Current issue: 54(2)
In the southwestern pre-Saharan arid zone of Morocco, the endemic argan forest (Argania spinosa) had been almost completely destroyed in the 1960s due to intensive coal mining and mixed cereal-livestock farming. These activities turned out to be unviable and a massive rural exodus occurred in the 1970s. Local populations started to develop maintenance-free prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) cultivation at large scale in order to keep their land ownership rights, while reducing their traditional agropastoral activity. We conducted a survey in order to characterize the relationships between the age of prickly pear orchards and argan tree regeneration. We also explored facilitating factors, such as soil organic matter and mycorrhiza. Results showed a high positive correlation (r2 = 0.75, p < 0.001) between the age of prickly pear orchards and argan tree resprouts, but with differences depending on a continentality gradient. The soil organic matter content also showed highly significant differences (p < 0.001) depending on the age of the prickly pear plantation, while spora density did not show such differences. The recent high economic value attributed to prickly pear fruits, and to both argan and prickly pear seed oil, has given farmers the opportunity to develop a lucrative agricultural activity, while promoting the recovery of native vegetation. This situation constitutes a remarkable example of speculative agricultural development in a very harsh environment, in phase with ecological priorities for combating desertification. It could represent an alternative to the externally-generated projects sustained by high levels of public funding, with ecological, economic and social impacts which are sometimes questionable.