Currently, the Atlantic strip between Essaouira and Agadir is in a strong position on the cultural and seaside tourist chessboard, mostly through its popularity for surfers, but the region is gaining new impetus with the advent of the seaside resort Mogador, and Taghazout, both planned for completion in 2020.
Essaouira – Currently, the Atlantic strip between Essaouira and Agadir is in a strong position on the cultural and seaside tourist chessboard, mostly through its popularity for surfers, but the region is gaining new impetus with the advent of the seaside resort Mogador, and Taghazout, both planned for completion in 2020.
So, alongside cultural and seaside tourism, the coastal strip will be able to offer a new kind of tourism: “rural tourism,” making the region a full-fledged strategic destination.
I would like to point out that the descriptions relating to each component on the tourism menu aim to demonstrate the richness and uniqueness of the region’s potential, and to justify investment in such sectors to better welcome international, and intranational, tourists to the region.
First, I will present the natural heritage of the region, focused mainly on the rural and urban aspects of Essaouira and its surrounding area, as well as the high demand fromtourists for visits to the region.
Thus, the description of the city of Essaouira is intended to demonstrate that the uniqueness of the region has been successful in attracting high numbers of tourists and, so, will be equally successful in attracting tourists to the rural communes and areas surrounding the small city.
‘A diverse natural potential that pleasantly surprises visitors’
Endowed with natural and cultural riches, the hinterland of the coastal strip between Essaouira and Agadir contains enormous advantages that can attract tourists eager for nature, cultural exchange and exoticism.
Still, the integration and involvement of the local population is necessary to launch this type of tourism. Such initiatives must be born from local initiatives, guaranteeing, consequently, positive results at a local level.
But is it enough to have potential, as well as the consent of the local population, to claim to be a destination for rural tourism? Wouldn’t the cruel lack of infrastructure destroy all efforts made locally to promote heritage, landscapes, and local products? These are some questions that we will try to answer in this article.
The diverse geography of the region gives rise to diverse and attractive landscapes. Located on the western slopes of the High Atlas, the province of Essaouira covers an area of 6335 km ² along a coastal facade about 152 km long. It is an almost mountainous area, hilly in the south where the highest point reaches 1400 m above sea level, and dominated in the north by micro-plains interspersed with hills.
It covers two morphological units: the Chichaoua-Essaouira basin and the Western High Atlas.
The first unit forms an immense plateau, slightly raised to the south and to the north, tilting towards the west in a gentle slope and falling sharply on the edge of the coastal area with dune relief. While the second unit, mainly the northern flank, is characterized by the existence of hills shaped by a sparse hydrographic network, represented mainly by Oued Ksob (the Ksob river) and its two tributaries: the Igrounzar and Aït Zelten.
On a geological level, a stratigraphic panoply gives a great variety of topographic forms where alternate depressions, plateaus, cuesta reliefs, and deep valleys, while at the level of the urban commune of Essaouira it is, above all, sand dunes that dominate the landscape.
Depending on this relief, the climate remains unstable and diversified, both in terms of rainfall or temperature. This is mainly due to the ocean environment (Atlantic) on one side and the altitude on the other side. The annual rainfall is between 260 mm and 300 mm, giving the province a semi-arid climate, well distinguished hot to arid with oceanic influence on the coastal fringe.
The region of Essaouira enjoys 152 km of fish-rich coasts, overhung by cliffs, or bordered by beaches and, in some cases, by small bays forming tiny beaches at low tide, in addition to the natural caves, fruit of erosion, which serve as shelter for fishermen.
The challenge of water shortage
Artisanal fishing also constitutes an undeniable attraction which will be included in the animation component during the assembly of the finished product. However, water deficiency could constitute a serious constraint to the development of said product, that is, rural tourism in the region.
The region has a water deficit. The rivers are temporary, and flow only during the rainy period, and when it rains, it does so torrentially. This makes organizing winter hikes tricky since most of them run along the banks of the rivers!
This water shortage calls for a rational and pragmatic management system, and the control of the flow of tourists, due to their water needs. Of all the natural resources in the hinterland, water is the most precious, and the rarest.
This water shortage remains associated with the very rugged relief, the very deep beds of the rivers and their marked slopes. As a result, water flows rapidly towards the sea, hence the need for sustainable human interference to build cisterns that store rainwater, or to dig wells to draw water from groundwater.
Thus, despite the scarce water resources, the rural population has succeeded over the course of centuries, in making its home on the land. In addition, the province of Essaouira is a very wooded region which is distinguished by the diversity of its plant cover.
