Agriculture plays a major role in the development of many Mediterranean countries, including Morocco. Efficient water management and the use of diversity make it possible to produce a variety of quality products that generate employment and added value

Morocco: agriculture, an omnipresent factor in the new reality of the 21st century

Marruecos, región de Sous-Massa-Draa, Alto Atlas, Valle del Todra (Todgha), oasis y palmeral de Tineghir – PHOTO/Hemis vÍa AFP/ René/
Morocco, Sous-Massa-Draa region, High Atlas, Todra Valley (Todgha), oasis and palm grove of Tineghir - PHOTO/Hemis via AFP/ René/

In the Mediterranean area, Morocco has significant advantages in terms of agriculture. Its annual renewable water resources, mobilisable in an average year (20 km3), are three times higher than those of Algeria (6.5 km3), six times higher than those of Tunisia (3.6 km3) and 13 times higher than those of Israel (1.6 km3). 

  1. The relevance of the social role of agriculture
  2. Agriculture: 65% of rural income
  3. Agriculture and the environment, two sides of the same coin
  4. The cultural role of agriculture
  5. Agriculture: the hinge of territorial development and sustainability
  6. Agriculture and food

The diversity of climates, agro-ecological situations, land, biodiversity genetic resources and know-how is remarkable, which can allow for varied management and production. 

Over the last five decades, irrigation infrastructures, tree plantations, as well as connectivity and accessibility to water and electricity have accumulated. This creates a new context in the country that will change the relationship between town and country.

Rural urbanisation is possible and would allow for the creation of numerous service jobs, relying on the high potential of human resources. Several Moroccan producers and industrialists, for example in the horticulture sector, have managed to meet international quality standards and reposition themselves in more remunerative markets.

Morocco is a country of young people (36.3% of the population is between 15 and 34 years old), and its rural youth, thanks to their updating and mobilisation which must be taken into account, contain a huge capital of skills and creative impulses.

The geographical and cultural proximity of Europe, Morocco's first customer, which has been brought closer by improved transport infrastructures, is a further advantage. However, the North African country, while affirming its Euro-Mediterranean anchorage, is open to the world. 

Within the framework of open regionalism, Morocco can become a "platform" for agricultural strategies that can attract European investment for export to the United States. In this sense, the port of Tangier-Mediterranean will have a structural impact.

Agricultores marroquíes cosechan uvas en el viñedo "Val d'Argan" en el pueblo de Ounara, en la región occidental de Essaouira (AFP/FADEL SENNA)
Moroccan farmers harvest grapes at the "Val d'Argan" vineyard in the village of Ounara, in the western region of Essaouira - AFP/FADEL SENNA

The relevance of the social role of agriculture

Agriculture is a sector which determines the balances or imbalances of rural society; it also retains a strategic social importance in terms of the number of jobs involved, estimated at 46% of the country's total assets.

However, the rural population lags behind in social development compared to the cities. This lag can be measured in particular by high illiteracy, poverty and mortality rates.

Two forms of agriculture can be schematically distinguished here: the first corresponds to an "agricultural enterprise" categorisation. This group comprises 875,000 small and medium-sized farms and accounts for 92% of the utilised agricultural area (UAA) and a population of 8.1 million people. 

The second corresponds to a type of agriculture that can be described as "social". It involves 601,000 micro-entrepreneurs, who provide only a very partial income to the families concerned and account for 8% of the UAA and 5% of irrigation.

Both categories represent a population of about 5.5 million people, i.e. about 40% of the rural population. However, the relative weight of social farming helps to explain the high levels of agricultural "overstaffing". 

This type of agriculture serves as a "social anchor", providing the households concerned with security in rural society. It thus contributes to limiting the rural exodus and the anarchic growth of peri-urban neighbourhoods, a source of risks of instability for the country. 

Una variedad de tomates, pimientos y otras frutas y verduras se muestran en el stand de Marruecos durante la Feria Internacional de Agricultura 'Semana Verde' (Gruene Woche) en Berlín - AFP/TOBIAS SCHWARZ
A variety of tomatoes, peppers and other fruits and vegetables are displayed at the Moroccan stand during the International Agriculture Fair 'Green Week' (Gruene Woche) in Berlin - AFP/TOBIAS SCHWARZ

Agriculture: 65% of rural income

Agriculture accounts for 65% of rural income, while the remaining 35% is mainly due to the lack of diversification of the rural economy, the temporary mobility of farmers to the city and emigration.

