Living on Luck The Story Behind Zagora’s Watermelons

العيش بالحظ القصة وراء البطيخ الأحمر لزاگورة
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Rippling beneath Zagora’s oases and watermelon fields is a story of scarcity, underdevelopment, and ingenuity. Drought has changed living in the southeastern region of Morocco and reconfigured irrigation practices. Watermelons pepper the landscape in the spring, fueling a local economy built around an export commodity. This phenomenon has captured national attention in Morocco with critics calling for an end to watermelon production in drought-prone regions. Yet locally, many farmers say this solution fails to engage with the underlying drivers of agriculture intensification in Zagora and across Morocco.

Today, the cascading impacts of drought on local lives have opened a debate on water governance; namely, how best to negotiate between the needs of farmers while protecting the sustainability of water resources. Farmers are at the center of these changes-managing dwindling water to support their families in a region where agriculture remains integral to daily lives. They have much to say about the future of water governance and agriculture in the region.

This report examines water scarcity and watermelon farming in Zagora through the lens of local farmers and residents based on interviews during the summers of 2021 and 2022. The authors would like to thank Jamal Achsbab and Adil Moumane of the Friends of the Environment Association in Zagora, Ghizlane Chouaki, Youssef El Ghizlani, and Zakariya Ben Larbah for their support. They also thank the employees at Office Regional de Mise en Valeur Agricole de Ouarzazate (ORMVA-O) and Agence du Bassin Hydraulique de Draa Oued Noun for their assistance. Finally, the authors are deeply indebted to everyone in Zagora who shared their experiences and opened their homes to them. It is their hope that this work honors these voices.

Research was supported by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, the Roscoe Martin Fund for Graduate Research at Syracuse University, and the Department of Geography at Syracuse University and the Henrich Böll Stiftung Foundation.

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