Date palms are a natural barrier against desertification


Photo credit: Phys.Org

A man stands overlooking the Tafilalet oasis on October 27, 2016

Morocco’s oases fight back creeping desert sands

by Jalal Al Makhfi

On the edge of the southwestern town of Rissani, Abdelrahman Ahmidani sighs as he reflects on the state of the Moroccan oasis, endangered by drought and climate change.

“Whoever lives here,” he says, “is condemned to a life of poverty.”

In Rissani, the sinuous mountain oasis of Tafilalet gradually disappears into the Sahara desert, after snaking green for dozens of kilometres (miles) down the Ziz valley.

The town, the tourist pamphlets say, was where Morocco’s ruling family established itself in the 17th century and was once a major crossroads—famous for gold trade—on ancient merchant routes to Senegal and Sudan.

But since the 1980s, the sands have been advancing on the town.

On the outskirts of Rissani, hundreds of palm tree trunks rot away on cracked ochre soil shot through with parched irrigation channels.

“When I was a child, the oasis was green and thriving. In one generation, it has become almost completely dry and sterile,” says 37-year-old Ahmidani, who grew up in Rissani and now works as an official in town.

The late 20th century brought long periods of drought, leading farmers to flee the area abandoning their earthen houses to dissolve whipped up in sandy winds.

A man walks past dying palm trees in the Tafilalet oasis on October 27, 2016
A man walks past dying palm trees in the Tafilalet oasis on October 27, 2016

Palms against the desert

“Oases are part of Morocco’s natural resources,” Ahmidani says of the green sanctuaries that for centuries have formed a shield against desertification.

But mismanagement of surface water and overexploitation of groundwater—notably due to urbanisation—has led to increasing drought.

Morocco has lost a third of its oases in a century.

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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.