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Country profile - Morocco

morocco

Morocco, only ten miles from the southern tip of Europe, is very much a country of northern Africa but, unlike most other nations, it has largely been occupied by one group of people. The Berbers probably date back to the original population in the region, and they continue to dominate small-scale agriculture in the country. The Arabic influence in Morocco can be strongly experienced in the souks of the cities but it is in the rural and mountainous regions that the simple lifestyle of the Berbers can be observed.

Geography

Situated at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, the country has a long, 800-km coastline with plains which are well-watered and fertile, supporting cultivation of citrus fruits, vegetables and grain crops. In the east of the country the Atlas and Rif mountain ranges are covered with a barren steppe, although on the western slopes of the Atlas mountains cattle are raised and minerals, particularly phosphate, are mined. The southern coast stretches to the edge of the Western Sahara where water gradually peters out in the endless sand and stony wastes of the desert, and life is only possible within the sanctuary of the oases.

The Mediterranean climate of Morocco is characterized by a long period of hot, dry weather from April to October, although temperatures at higher elevations during the night can be very cool. The rainy season during November to March may only bring occasional light rain and water sources are heavily dependent on the meltwater originating high in the mountains or on non-replenishable underground water sources in the south.

Traditional agriculture

Divided into clans and tribes, the indigenous Berbers have always fiercely guarded their independence and even now continue to keep themselves separate by living in rural and mountainous areas. Some tribes maintain a nomadic but territorial existence dividing their time between winter lowland and summer highland pastures, herding their sheep and goats over vast distances within a yearly cycle of migration. Other tribes are more settled and make a living by farming the mountain slopes but still graze their sheep and goat herds in the highlands during the summer months.

Many of the more agricultural tribes farm the steep slopes by building small terraced fields along the mountainsides. The rock walls retain the soil, which is carefully fertilized each year with manure and composted plant material. Consequently, the soils are quite rich which, in the most favourable areas, allows two grain crops to be grown each year: the first crop - barley - is harvested by early July and the field then ploughed and sown to wheat, which is harvested before the end of October. The most important crops cultivated for domestic consumption are cereals (wheat, barley, maize, rice and sorghum), although pulses such as broad bean, peas, chickpeas and lentils, are also important.

Much of the farming is still done by manual labour. Fields are cultivated using wooden or iron-tipped ploughs pulled by a team of horses or a mix of horses, mules or donkeys. Crops are harvested by hand and once dry, are threshed by treading with teams of donkeys or mules. Field size is generally quite small - some only a just a few square metres - and the majority of farmers farm no more than three hectares. But each farmer has access to irrigation water, usually derived from a nearby mountain stream. In many terraced areas walnut trees, which are highly valued, comprise the only other form of vegetation. At lower altitudes, olive trees are grown.

Fruit and vegetable production

No less than 17 varieties of citrus fruits are grown in different parts of the country, although oranges and clementines dominate exports. Other fruits produced in significant quantities for both home and export markets include grapes, which are also made into wine, olives and dates. In the south of Morocco, dates are the staff of life in the desert oases and throughout the country these nutritious fruits are valued as an important constituent of local diets. Given that dates have a great thirst for water and take a full year to mature, production in the region is generally high although dwarfed by that of neighbouring Algeria.

Vegetables are exported to the EU, the most important crop being tomatoes. However, recent production has seriously been affected by tomato yellow leaf-curl virus, and the Moroccan government has been encouraged to protect other vegetable crops, including green peppers, water melons, cucumbers and aubergines that could also be affected by the spread of the virus. A resistant variety of tomato has been reported, but it is not one that is commercially viable for large-scale production.

Hazards of hashish

Morocco is the leading producer of hashish (cannabis), with Europe being its biggest customer. Although production is restricted to the Rif valley, extreme poverty in the region has limited the eradication of cannabis fields, for fear of massive migration into the cities were this lucrative cash crop to be destroyed, particularly as the poor soil quality in the region restricts the development of alternative crops. Ironically, the prosperity of the cannabis farmers contrasts starkly with small-scale farmers elsewhere in the country, who are suffering from several successive years of drought. Reports claim that at least 60,000 ha of land are given over to cannabis cultivation, although it is thought that more is grown behind a camouflage of maize. Bankers estimate that the illicit trade of hashish accounts for between 30-50% of the country's total earnings. However, in March 2001, government representatives promised the UN Officer for Drug Control that hashish production in Morocco would be eliminated within seven years.

In recent years, the general economy of Morocco has seen positive growth and the country has built an excellent infrastructure including roads and a good communication network, although water quality is generally low and sanitation facilities in most areas remains inadequate. Overall, the country is still a poor one, with the worst literacy and child mortality rates in North Africa. Morocco is currently bidding for membership of the EU, with whom it conducts most of its trade. King Mohammed VI has also made a plea for EU investment to promote greater development in order to end the flow of illegal migrants and drug traffickers to Europe.

Statistical information
  • Country: Kingdom of Morocco
  • Capital: Rabat
  • Area: 446,550 sq.km
  • Population: 30,122,350 (2000 est.)
  • Population growth: 1.74%
  • People: 55% Arabic, 44% Berber
  • Languages: Arabic (official), with Berber dialects
  • Labour force: agriculture 50%, services 35%, industry 15%
  • GDP: US$108 billion (1999 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$3,600 (1999 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture 16%, industry 30%, services 54%
  • Major industries: phosphate rock mining & processing, food processing, leather goods, textiles, construction and tourism
  • Land use: arable land 21%, permanent crops 1%, permanent pastures 47%, forests and woodland 20%, other 11%
  • Natural resources: phosphates, iron ore, manganese, lead, zinc, fish, salt
  • Agricultural products: barley, wheat, citrus, wine, vegetables, olives, livestock
  • Export commodities: phosphate fertilizers, citrus, food and beverages, minerals
  • Major Export Partners: France, Spain, India, Japan, Italy

Date published: November 2001

 

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