Morocco, threatened by scarcity, forced to rethink its agricultural model

Exporting its tomatoes, watermelons, strawberries or oranges, Morocco sells the water it lacks. In a country facing a severe drought, this cry of alarm is becoming more insistent. It comes from scientists, environmental activists and associations, who warn about the consequences of water-intensive agriculture and geared, for the most part, towards export rather than self-sufficiency.

A recent government decision echoed this. Signed by the Ministers of Agriculture and the Budget, and published on September 22, it puts an end to subsidies for citrus, watermelon and avocado crops, denounced for their role in the desiccation of certain regions. Specifically, it will no longer be possible to benefit from the aid that allows investment in localized irrigation: digging of wells, pumping, dripping equipment, etc.

Also read: In Morocco, the lack of water makes people desperate

The objective: to stop the expansion of irrigated areas for these crops that have “achieved, or even exceeded, the objectives set” for “leave room for other cultures”says the Ministry of Agriculture. This is intended to foster cultures “less consumers of water, especially the carob tree, the cactus, the almond tree, the caper, the fig tree”.

daily cuts

However, if the measure is hailed as going in the right direction, its impact is likely to be very modest. “First, because there will always be investors who can afford to settle without subsidies. Above all, because the large farms that practice these intensive and irrigated crops already exist and are enough to dry everything “regrets Salima Belemkaddem, from the Maroc Environnement 2050 movement, who insists on “the urgency of a radical change in the agricultural model, given the magnitude of the damage”.

In this North African country subject to repeated droughts, the situation is alarming. On Thursday, October 6, the average fill rate of the dams was only 24%. “Farmers are digging deeper and deeper wells to find water. All underground aquifers are overexploited; some are totally sold out in some places”, worries Fouad Amraoui, professor of water sciences at Hassan-II University in Casablanca. The lack of water even threatens the supply of towns and cities, which leads some municipalities to restrict the flow of drinking water or establish daily cut-offs.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers Morocco overwhelmed by an exceptional drought

Morocco is in a situation of “structural water stress”, recalled, in July, the World Bank in a report on the Moroccan economy. With 600 cubic meters of water per person per year – compared to 2,600 cubic meters in 1960, the demand for water far exceeded the available resources. “With 500 cubic meters, we will reach the critical threshold of scarcity. Many regions are already below “warns Mr. Amraoui. In this context, the country faces a dilemma: how to reconcile an intensive agricultural model that represents 14% of GDP and employs 40% of the active population, but accounts for 85% of national water consumption, with the imperative of preserve what remains of its water resources?

The Cherifian kingdom’s choices in terms of agricultural policy were set in stone in 2008 through the Green Morocco Plan (PMV), a ten-year strategy aimed at making the agricultural sector a priority lever for the country’s socioeconomic development. Modernization, intensification, crop diversification, land liberalization were the keywords. In terms of wealth created, its success is undeniable. Agricultural GDP grew by 5.25% annually; exports increased 117% during the period. Nearly 340,000 jobs have been created, according to official figures. On the other hand, pressure on water resources has increased.

Small farmers “forced to sell”

“The PMV has amplified the transition from traditional rainfed agriculture –cereals, legumes, pastoral livestock…– to a productive model based on the intensification of irrigation to unsustainable levels”explains Mohamed Taher Sraïri, professor-researcher at the Institute agronomist and veterinarian from Rabat. According to the World Bank, Morocco has “more than tripled” its cultivated areas under localized drip irrigation since the late 2000s. Although it is supposed to be efficient in the use of water, this technology has been able, “against all attacks”lead to “increase rather than decrease the total amount of water consumed by the agricultural sector”underlines the institution.

“We plant avocado trees, a tropical crop, while our climate is semi-arid! “, denounces Mr. Sraïri.

In fact, many farmers have converted to it, encouraged by subsidies and the opening to international markets, to make arid lands arable and develop out-of-season fruit and vegetable production for export, which is certainly profitable, but consumes a lot of energy. Water. . “We started growing citrus trees in regions where the annual rainfall level does not exceed 200 millimeters, while these trees require a minimum of 1,000 millimeters. We grow watermelons, made up of 95% water, in the far reaches of the desert. We plant avocado trees, a tropical crop, even though our climate is semi-arid! »denounces Mr. Sraïri.

“The development of these crops has been done in the same logic of excessive mobilization of groundwater because the rains do not fall enough and the irrigation of the dams is insufficient or non-existent.he continues. Finally, the European consumer can buy Moroccan watermelons from the end of March, but at what environmental cost? » Social cost too, because the plan has benefited the large operators more: “The small farmers, who cannot afford to dig, are forced to sell and leave. »

food addiction

Added to these vulnerabilities is a food security problem. Indeed, “PMV favored export crops to the detriment of food crops, those intended to meet the needs of the population, such as cereals, sugar, oilseeds, as the economist Najib Akesbi explains. Results, Morocco imports 100% of its corn needs, 98% of seed oils, more than half of its wheat and sugar. The he finds himself in an addiction he has never known. » And whose consequences are now measured with the increase in world prices.

In 2020 a new plan was launched, Green Generation 2020-2030. In line with the previous plan, it aims to double agricultural GDP and exports by 2030. It is also a matter of ” Resilience “ to climate change,“eco-efficiency”of “double water efficiency”. Will these promises be enough to stave off thirst in Morocco? For Mr. Akesbi, “It is from the top down that we must rethink agricultural policy. Are we about to do it? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.”.

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