The vast palmeries that carpet the Drâa, Dadès and Ziz valleys are the historical lifeblood of the Moroccan south – indeed, oases down here are traditionally measured by the number of their palms, rather than in terms of area or population – and they still play a vital role for their communities. Families continue to toil over individual plots that have been handed down through the generations, growing apricots, pomegranates, figs and almonds among the palms, and tomatoes, carrots, barley and mint in the shaded earth below.
Irrigation methods have barely changed in centuries, either. The fields are watered by a combination of communal wells and khettara, underground channels that can run for large distances across the hammada. Water is funnelled off to each plot in turn, with every family receiving the same amount of time to replenish its crop.
The greatest threat to this traditional way of life is Bayoud disease, a fungus that attacks the roots of palms, killing them off within a year and leaving a gap in the protective wedge of trees through which the wind (and destructive sand) blows through. First detected in the Drâa in the second half of the nineteenth century, Bayoud disease is reckoned to have infected two-thirds of Moroccan palmeries, wiping out nearly 12 million trees over the last century or so. Recent years, however, have seen the successful introduction of disease-resistant hybrids, which, together with increased rainfall, has led to much-improved health in the majority of the region’s palmeries – in addition to the palmery at Agdz, there are fine examples at Skoura, Tinghir and in the Ziz Valley.