Zagora is the first region in Morocco to harvest watermelons in May each year, and the melons, which contain 92% water, are the first to hit both Moroccan and European markets. Rainfall in the area does not exceed two to three days throughout the growing season, with an annual average of less than 61 mm.

The association warned repeatedly of the dangers of cultivating watermelons in an area called Fayja, which is regarded as a local source of potable water. However, these warnings went unheeded, and this has led to the drying up of wells and exacerbated the shortage of drinking water.

The association said that it has made major efforts to limit watermelon cultivation and to regulate it through a series of seminars and study days, in addition to making presentations at various levels. Furthermore, it expressed its deep regret that its recommendations and ideas were not taken into consideration. The association has also called for "intervention to protect water resources in the oases from depletion and over-exploitation by the increasing cultivation of watermelons in order to safeguard human existence in those areas."

Saleh Bakkas, an environmental activist in the Zagora region, has written to the water authorities about the crisis and published articles warning about the cultivation of watermelons and their impact on the water table.

Watermelons under cultivation in Zagora (photo: Ilham Al-Talbi)
A thirsty luxury: "As a result of the cultivation of watermelon for export to Europe, people in Zagora and its environs no longer have access to potable water," says Saleh Bakkas, an environmental activist from the region

He reports: "We have demanded and continue to demand the regulation of watermelon cultivation, which is exacerbating the shortage of drinking water in the region. We continue to wait for the state to respond."

"Watermelon cultivation is damaging to the environment, the land and to humanity"

Bakkas goes on to say that "as a result of the cultivation of watermelon for export to Europe, people in Zagora and its environs no longer have access to potable water. Watermelon cultivation is damaging to the environment, the land and to humanity."

According to Bekkas, the authorities are unable to regulate their cultivation. Civil society is active and in protest, and yet no one is responding. Indeed, production is continuing to expand, stretching all the way to Tata in the south.

Pressure from environmental activists in Zagora on the relevant authorities has prompted the Moroccan state to take some measures to address the issue. These include support for the exploration of groundwater and the completion of more than 75 test wells over the past 5 years in co-operation with the Souss-Massa Draa Hydro Agency. This has provided water to make up the deficit in the supply of drinking water to rural areas.

It is notable that the central water authorities, with the co-operation of the Reservoir Agency and associated bodies, have produced a number of studies relating to water purification in rural areas with a full cost estimate of MAD 2 million (€ 187,000).

Ilhalm Al-Talbi

© Goethe-Institut Perspectives 2020

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

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