Watermelons for the world

How thinking profitably can create a water emergency for an entire region

Mahmoud Rida & Christina Schmitt

Last summer there was no water in Zagora for days on end. It resulted in “thirsty protests.” Many people consider the water emergency to be the cultivation of watermelons that are also exported to Europe. But is that true? The most important questions and answers.

Why are watermelons cultivated in a dessert region of Morocco of all places?

The watermelons need sandy, dry soil. The dessert region surrounding Zagora in the South of Morocco provides exactly that. This area is warm and sunny all year round, so watermelons can even be grown twice a year.

Why are watermelons from Zagora so sought after? 

The watermelons taste particularly sweet. Moreover, the crops ripen earlier than in other regions. Watermelons from Zagora can be found in supermarkets as early as April. As a result, consumers worldwide can buy watermelons even before the actual start of the season in June.

This enables farmers to obtain a higher price on the international market. Instead of the standard two Dirham per melon, they can earn four times that amount at up to eight Dirham. The export of watermelons, for example to Europe or Russia, promises farmers a quick profit.

What effects does the cultivation of watermelons have on nature?

The watermelon is actually not indigenous in Zagora. The fruit was first cultivated in the region in 2011, where it has become widespread since then. The plants need relatively large amounts of water. A fruit with a weight of five kilogrammes needs approx. 1175 litres until it is fully-grown.

This is why the watermelon fields need to be heavily irrigated, and are often located in such a way that they cut off the water supply of date trees. The traditional date trees thus become neglected and dry out. Hence, an increasing number of regions beyond the melon fields turn into desert.

What consequences does that have on the population?

The Draa valley surrounding Zagora is already a dry region with little water. The tap water tastes salty and is considered to be undrinkable. The cultivation of watermelons exacerbates the problem: In order to supply the melons with sufficient water, farmers dig ever more wells – water that in the end people lack for their own consumption. The melons are exported and so is the water consumed. The people in Zagora already complain about how it is not only their date trees that are dying. Young people are also migrating from Zagora. The lack of water is resulting in a sense of hopelessness.


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