A dense plant cover crowned by the argan grove
This diversity of the region’s natural environment is illustrated by particularly varied plant formations, both by their structure and by their physiognomy.
With a forest cover rate of 43.4%, the province of Essaouira is among the most forested regions of Morocco. This cover is very rich; it is dominated in particular by two specific species: the argan tree and the thuja tree, followed by the red juniper.
The argan tree is a mythical tree, blessed by God.
Many naturalists, travelers, and writers have described this tree, ranging from the Egyptian doctor Ibn Al Baytar (1219), to Hassan El Ouazzan, known as Leo Africanus (1510) via the Swedish botanist Carl Von Linné (1778), the Danish traveler Schoushoe (1766), and the British vice-consul Henry Grace. In 1219, Ibn Al Baytar described it in his work, “The Treaty of the Simple,” as being a thorny tree, giving a fruit the size of a walnut, containing a pulp used as food for goats and an oil seed from which one extracts edible oil.
In 1515, Leo Africanus, in “Description of Africa,” described the oil as having a very bad odor and being exploited for food and lighting. Some sources indicate that the Phoenicians knew the tree, used its oil in the settlements that they founded throughout the Atlantic coastline, particularly in Mogador.
In addition, the accounts of English travelers and consular agents in Morocco in the XXth century reveal that the argan forests were very dense and stretched from Oualidia, in the North of Safi, to the borders of the Sahara, whereas now the distribution of argan forests has vastly reduced.
Endemic to South West Morocco, the argan tree (Argania spinosa) currently covers a large area in the province, spanning an area of 136,430 ha. The argan tree can reach up to 6 meters in height, and live from 150 to 200 years.
The mythical tree is the main feature of the landscape, its trunk is knotty and short, its greenery is dark, its semi-persistent bushy leaves, grow small, elongated and thick. Its main branches start from the ground, facilitating the access of goats to the “suspended pasture,” creating a unique spectacle that tourists love to see: goats grazing on the foliage of argan trees!
The argan tree flowers in May and June and produces a fruit very similar to an olive, which falls by itself and whose kernel contains a nut. This fruit production is profitable both from the pastoral point of view (the pulp of the fruit can be fed to goats and dromedaries), and from the point of view of human food (the oil extracted from the almond used in cooking and beauty products).
Argan oil has always enjoyed a particular importance in the economic life of the region, as well as in the popular beliefs of the local inhabitants. We speak of “sacred argan.” It is not uncommon to see scarves as well as the nails knotted around the branches. The number of these tokens represents the amount of wishes made to the sacred tree. Goatherds stop their flocks from grazing on these wish trees, for fear that disturbing the wishes will cause a jackel to eat the flock.
In addition to the benefits and cultural significance, the argan tree, thanks to its powerful root system, plays an ecological role by protecting the soil against high temperatures, water, and wind erosion.
It is also a multipurpose tree, fully exploited and sustainable since it provides fuel wood, ensures the survival of a good number of insects and reptiles by sheltering them in its trunk, feeds the bees, and protects bird nests.
Nature vs. man
The argan tree is a real miracle of nature, even a universal heritage, hence the importance of its protection.
The argan forests have national status and are under the control of the Department of Water and Forests, but the harvests return, by right, to the residents.
Each family has rights to the fruits of a certain number of trees at the time of the sapling, an original status inherited from traditional management.
However, anthropogenic pressure is being felt more and more, expressed by over-exploitation of fuelwood, fodder, and crops.
The root system of the argan tree being vast, it dries up the crops over a radius of 10 to 15m, so farmers are forced to eliminate the argan tree in order to save the crops, bypassing administrative prohibitions and depriving mother nature of one of her most loved sons.
The argan tree is supported by the thuja tree, which occupies about 96,500 ha of the region.
A resinous species, the Thuja tree (Tétraclinis articulata) is a species that produces different types of wood: service wood, firewood, and lumber. Since 1899 Thuya would has been used in traditional inlaid woodwork. The tree is an intrinsic part of the brand of the city of Essaouira, and above all a vector of economic and social development.
The international distribution of Thuja wood on an international scale shows that 78% of trees of this species are found in Morocco, or 607,900ha, with 15.8% growing in the Essaouira region.
This small tree grows throughout the Essaouira region and the wood, close to that of juniper or cedar, is highly sought after in cabinetmaking. The roots are more gnarled than the trunk and are veined with sparks which gives them a special charm.
The Essaouria-Agadir Atlantic strip has enormous potential for rural tourism, and, the natural resources and cultural heritage outlined in this article is only the beginning. The region is ready to be exploited for the benefit of its residents, but any development must bear in mind sustainability and the rich, unique nature of the region.