Oasis conservation and suitable management face strong challenges arising from Climate Change and from increasing human pressures on its main resources, notably water. Improvement of governance for water management, the identification of best agriculture practices and the design of nature conservation strategies should be key components of each project or programme related to them.
Declining precipitation in the Atlas Mountains will reduce the groundwater available throughout the southern part of the Maghreb, where rainfall is scarce, threatening oasis ecosystems in several ways:
- Increasing vegetation and tree dieback disease processes, with additional pressures on date palm trees for energy needs, reduction of the microclimate effect of the palm tree cover, and higher erosion risk.
- Reducing agriculture yields.
Two-thirds of the population of the Sahara lives in oasis, where the date palm is the main source of food, and also provide shade for growing citrus fruits, figs, peaches, apricots, vegetables and cereal grains.
Oases are critical resting sites for migratory birds in the migration routes between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Bird richness is related to oasis size and to vegetation traits, namely to the diversity of trees and herbaceous plants. Oases within which traditional practices are used to diversify the agriculture products provide more suitable habitat conditions for birds than modern plantations created to maximize the production of dates. The maintenance of traditional oases with healthy semi-natural habitats, adequate irrigation systems, and traditional human activities, may be essential for maintaining their biodiversity, and for securing the migration needs for European migratory birds.
In general terms, the oases in North Africa are threatened by the over-use of the aquifers (deep pumping for intensive agriculture irrigation), the modification of traditional management practices (traditional farming systems with low water input, water multipurpose agro-forestry), lack of appropriate governance, and the associated social and economic problems causing environmental degradation, rural abandonment and the loss of traditional knowledge. Today, people’s livelihood and their farming systems are under heavy pressure from a number of interlinked biophysical and socio-economic factors affecting the fragile sustainability of the oasis socio-ecosystems.