At the end of November 2016, the Marrakech COP ended (see report "COP22" on this site) and I stayed on a bit in Morocco. we had in mind to do a follow-up in Morocco to the work I had made in Spain (on intensive agriculture and the need for cheap labor from Morocco and other places) as I did in West Africa (see Reports: "The Garden of Europe or the Third World" and "What Future for Rural West Africa?"). Agriculture in these two regions (Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa) is hit hard by global warming.
Already "Morocco's natural water resources are among the most depleted in the world." (2) For example, we read in an article by Ghalia Kadiri of Le Monde in February 2018 that: "After a decade of over-exploitation of groundwater by agriculture (this sector contributes 20% of GDP), the kingdom is in a situation of water stress." (1) With 500m3 / inhabitant / year, the country is below the critical threshold. This lack of water puts the population in great risk and leads some to rural exodus or emigration.
For a little more than 2 months I travel Morocco from south to north, by bus and not by bike as expected because of bad knee tendonitis. In addition to documenting what I was able to see of the production of renewable energy, accelerated urbanization (metropolisation and littoralisation) which increases the need for water and annexes agricultural land, and daily scenes related to the subject, I intended to produce a kind of modest inventory of intensive and subsistence agriculture in the country.
In February 2019, an interview with a researcher* associated with IRIS tells us that "The global food crisis of 2007-2008 reminded Morocco of the need to pay attention to agriculture and to maintain this sector at the rank of national priority... It should be remembered that food still accounts for half of the average household budget (3) ... and that there is no national food self-sufficiency (annual increase in 2017/2018 of imports...due to increased purchases...of food products (+ 14.3%), especially wheat (+ 29.2%)." (6) And even though the construction, service, and agriculture sectors create the most jobs, unemployment was 9.8%, which mainly affects young, urban graduates with a "brain drain" abroad.
Given all this information and given the already difficult situation, how is the country going to cope?
Strongly supported by the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, "the launch of the Green Morocco Plan (PMV) in 2008...is based on two distinct but complementary pillars: capital-intensive development and emphasis on export... With solidary for support of small-scale agriculture... (the country) seeks to produce more...to produce better (reduction of the environmental footprint of agricultural activities and optimization of food quality." (3)
More recently, during and following COP22, there have been: The Marrakech Proclamation for Action for our Climate and Sustainable Development which calls for "a firm political commitment...it is an urgent priority" (5) as well as the constitution of "Triple A Foundation, the initiative for the adaptation of African agriculture (AAA) which aims to reduce the vulnerability of the African agriculture in the face of climate change." "The Maghreb countries will suffer the effects... This change would be even more accentuated than elsewhere because of the proximity to the hyper-arid climate of the Sahara. This future climate change has become a major concern for the Maghreb States." (4) and more generally we hope for the entire international community!
To conclude, I regret not being able to travel by bike, which would have undoubtedly put me in closer touch with the population and would have greatly facilitated the shooting.** Nevertheless I consider this overview a realistic account that should be viewed as a complement to our ongoing reports for several years now. I warmly thank all the people who helped me, supported me during this difficult journey - sickness, morale at half-mast, cold of the winter. Firstly the "Grand Chef", as well as those who were willing to be photographed.
Almost a year after my journey I read an article in le Monde which reports "the problem of water in Morocco" and, which unfortunately confirms the fears I had at the time about the seriousness of the situation. A deep concern that underlined the whole report and stayed with me afterwards. As the reporter talks about places where I have been, I made the choice to put below his paper in its entirety.
In Morocco, "there is no water either in the sky or in the soil"
After a decade of overexploitation of water tables by agriculture, the kingdom is under water stress
by Ghalia Kadiri, posted on February 17, 2018 at 10:31am - updated February 17, 2018 at 10:31am
Zagora, southwestern Morocco, October 2017
Finally, the stubbornly blue sky has darkened. After three months of drought, torrential rains have watered thirsty crops throughout Morocco. Since the beginning of autumn, Moroccans have held their breath, worried that low rainfall will plague the growing season in a country where this sector contributes 20% of GDP.
