Morocco braces for drought fallout

Agriculture accounts for more than 15% of Morocco’s GDP and employs 40% of the workforce.

Crying for help. Moroccan children head to the Great Mosque of Sale to pray for rain, last November. (AFP)

2018/01/07 Issue: 138 Page: 19

The Arab Weekly
Saad Guerraoui

Casablanca - Recent rainfall in Morocco might not be enough to save an agricultural sea­son at risk of drought de­spite nationwide prayers for the rain.

Morocco’s GDP is forecast on the basis the quality of the agricul­tural season and the 2018 harvest may be heading towards the 2016 scenario after a near-record cereal harvest thanks to abundant rain­fall this past year.

After a lack of precipitation in recent months, Moroccan King Mohammed VI called for prayers for rain to be said across the coun­try November 24. A few days later rain began to fall. Officials will be watching closely to see whether there is enough rain to bring about a healthy harvest.

The government said Morocco’s drought in 2016 was the worst in three decades, cutting the coun­try’s cereal harvest to 3.35 million tonnes, down 70% from a record 11 million tonnes in 2015.

Agriculture accounts for more than 15% of Morocco’s GDP and employs 40% of the workforce.

Officials raised the customs duty on soft wheat imports to 75% from 17.5% in 2015 to protect the local harvest. Wheat is one of the most important commodities in Moroc­cans’ daily life. An increase in cere­al imports would have had a nega­tive impact on Morocco’s trade balance. Compared to 2015, the trade deficit rose 19.6% to $18.4 billion in 2016, due partly to wheat imports.

With a low rainfall or looming drought, many farmers would be forced to sell livestock at low prices because there would be no fodder.

“After two months of rain de­lay, drought is coming to the fore and is putting agriculture at risk all over the country. The spectre of the 1990s hovers over Morocco, when the kingdom recorded one year of drought out of two,” said analyst El Mehdi Fakir.

“A year of drought would affect the cereal crop, which occupies a prominent place in the country’s agriculture, affects growth and has social repercussions on the rural world,” he warned.

The rain delay has affected the filling rate of dams with water re­serves at agricultural dams reach­ing a critical stage, statistics is­sued by the Water Basin Agency indicate.

Agriculture experts said that even full-capacity dams would not solve the irrigation issue as 85% of the country’s agricultural land re­ceives moisture only from rain.

“The Moroccan economy is largely dependent on the rainfall. When one draws up the curve of the precipitation, that of the agricultural GDP and that of the national GDP, there is an almost perfect correlation between the three,” said Fakir.

The Agriculture Ministry launched the Plan Maroc Vert (Green Morocco Plan) in 2008 to spur socio-economic develop­ment through agriculture by max­imising production from modern large-scale farms through the pro­motion of agribusiness and invest­ment while reducing poverty and hunger by supporting small-scale farmers in marginal areas.

Economist Najib Akesbi criti­cised the ministry’s strategy for favouring export and industrial crops at the expense of cereals and vegetables heavily consumed by Moroccans.

“Significant financial resources were concentrated on limited sur­faces ensuring the development of a small production intended for specific categories or social class­es,” Akesbi told TelQuel magazine.

Fakir echoed Akesbi’s criticism, saying: “In recent years, the em­phasis has been on intensive ag­riculture and export, which con­cerns only a minority of farmers, while national food security, espe­cially in times of drought, is para­mount.”

In the event of an unfavourable change in the crop year, Fakir said the government should develop an effective programme to miti­gate the effects of the drought.

Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.

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