Decentralisation implies that responsibilities for development planning and management are transferred from central governance levels to sub-national levels, including local governments. Decentralisation reforms assume that local people's greater involvement in local decision-making will lead to more sustainable social and environmental development. Participatory rural techniques and approaches have been devised to support decentralisation reforms. This article presents the case of a multi-donor-funded 'participatory' essential oil distillation project in the High Atlas of Morocco. The project sought to respond to urgent issues around natural resource conservation, desertification, poverty alleviation, and out-migration of Berber communities towards urban areas. The article addresses the role that institutional partners and local authorities played in the implementation of the project. Based on extensive empirical fieldwork, the findings demonstrate that the approaches utilised by the Moroccan government to involve local communities are not adequately addressing local needs and suggest that there is little desire, nor the necessary capacity, to empower the local communities in the way that would be necessary to achieve effective economic development. Indeed, the project raised high expectations among the villagers but delivered few concrete results, benefiting mostly the local elite. This had a disengaging effect on the local communities. Another explanation for the 'failure' of the project is the clash between traditional and modern notions of 'governance' that it brought with it and that played out inside the communities. The article argues that participatory approaches should embrace the community's customary norms, thus facilitating the establishment of endemic notions of good local 'governance' and negotiating local traditional practices at the community level.

community development, decentralisation, Morocco, natural resources conservation
dx.doi.org/10.1080/13629387.2013.878247, hdl.handle.net/1765/63992
Journal of North African Studies
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Montanari, B, & Bergh, S.I. (2014). The challenges of 'participatory' development in a semi-authoritarian context: the case of an essential oil distillation project in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco†. Journal of North African Studies. doi:10.1080/13629387.2013.878247