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Mastering trade liberalisation in Morocco

A strong future for Moroccan agriculture depends on the development of a new vision and strategy. (© Guillaume Benoit)
A strong future for Moroccan agriculture depends on the development of a new vision and strategy.
© Guillaume Benoit

Morocco's agriculture and rural sector have undergone important changes over the last 50 years. But today, these dynamics are facing new economic, social and environmental challenges imposed by globalisation and the inequalities these have generated. All of these difficulties lead to an unacceptable scenario for the future of agriculture and the rural sector. It was thus crucial to develop a new vision and conceive a new strategy, shared by all actors, for achieving equitable and sustainable progress.

The need for policies that can ensure a productive and sustainable future for Moroccan agriculture has prompted a foresight study - Agriculture 2030 - initiated by the country's High Commissariat for Planning in collaboration with the General Council of Agricultural Development. In a country where 45 per cent of the population works in the farming sector, the need for such policies cannot be overstated; how agriculture evolves will determine the stability and well-being of rural society and of the country as a whole because agriculture remains the pivotal support for the rural population. The sector represents about 45 per cent of the total population, employs nearly half the workforce and contributes substantially to GDP (19%) and exports (6%).

While there are several key drivers of change in Morocco's farming sector, how the country is able to manage and respond to trade liberalisation is critical, and is a major focus of the study. "The country could either suffer from rapid changes, or anticipate them and act proactively to reduce negative impacts and exploit potential benefits," says the High Planning Commissioner, Ahmed Lahlimi Alami.

Three scenarios for 2030

Agriculture 2030 focuses on three scenarios that describe possible futures. In the first scenario, called 'Surrendering to liberalisation,' liberalisation occurs according to existing free trade agreements but reflects changes in climate and lifestyle, while conflicts over water are not anticipated. This scenario predicts that agriculture will not take off, environmental degradation will increase, inefficient water usage will lead to a water crisis and desertification will expand. As a result, growth in agricultural production will become even more volatile, non-agricultural employment opportunities in rural areas will remain minimal and rural poverty will increase. The agricultural sector will eventually regress, resulting in massive rural migration and possibly urban and political instability.

The third scenario will maintain farming activities that contribute to landscape management (© Guillaume Benoit)
The third scenario will maintain farming activities that contribute to landscape management
© Guillaume Benoit

The second scenario, 'Accelerated liberalisation', describes how ultra-liberal policies and social safety nets will speed up liberalisation. Morocco will remove protection on agricultural products, and reforms will force less profitable sectors out of the market. State withdrawal will favour the emergence of highly capital-intensive agriculture, resulting in productivity gains and a concentration of production in the most favourable areas. A social safety net will reduce the impact on the 'losers' from the liberalisation process but the agricultural population will decrease dramatically and, as a result, more than 300,000 hectares of good-quality, peri-urban agricultural land will be lost to urban growth.

A plan to 'master liberalisation' is the third scenario, where liberalisation is managed and new agricultural policies diversify the rural economy and develop a pluralistic, competitive and sustainable agricultural sector. This scenario starts with an upgrading of agriculture: structural reforms (land tenure, credit, support to young farmers) accompanying specific measures for each value chain and for small and medium farms in order to reduce the number of losers from the globalisation process. In favourable areas, commercial farms will produce high value, value-added products following socially and environmentally responsible standards. In less favourable areas, incentives and subsidies will maintain farming activities that contribute to landscape management and play a social role, giving food and income security, anchoring the population to rural areas and reducing further migration to cities.

Other priorities under the third scenario include more efficient water use practices, rural infrastructure development, eradication of illiteracy, professionalisation of small and medium-sized farms and capacity building for young agricultural leaders. "These actions create a new relationship between citizens and the administration, which relies on local communities for the development and creation of local jobs and income," explains Guillaume Benoit, member of the High Council for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas in France. Results foreseen by the study include a reduction in poverty and better distribution of agro-food industry development across the country.

A green plan

How Morocco manages and responds to trade liberalisation is a major focus of the study (© Guillaume Benoit)
How Morocco manages and responds to trade liberalisation is a major focus of the study
© Guillaume Benoit

A few months after the study was published, Morocco adopted its new agricultural strategy, the Plan Maroc Vert (Green Morocco Plan). The Plan aims to invigorate high value and productive farming systems and agro-industry, and modernise small-scale agriculture by improving productivity and orienting farms toward promising opportunities. Reforms include policies on land tenure, aggregation of farmers to overcome land fragmentation and ensure access to new technologies, investment and markets, and the development of labels of origin to help farmers benefit from profitable value chains.

Agriculture 2030 contributed to various points of the Plan, in particular through an awareness of the strategic and multifunctional importance of agriculture and an acceptance of the need to support small-scale farming in marginal areas. The Plan also took the advice of the study by including new policies targeting the preservation of basic resources required for agriculture, through, for example, the introduction of a large-scale water saving programme.

"The development of the 750,000 small and medium farms in the country is a key condition for agricultural and rural progress," concludes Mohamed Ait Kadi, president of the Moroccan Government's General Council of Agricultural Development. "Most of them still have insufficient access to markets, credit, incentives and technologies, but with appropriate support, these farms - which have enough land, water and labour force - can become viable enterprises."

Written by: Mohamed Ait Kadi and Guillaume Benoit

Date published: April 2013


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