In Morocco39s cereal crops drought is affecting the agricultural season

In Morocco's cereal crops, drought is affecting the agricultural season

“The harvest is already lost.” Abderrahim Mohafid has little hope of saving his wheat production this year as Morocco is experiencing its sixth consecutive drought due to low rainfall.

On the road leading to his hamlet in Berrechid province, southeast of Casablanca, the vast fields are unusually bare.

In this agricultural area, known as the country's granary, “the wheat should already be 60 centimeters tall by this point,” notes 54-year-old Mohafid bitterly as he surveys his 20 hectares where almost nothing has grown.

A few kilometers from his hamlet of Oulad Mbarek, Hamid Najem finds himself in the same situation. His 52 hectares of soft wheat and barley are “no longer good for anything”.

“We have never experienced such a hard year,” warns the fifty-year-old.

More than 88% of the 155,000 hectares of agricultural land in this province are not irrigated and the majority of farmers there rely on rain, according to the agriculture ministry.

But since the beginning of January, the kingdom has recorded a 44% decrease in rainfall compared to the beginning of 2023, while at the same time an average temperature increase of 1.8 degrees compared to the period 1981-2010, as the Minister of Agriculture recently explained. “Water, Nizar Baraka.

The dams are only 23% full, compared to about 32% last year, and given the risk of shortages, Moroccan authorities have restricted the opening of hammams and car wash stations or restricted the irrigation of golf courses and golf courses in several cities in recent weeks forbidden gardens with drinking water.

“Significant impact on the economy”

This sixth year of drought is “affecting” the agricultural season, warns agronomist Abderrahim Handouf.

Farmers, fearing this new episode, had already reduced the area sown to cereals in November (2.3 million hectares compared to an average of 4 to 5 million hectares in previous years), he explains to AFP.

According to the agronomist, this situation will have a “serious impact on the economy” in a country where agriculture employs a third of the population and accounts for 14% of exports, which is more profitable than the local market.

This year, Abderrahim Mohafid hoped to offset the difficulties accumulated in previous seasons by introducing the no-till technique, in which the land is sown without prior plowing, thereby preserving natural moisture.

“The crop has already been lost, but I hope that there will be rain in February and March to at least have enough to feed the livestock,” he admits.

The outlook is less bleak for large-scale farmers like Hamid Mechaal, who can count on irrigation to save his 140 hectares in eastern Berrechid province where he grows wheat, carrots and potatoes.

“The drought forces us to irrigate 85%, whereas before irrigation was only supplementary,” notes the farmer, who assures that, like 500 farmers in the region, he is supplied by a fixed allocation of 5,000 tons of water per year hectares “to better manage the precious resource”.

“Review” of agricultural policy

However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was alarmed by “disorderly irrigation intensification” in the Berrechid Plain over the past two decades.

“Between 2007 and 2017, for example, production of carrots increased by almost 500%,” it noted in a November report, emphasizing that the aquifer there is “one of the most degraded” in the country.

Morocco's agricultural model, which has focused on exports for 15 years, is raising questions again as the country faces “a total decline in water supplies” and has focused on water-intensive crops, notes agronomist Mohamed Taher Srairi.

National demand is estimated at more than 16 billion m3 of water, 87% of which is for the agricultural sector, but according to Mr Baraka, only 5 billion has been available in the last five years.

For the agricultural scientist Abderrahim Handouf, “agricultural policy should be reviewed from the ground up”.

“Today I have the impression that the government is looking in one direction, while the reality is pointing in the opposite direction,” he laments.