Morocco braces for drought fallout
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.