January showers raised the level of dams, filled wadis and wells, and mitigated the impact on Moroccan growth, which oscillates every year with rainfall. But for how long? In Morocco, the water deficit continues to widen. Every year, the level of groundwater drops dangerously. And neither the ever-decreasing rains nor the prayers ordered by King Mohammed VI to "implore the rain" will slow down the drying up of blue gold.
Ihya also prayed. A month earlier, under the hot sun of the High Atlas Mountains, this grain farmer hoped, helplessly, that the rain would come to irrigate his small plot of one hectare in the region of Ouirgane. Like him, thousands of farmers sowed wheat in early October, a crucial period when these crops start. "These seeds, which I bought dear, will be lost, he resigned himself, in mid-December. When it does not rain, we dig wells. But this time, everything is dry. There is no water either in the sky or in the ground."
In small plots overlooking the Ouirgane Valley, where cereals or small legumes sold in the weekly souks are most often grown, peasants routinely dig wells without permission. When a little water remains in some non-dried sources, they pipe it to the crops in the traditional Seguia, open-air irrigation channels. Without the early rains, from September to December, small farmers will have to turn to spring crops or livestock to save their agricultural holdings.
Even farmers whose fields are equipped with irrigation systems with electric pumps are now suffering from the scarcity of water. "When it does not rain, you have to dig deeper and deeper into the water table," says a rich citrus grower in the Taroudant region. Before, there was water at 70 meters. Today, the pump must be lowered to 300 meters. At this depth, we say: either we are looking for oil, or we dig another well further away."
Little by little, excessive usage has plunged Morocco into a situation of "water stress". Access to drinking water is threatened. "In 1980, 2,500 cubic meters of drinking water was available per person. In 2013, it was 720 m3," admitted the government in early 2013. Today, the level does not exceed 500 m3 per person.
Who is to blame?
"Climate change and tourism. It is said that the population is increasing and domestic needs with. But this is not enough to explain crises," says François Molle, research director at the Institute for Research for Development. In Morocco, the temperature has increased by nearly 10 degrees Celsius on average in forty years. Drought episodes are longer. But, to understand the recurrence of shortages, we must also go back ten years, when the kingdom launched its Green Morocco Plan (PMV).
Intended to help small farmers in a country where most farmland was not irrigated, the program subsidized drip irrigation systems, supposed to save up to 45% on water. "But we forget that the losses were able to recharge the water table," said Francois Molle. In addition, "as the fields were equipped almost free, everyone wanted to make crops with higher added value, such as market gardening. But they consume much more water," says the Moroccan economist Najib Akesbi. "Instead of saving it, we started overconsuming it."
Not a drop from the tap
Since 2008, many farmers who were content to produce cereals have started to densify their crops or to cultivate citrus fruits, fruit trees or even sugar beet, all greedy for water. The PMV has provided grants and authorizations for wells, and facilitated access to land through private public partnerships, expanding the irrigated territory. "This is an ultraproductivist plan modeled on the Common Agricultural Policy of the 1950s," says Akesbi.
"Normally groundwater is used as a second resort. However, in Morocco, they suffer from an estimated deficit of 1 billion cubic meters per year: it is a reliable indicator of the excess of water consumption for agriculture, "says Molle.
The choice of irrigation is paid for by the depletion of underground reserves but also by the risk of a shortage of drinking water. In the summer of 2017, the inhabitants of Zagora, at the gateway to the desert, in the South, suffered the full impact of the cultivation of watermelon.
Entire families went several weeks without a drop from the tap. To protest, they organized "a demonstration of thirst". Eight minors were arrested and sentenced to two months in prison. "We deprive human beings of water to produce the fruit we are going to export," complained Najib Akesbi.
It's hard to resist the powerful political tool of the Green Morocco Plan. While the average agricultural GDP has exceeded 100 billion dirhams per year (8.8 billion euros), against 75 billion before 2008, the program enjoys great popularity in Morocco, where agriculture supports 40% of population. "These ten years of advanced irrigation and modernization of agriculture have allowed us to achieve a certain food self-sufficiency," says Mohamed Azzouz, director of Magriser, a company specializing in irrigation equipment. Between eating and drinking, it will soon be necessary to choose. p ghalia kadiri
* Sébastien Abis : directeur du Club Demeter, chercheur associé à l’IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques)
** Photos are made with Ilford PAN400 film except for 40 which were shot witth digital.