my work, um, and what, when I talk about decolonising conservation, um, in Indigenous knowledge, um, is I would in my view the most important, uh, solution for the future of conservation.

Alongside that as well. Um, I have been learning more about transformative justice recently, which is, it’s a, a political framework and approach to, to respond to violence, harm and abuse. Um, historically, and I, I, I’ve been applying these concepts to conservation. So how can we move forward in conservation without creating more violence or by engaging in harm reduction to diminish the violence?

How do we make sure that the harm stops. So when I, when I’m thinking about, uh, the High Atlas Mountains, uh, the Amazigh communities that have been working with the land for hundreds of years, yes. That, that really instills me with, with hope and optimism for the future.

K: I love that you made that connection. My, my mind is a bit blown. I’m like, yes, of course, transformative justice and, um, community led conservation. Of course, those things go together. Um, that’s such an interesting, yeah. What a connection.

S: Yeah. It’s um, transformative justice. We’ve been, we’ve been seeing that applied to so many other, aspects of social movements. Um, and it, it’s, it’s been a useful framework for me to apply to, to conservation as well because yeah, you know, we, we’ve, we’ve talked about how conserving nature isn’t just nature without people, nature and people go together.

So yeah. The transformative justice if if needs to be implemented there as well.

K: It’s really powerful. Yeah. No, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Um, yeah. Any, um, other projects that, um, you’d like to shout out? Is there any, like, imagine you’re like listening to this and you’re like learning about all this stuff for the first time. Like, is there anything also, um, that you’d want people to kind of take away from this conversation or anything? Yeah. Places that people could learn more, um, projects to support.

Yes, definitely. So, um, the, um, organization I work for is Global Diversity Foundation. Uh, I will share with you links of how to read more about our work.

Um, there is a, uh, brilliant documentary as well that has been made by, um, one of my colleagues and team members, uh, two of my colleagues, uh, Elif, [in progress] and in an and, uh, it’s called and it’s, it’s about this, these Amazigh, one of these, these communities, uh, which practice. Uh, nomadic, pastoralism and, um, [in progress] a terraced agro ecosystem.

So that is, that’s one to watch as well. And we we’re really big on our, our storytelling. So, um, you can follow us on our social media accounts, uh, Global Diversity Foundation on, um, Instagram and Twitter. LinkedIn. We have a newsletter as well. And then there, of course there is Project Myopia as well where, um, we’re making, it’s, it’s, for me, it’s, it’s grassroots change that we are seeing and, um, over the past five years, we’ve seen a big, um, impact in, in practices at the universities we work with. The work of Project Myopia has ended up improving, um, aspects of student welfare as well, and it’s a more participatory method of decolonising the curriculum from the grassroots up.

So I will share the links to both of those and, um, and on and ways to connect with me as well. Um, if, if anybody, if there’s anything I said resonates with people, uh, please do reach out. Um, I’m, I’m so deeply passionate about this and would love to keep talking about it.

K: Thank you so much. I really appreciate. I’m so glad we had this conversation. Um, and yeah, I really appreciate your work. I really appreciate you. Thank you for finding the time for this. It was really beautiful.

S: Thank you so much. I’m so glad that yeah, we’ve, we’ve finally spoken about it and this is, um, this has been one of the things that have brought, has brought you and me together as well. So I’m, I’m so grateful, um, to you, um, everything that you do and have so much love and respect, um, for you and your work, Kes.