The date palm industry in Morocco occupies nearly 59,600 ha or approximately 1% of the national Useful Agricultural Area (UAA). Its geographical distribution is located mainly in the regions of Draa – Tafilalet 77%, the region of Souss Massa 15%, the Eastern region 5%, and the region of Guelmim Oued Noun 4%. In Morocco, the development of the date palm sector is not only a strategic choice to preserve the pre-Saharan and Saharan areas, but also to provide economic added value to the date palm, a crop of providence for the inhabitants of the oasis. Morocco is ranked 3rd among Maghreb countries and 7th worldwide with an area of 50,000 ha with nearly 4.8 million date palms, including nearly 117,000 tons of dates produced on average per year.

Drought and diseases affect the date production

The sector contributes to the formation of agricultural income of up to 60% for 1 million inhabitants. The varietal composition is characterized by the existence of a multitude of varieties: Mejhoul, Boufeggous, Bouskri, and Jihel but with a predominance of Khalts (varieties not identified). The production infrastructure includes 48 date packaging and storage units with a processing capacity of more than 25,000 T and storage of 5,575 tons. The number of date palms in Morocco amounts to 4.5 million. The production of dates in Morocco remains insufficient and can vary from one year to another depending on the climatic conditions. It is mainly dates of low and medium quality that predominate. The best 'Mejhoul' and 'Bou-Feggouss' dates are rare and expensive.

The insufficiency of date production and its mediocre quality are linked, on the one hand, to the state of the palm groves where the number of palm trees has decreased remarkably. This regression is due to various factors, such as prolonged droughts, silting, lack of interest on the part of the population, the ageing of palm trees and diseases, such as Bayoud. On the other hand, the mediocre quality of production is mainly due to the varietal composition of Moroccan palm groves.

Palm groves of Morocco: a reservoir of favourable genes

The biodiversity shown by Moroccan palm groves is forever a source of hope for safeguarding date palm cultivation, in the event of particular danger where recourse will be taken to this natural reservoir to draw favourable genes. The scientific research work carried out on the date palm within the Faculty of Sciences-Semlalia in the city of Marrakech in collaboration with other local institutions has led to a varietal identification key based on isoenzymatic markers. This study is based on the analysis, by electrophoresis, of the isoenzymes of date palm leaflets. The resulting 'fingerprints' also made it possible to have an idea of the genetic diversity of Moroccan palm groves where more than 90% of variation remains within populations, while diversity between populations is limited to 10%. Nevertheless, some Tafilalet palm groves are beginning to diverge from the others. This is the case of the Rissani palm grove where the Bou-Feggous cultivar, of very good quality, is more abundant. The exploitation of Khalts in the improvement of the quality of dates in Morocco remains very promising. Indeed, more than 60% of the genetic resources of the palm tree are made up of Khalts, the quality of which can exceed that of the best-cultivated varieties. Also, the palm grove of Marrakech is an example of the most diversified palm grove but of negligible productivity. Extending over an area of 15,000 ha, this palm grove of international tourist renown, can, after selecting clones of palm trees of good fruit quality and early maturity, contribute to the national production of dates. Indeed, in this case, it is only an incomplete maturity, the fact that the plant does not manage to benefit from the sum of the temperatures necessary for the maturation of the fruit.

Palm date is a symbol of generosity and a source of living

The date palms in the Drâa-Tafilalet region are closely associated with the collective imagination. Even more, the palm tree is today the undisputed locomotive of the agricultural sector in the oasis region where it plays an economic and ecological role. A symbol of generosity, joy and benefits, the date palm gives structure to the oasis and protects against the wind and the advance of the desert while providing both the oasis population and its livestock with a very wide range of organic products, above all, it is a micro-climate favourable to the development of many additional crops. In addition to the date, a fruit of high nutritional value, the date palm offers a rich range of agricultural by-products whose virtues and benefits are well established. This range goes from heating briquettes, biochar, and animal feed.

Recovery of date palm project to develop rural and oasis areas

To promote these by-products in the Drâa-Tafilalet region, which monopolizes a big share of the national production of dates with a rate of 90%, the Regional Directorate of Agriculture (DRA) in Drâa Tafilalet has designed a flagship project aimed at establishing a sustainable and viable development model in the palm groves of Jorf, Rissani and Erfoud, through the establishment of a complex for the recovery of date palm by-products.

The complex for the recovery of date palm by-products, which will be installed in Jorf, is made up of a manufacturing unit for heating briquettes made from crushed date palm by-products (the crushed biomass can also be used to produce a litter for cattle and broiler farms), a biochar manufacturing unit based on by-products date palm and a livestock feed manufacturing unit based on date scraps and pedicels. The ambitious project has been identified and formalized in consultation with all the stakeholders, including the target population, economic interest groups (GIE), cooperatives providing services, the National Office for Agricultural Advice (ONCA) and the National Agency for the Development of Oasis and Argan Zones (ANDZOA).

This project is part of the State's efforts in agricultural and rural development in rural and oasis areas intending to meet the needs of the targeted population, improving their living conditions and promoting self-employment. The reason that led to the implementation of this project, which is currently in the feasibility study phase, with the existence of significant biomass based on palms and discarded dates; it is more than 11,000 tons of biomass and about 2,000 tons of date scraps.

There is a high vulnerability rate in the project area as well as in the growing demand for firewood in public Hamams and agro-industrial units and livestock feed.

The expected goals of the project are the promotion of self-employment of rural youth through support for the creation of service delivery cooperatives and their development into micro-enterprises.