In Zagora: Migration and climate challenges

The Zagora region, once an oasis heaven, is now at a crossroads. Climate change is exerting unprecedented pressure on local populations, forcing massive displacements and calling into question the sustainability of traditional ways of life.

M’hammed, farmer in Tidssi Zagora region. Photo credit: ENASS

As drought sets in, the oases that have long been the beating heart of life in this region are drying up, leaving behind barren lands and desperate communities. Farmers, once the guardians of these oases, find themselves powerless in the face of cracked soils and dwindling water sources. Palm trees, emblematic symbols of resilience, bend under the weight of persistent drought.

In the remote village of Tidssi, a few dozen kilometers from Azagora, M’hammed, a veteran farmer in his 70s, shares a harrowing account of the struggle against an unprecedented drought.  

“The drought today is destroying the palm trees, but also the people and the population. We’ve never seen such a wave of drought, it took several years. Today, we’ve reached 200-metre wells, and finding water is still very difficult”, confides Mhamed, his eyes bearing the burden of years spent battling against an increasingly implacable nature.

The drought today is destroying the palm trees, but also the people and the population.

M’hammed, farmer in Tidssi Zagora region

Having spent his life working to preserve the oases, Mhamed emphasizes the rapid degradation he has observed in recent years. In just six or seven years, he recounts how they have gone from a modest average well depth of 14 meters to alarming levels of 200. A radical change that has jeopardized the livelihoods and very lives of those who have long depended on these oases for their survival.

“We’re seeing a wave of migration, with more and more people leaving. Conditions are becoming difficult for them, but also the fact of being in a region whose inhabitants depend solely on agriculture, when there is less and less water, accentuates this migration”, he explains.

In Mhamed’s story, the historical dependence on agriculture becomes a monumental burden when the arid lands and thirsty wells can no longer meet the growing needs of the inhabitants. He delivers, with emotional power, that even his own family succumbed to this relentless reality, having migrated to the cities in search of a better life.

“My own family moved to the city”, confides Mhamed in a voice laden with experience, before adding: “Those who move to the city help their families here in the village. The vast majority of income today comes from remittances from abroad or from the hard work of Moroccan youth abroad or in town, seeking to support their loved ones and forge a brighter future”.

Yet Mhamed remains a rock in the midst of this storm of change. “As for me, I’ve never thought of leaving. I just can’t do it. This is where I have my roots, where I belong”, he declares with strong conviction. “You know, palm trees, if you take care of them and give them what they need, they give you too and never give up on you”.

In a breath of resilience, he adds: “I know how to manage. It’s not easy, but it’s what I know how to do. The oasis is all I have, and without it, I’m nothing. My brothers live in the city, in Rabat and Casablanca, and they don’t abandon me. They help me a lot”.

“I’ve never thought of leaving. I just can’t do it. This is where I have my roots, where I belong”

M’hammed, farmer in Tidssi Zagora region

Mhamed’s stories resonate with deep gratitude and stoic acceptance of his fate. His voice, tinged with sadness, reflects the reality of migration spreading through the region, but it also carries an unshakeable determination to remain true to his roots, to his oasis, despite the challenges that the drought has brought.

Mohamed, young farmer in Tidssi, Zagora

“The Oasis is our second mother, but unfortunately she’s dying and we’re powerless. We’re asking God, who is the most powerful and can do everything” , says Mohamed, a young man of 30. He continues: “If there’s no water here, there’s no life. So it’s normal for young people to leave today. They have the right to seek better living conditions”.

“It’s the only solution now, because if you have no other source of income than farming, you can’t survive here”, he adds with a lucidity tinged with bitterness.

This young man relates the fate and thoughts of a whole generation of young people from an already marginalized region, suffering the full force of climate degradation. Despite the warnings issued by civil society and activists, urging the authorities to find alternatives to save these oases and support the farmers in preserving their way of life and this natural heritage on the brink of extinction.

For Najib, one of the activists and a member of the Friends of Zagora association, these migrations are both a direct result of the climate changes observed in the region, and a form of adaptation by this vulnerable population. “We are now paying the bill for these natural disruptions, even though we know very well that these oases have in no way contributed to these disturbances, but are the ones suffering the most serious consequences”, he stresses.

He points out that in 1931, the palm grove numbered 5 million palm trees. By the 2000s, this figure had fallen to 1 million, and today only 800,000 palm trees remain. 

“So we’re faced with an extremely serious situation that requires an appropriate strategy to save this land. The inhabitants of the oases have been strongly affected by these changes and have begun to question their way of life, looking for ways to adapt to this flagrant degradation”, he relates.

Abdelouahhab Najib, activist and member of the Friends of the Environment association in Zagora

Najib also shares the concerns of other farmers and residents we met in and around Zagora. He criticizes the policies and projects implemented in the region, pointing out their obvious contribution to this degradation. He refers in particular to the Maroc Vert project and watermelon cultivation, stressing that this has never been beneficial for the region but has instead destroyed these oases, endangering the lives of local populations.

we’re faced with an extremely serious situation that requires an appropriate strategy to save this land.

Najib, activist and member of the Friends of the Environment association in Zagora

“The difficult living conditions in this region in recent years have had a direct impact on young people and women. However, it’s the young and the men who are leaving, and the real victim is the woman, who endures double the suffering. Her burdens and responsibilities increase in the face of growing powerlessness. She finds herself incredibly vulnerable, suffering a double marginalization”, he asserts with detachment.

The activist explains that these waves of migration will not cease without projects and strategies to help these populations. “We don’t want to leave. We want to preserve this natural heritage and return to our oases as we used to know them. We’re proud to be oasis people, and we want to stay that way. We’re aware of our responsibilities, and we’re fighting to remain resilient in the face of everything we’re going through”, he concludes with relaxed assurance, stressing that the oasis is life for him.

This article was published in French on ENASS

  • Read the article in French on the link