Life of an oasis
Oasis, source of Life
An oasis is a fertile area in an arid or deserted area.
In terms of its environment, it is the result not only of a rich biodiversity, but also of a population that has been able to preserve an ancestral know-how, in line with the principle of sustainable development, which is today weakened by global warming and desertification.
It all begins with the water necessary for all life. The oasis, marked by a very low rainfall, must drain the water in its bosom to survive and thrive. It is by recovering and channelling the waters of the Atlas through long underground galleries stretching over several tens of kilometers, called khettaras, and by the water contained in the shallow groundwater that man has succeeded this prodigious turn of hand.
The water collected is redistributed through crops through a drip irrigation system, some of them, or through irrigation canals called seguias. These systems make it possible to distribute water equitably across the oasis according to well-defined rules.
Ecosystem linchpin of the oasis: the date palm tree
This tree of warm regions whose single stem ends in a bouquet of palm leaves orchestrates the organization of oases.
The year begins with pruning of the palms in January-February, followed by pollination of the dates in March-April for a harvest in September and October.
The female plants give the fruit so much appreciated while the male gives the pollen necessary for fertilization which is made by the hand of man. Nothing gets lost in a date palm tree, besides the delicious dates that are eaten all year round, the palms are recovered for basketry and the making of terrace furniture, for roofs and animal litter.
The trunk, called the stipe, is used to make roof frames, furniture or doors. The trunk fibres will be used to make ropes. In Morocco, the heritage of a single Jewish know-how allows the production of the famous Merriah, a brandy made from the distillation of dates or figs.
For several decades now, a scourge has been ruining the economy of oases: bayoud. It is a microscopic fungus that enters through the roots and slowly ascends to the heart of the palm trees. After a year, the palm tree dies not without contaminating its neighbours. The only solution to prevent any spread is to burn the sick palm tree. The palms, which can rise to more than twenty metres, provide the shade necessary for fruit trees and crops to develop.
Among the fruit trees we often find apricot trees, lemon trees, fig trees, olive trees and the cactus opuntia more commonly known as the prickly pear tree.
Cactus Opuntia, prickly pears
It is one of the most promising plant species in drylands.
Its fruits are widely consumed locally and, like date palms, are a popular source of income. Fruit is also used as a food colouring agent and cosmetic use tends to catch up with dietary practice.
An oil is extracted by cold mechanical pressure from the seeds of figs. It is particularly rich in fatty acids and vitamins E. It still takes several hundred kilos of fruit to produce one litre of this precious liquid. Snowshoes produce a protein-rich feed supplement for cattle.
The living world of the oasis
In this fertile microcosm in the heart of a sand or stone desert, it is a whole world that populates the oasis.
Between herding and transhumance, breeding is also an essential component of the oasis environment. Sheep and ewes supply meat, milk and wool for weaving; mules and donkeys carry out forced labour for water, transport and agricultural work. Together, they guarantee soil fertility through the production of manure necessary for oasis agriculture.
Located in a desert zone, there can be no oasis without camels around it. It is known for its ability to withstand this arid climate.
It is mainly used for transport, but also, for the nutritional and medicinal quality of the fat contained in its hump, for its meat and for its woven hair in order to make nomad tents.
Described as a desert vessel, the dromedary has ensured the greatness of the trans-Saharan trade allowing the Kingdom of Morocco to extend its influence to sub-Saharan Africa. Camels produce 15 litres of milk rich in protein and vitamin C for their young during the lactation period, half of which can be harvested. Its meat, much appreciated, is widely consumed.
The oases influenced the way travelled by the great Saharan traverses; the only place of life and freshness they served as resting places where people came to eat and quench their thirst.
Since the advent of motor vehicles and the development of roads, this vocation has diminished considerably. In Morocco, the oases extend from the Atlantic coast to the Algerian border; south of the route: Guelmim, Ouarzazate, Tinghir, Erfoud and Figuig.
World’s largest oasis threatened by climate change