The development of new generations of entrepreneurs in agriculture, agri-food and agro-tourism is contributing to the transformation of rural areas into attractive spaces and notable poles of innovation and economic diversification, including industrial zones. 

Morocco undoubtedly has strong assets at its disposal to successfully integrate into the new rurality of the 21st century. The ongoing accessibility of its rural areas creates a new context in which agriculture, agri-foodstuffs and crafts can make significant progress. The environmental and heritage quality of the countryside can facilitate the development of intelligent tourism in synergy with agriculture.

Agriculture and the environment, two sides of the same coin

Agriculture is the main environmental actor in the country. The sector is the largest user of water resources, owns all the agricultural land and dominates most of the green spaces (extensive livestock farming, firewood). It is therefore mainly responsible for the degradation or the correct use of these resources.

On the other hand, agriculture can increase productivity and reduce vulnerability to natural hazards and urban sprawl. Its development is also essential for the dynamic conservation and enhancement of landscapes and biodiversity.

Uno de los puestos del mercado de Casablanca (PHOTO/ARCHIVO)
One of the market stalls in Casablanca - PHOTO/FILE

The cultural role of agriculture

Agriculture, both in the past and today, is the backbone of the rural world, with a historical, cultural, natural, social and landscape heritage, as well as a wealth of diversified know-how that contributes to the country's identity and attractiveness. 

However, the average age of farmers is high and many young people are doubtful about the future. This is why, for a majority of young rural people, the mirage of emigration to Europe has probably intensified.

On the other hand, solidarity and ties, especially family ties, between rural and urban dwellers remain strong. The sending of money from the city is still noticeable, as opposed to the sending of cereals and other agricultural products from the village.

Indeed, in an increasingly urbanised Moroccan society, rurality is still present. The attachment to the land is still powerful, and rain is still of considerable importance in the collective imagination.

Agriculture: the hinge of territorial development and sustainability

The agricultural sector is at the heart of spatial planning issues. Agriculture represents an unavoidable gateway to territorial development and sustainability policies.

Agricultural activities are naturally diversified according to the differentiated potential of the territories. Thus, plains and hills with rainfall above 400 mm and large irrigated perimeters have a relatively high productivity potential. These regions account for only a third of UAA, a quarter of farms and 64% of the country's total irrigated land. 

These areas are well connected in terms of transport and services, and have the necessary conditions to participate competitively in globalisation.

In contrast, the more difficult areas, consisting of semi-arid agricultural plains and plateaus, mountains and steppes, and Oasian areas, account for three-quarters of farms, two-thirds of UAA and 36% of irrigated UAA.

The disadvantages of agriculture are severe: limited availability of water resources and soils (often degraded), geographical location, insufficient basic services (roads, water, electricity, etc.) and ecological and socio-economic fragility.

Agriculture, as an activity at the heart of environmental and rural development issues, is destined to become a privileged gateway to territorial development and its policies.

The issue of "territories of proximity" is important. It is only at this level that the complex issues of development and the rural environment are effectively experienced by the actors directly affected by their dynamics.

An examination of the failures that have affected these dynamics of proximity shows that the integrations did not work because they were conceived and implemented in a technocratic manner and lacked an essential dimension, that of taking into account the "socio-political" and its corollary, the promotion of local development

Carrito de la compra vacío junto a un stand de aceite de oliva en un supermercado de Lens, en el norte de Francia - AFP/DENIS CHARLET
Empty shopping cart next to an olive oil stand in a supermarket in Lens, northern France - AFP/DENIS CHARLET

Agriculture and food

Contributions to agriculture have shifted from the concept of self-sufficiency to a concept of food security. However, the evolution of the international context, favourable to the development of trade and specialisation, remains uncertain.

Agriculture is increasingly confronted with new health requirements. This is why the concept of self-sufficiency has long prevailed and has been the basis of so-called policies for change.

These policies are currently being discouraged, as they can lead to favouring uncompetitive products that are ill-adapted to ecological conditions, in favour of productions that are more adapted and more valuable on domestic and foreign markets. 

Morocco should be able to better understand its food security by optimising the allocation of its resources and market opportunities, taking into account the evolution of the international context, which has been rather favourable in recent decades.

This is a factor that encourages agricultural progress on an unexpected scale, even in small steps, in the face of growing demand for quality Mediterranean products.