Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Oases System in Atlas Mountains, Kingdom of Morocco

GIAHS since 2011
©FAO/ Jean Gault


Detailed Information



Site location:  The Imilchil-Amellago, Eastern High Atlas, Morocco.

Area of GIAHS: 309.000 ha

Population working for this system: 38 000 inhab.

Topological Characteristics:, scarce fertile soil resources with only 2% arable land

Climatic Classification: extreme dry climatic conditions

Ethnic Groups/Indigenous People: Amazigh tribes Ait Marghad and Ait Hdidou (Berbers, pre Arabic inhabitants).

Primary Income Sources: mostly living on self-sufficiency production

Global importance

Cold oases from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco have resulted from the adaptation of local communities to survive in extreme climate conditions and isolated region. This system represents an important cultural heritage linked to agriculture, social life, handicraft and languages. This heritage is an example of integrated systems to afford to the food, water, medicines, wool needs etc.

However, it is nowadays threatened by sedentarization of tribes, abandonment of rural areas, increase of needs, deforestation and must be recognized as part of national culture to be conserved.

Food and livelihood security

Through centuries the cold oases systems have been the most sustainable and adapted methods to afford to the needs of the settled and nomadic communities. These systems include the production of cereals, vegetables, fruits and meat (90% of the meat production needs). It contributes to balance the diet of local population with harvesting activities (like honey).

Moreover, these associated systems also furnish fire wood and some other coproducts from agriculture. Last but not least, this system can help to provide incomes thanks to handicraft but also some other products.

Biodiversity and ecosystems functions

Cold oases maintain a high agrobiodiversity associated between plants, animals and insects. Local communities cultivate about 445 plants with 30% of them which are endemic including cereals, legumes and pulses, fruit trees, condiments and spices. Not only using cultivated species, this system also maintain wild species used as medicines or wood.

Thanks to fragmented types of areas and edapho-climatic conditions the variability of biodiversity is high. These systems are relay habitats for wild animals such as birds, mammals and reptiles which sometimes are endangered.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

This system is a combination of small fertile plots along the river including a connected water management, arid and opened rangelands and pastures rangelands subject to traditional old management and restricted access exploited seasonally thanks to transhumances. This combination has allowed the communities to be self-sufficient for centuries.

Moreover, this system also lays on agroforestry practices and crop rotations. Animal husbandry is integrated in to cropping. Women from local communities have a high knowledge about medicinal local plants using 40 different species and about the selection of fire wood species.

Cultures, Value systems and social organizations

Local communities’ culture is strongly linked to agriculture and the cold oases way of life including architecture, expertise, grazing and water management, etc. Looking at the social organization, customary rights are managed by Jmaar forming an elders committee acting like a water authority. There is an important cultural repartition of roles dispatched between women (seed management, harvesting) and men (farming).

Moreover, cultural rites mark the harvesting, the threshing of meat and barley or the repairing of irrigation system. There are many multi-tribes festive meetings in accordance to the season allowing to knowledge and agricultural experiences exchanges.

Remarkable landscapes, land and water management features

Thanks to the particular architecture and the management of water and soils, local communities have shaped unique landscapes in the Atlas of Morocco.

A local hydraulic system and legal culture have permitted to the community to share and manage the water efficiently. The main technique called khettara consists in draining by gravity the aquifer through a tunnel every 50 to 100 meters depending on the nature of the ground.

Regarding the soil conservation, different techniques including agroforestry, crop rotation but also transhumances have permitted to conserve some soils and to limit erosion.