Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

The ksour of Figuig: oasis and pastoral culture around the social management of water and land, Morocco

GIAHS since 2022


Detailed Information



Global Importance

The GIAHS of Figuig, has an historical importance as a key stopover point from the time of trans-Saharan trade across the desert. Thus, the communities from the region have inherited knowledge and practices of different origins.

The area covers two ecologically distinct but economically and socially complementary agrosystems, under which nomadic pastoralists from AbbouLakhal and settled farmers in the oasis of Figuig have always lived in close relationship. Their livelihood is intertwined as both communities have a lot to share in terms of goods and services, building peace and social cohesion through the centuries.

Today, Figuig represents an outstanding example of sustainable water and land sharing that has been ensured thanks to common rights and traditional knowledge. These gardens, where local and adapted biodiversity is key, have underpinned the food security of families while allowing local communities to trade and develop unique identities and cultures.

Food and livelihood security

The economy of the system is essentially based on extensive livestock farming and oasis agriculture. In AbbouLakhal, the vast expansion of rangelands offers immense areas dedicated to extensive breeding together with rainfed areas to grow cereals. On the other hand, in the oases of Figuig, the production is dominated by date palms, olive trees, cereals and alfalfa.

In both municipalities, agriculture is practiced mainly to cover farmers’ own consumption and only surpluses can be sold. In this regard, 46% of Figuig’s date production is for home consumption, 30% for livestock feed and only 20% is marketed. In addition to the main crops, farmers also raise animals in the oasis and grow a variety of vegetables, fodder and fruit including figs, apricots, quince, plums.

The food and livelihood security of both communities depends on their interrelation through food, wool and animal trade, jobs and services such as storage and breeding. For instance, depending on the yield and animals’ needs, nomadic communities can offer their workforce or, alternatively, offer to raise animals for oasis’ farmers.


The biodiversity of this system is rich as it comprises different ecosystems and relies on diversified agricultural systems and practices. In that respect, the oases concentrate a high number of crops in different layers with cereals and vegetables, fruit trees and date palms. Among them, the majority are local varieties that are adapted and appreciated for their resilience and taste. All the date palms are of local origin and count 14 different varieties. As for animals, the BniGuil breed is emblematic in the region and renowned by the herders for the flavor of its meat and its rapid fattening and resistance to thirst.

Besides, both ecosystems in AbbouLakhal and Figuig municipality encompass various types of natural steppes, endemic trees and a fragile flora and fauna. The maintenance of this system to ensure the sustainable management of range lands as well as water sharing is crucial for the protection of these species.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

Beyond the wise interweaving of crops in three layers in the oasis, one of the outstanding features of Figuig’s system is its water management. Indeed, Figuig’s societies have developed over time an ingenious model of distribution and allocation of water adapted to the local conditions. The knowledge, techniques and irrigation practices associated with rights to access land and water constitute a major element of its cultural and technical heritage. Thus, the distribution of water in the oasis of Figuig is ensured by a dense and complex network. Galleries called khettara bring water from the aquifer to the surface. It is then stored in a basin before being distributed through a network of canals according to the gravity flow system.

The right to water is defined according to a time unit called kharrouba rather than by a quantity of water. Therefore, this system has contributed to the preservation of the resource since it is not possible to overuse the water available while ensuring fairness among users. Besides, the maintenance of the overall network is ensured by a rota system among the communities, called twiza. This practice is also an opportunity to forge relationships based on solidarity and to pass on traditional knowledge.

In terms of pastoralism, AbbouLakhal communities, grazing lands management is also based on customary rights to ensure the sustainable use of these fragile resource and peace among communities.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

Figuig and AbbouLakhal are home to different indigenous and local communities whose intangible heritage encompasses the most fundamental aspects of a culture of identity and living tradition: the oral traditions, customs, languages, music, dance, rituals, festivities, traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia, table arts, traditional skills and handicrafts.

A key element of social organization in Figuig is the social management of natural resources:

  • Water: the evolution of the irrigation system took place over a long period of striving for peaceful coexistence between the different ethnic groups. Therefore, the water rights are managed by the Jmāa. Moreover, to ensure an equitable distribution of the water, each ksar will rely on a srayfi whose task is to monitor the water measurements, to direct the irrigation to the last parcel of land and give its expert opinion for fixing the water turns before each harvest.
  • Rangelands: their uses are traditionally based on an ancestral ethnic and territorial organization and on a tribal consensus which, reciprocally, grants groups rights over specific pastoral territories, called walf and managed through customary law.

Landscapes features

The oasis of Figuig concentrated around its water springs, constitutes by its close interaction between human actions and nature, a typical example of mixed landscape. Established in the midst of a hostile natural environment, it can only exist and persist if its different components are kept in balance. For this reason, the whole municipality has been shaped based on water and developed through oases in circular zones.

The Ksour of Figuig has a compact structure, a mass landscape in which the buildings are placed side by side; no one breaks the uniformity of their layout. When looking at the Ksour from above, the high proportion of built compared to unbuilt spaces is clearly visible. Figuig's unique architecture has evolved, characterized by its functionality and distinct style, which combines simplicity and modesty, with an astonishing vision of complementarity between the built environment, agricultural space and craft activity.