Morocco dries up in the month of May | International

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The crowded Atlas Express, the train from Rabat to Marrakech (320 kilometers to the south) to which Crosby, Stills & Nash sang more than 50 years ago, now crosses valleys and fertile plains parched in the middle of May. Through the window an arid landscape is shown that may soon be that of southern Europe. The wheat fields turn yellow at mid-height between vineyards, parched olive groves and numerous fallow lands. Last season (2021-2022) the cereal harvest, the main livelihood of Moroccans, fell by 67% compared to the previous one. The estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture for the current campaign are somewhat more optimistic, but they are still one third lower than the production forecasts. The holder of the portfolio, Mohamed Sadiki, has recognized the daily The Economist that "the early drought at the beginning of the cycle [de la cosecha] It has generated great disturbances.”

The same Atlas express train also heads from Rabat to Meknes (150 kilometers to the east), considered the capital of the Moroccan countryside and where the Moroccan International Agricultural Show (SIAM) closed on Sunday. With the cattle displayed in stables to the public within the imposing walls of this ancient imperial city, the fair has resumed its activity this year after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic while the drought fully affects the North African country with an intensity Unregistered in 40 years.

Climate change, with an estimated 10% drop in rainfall in 2050, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture cited by France Presse, leads to pessimism. The agri-food sector represents close to 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs up to 40% of the active population. The reserves of the reservoirs had fallen to a minimum in March, up to 33% of their capacity, compared to the 51% registered as an average a year earlier, according to Efe. It is a vicious circle, since irrigated agricultural land consumes 80% of the reserves.

The worst drought in three years

Last October, King Mohamed VI already warned Moroccans in a message to the nation before Parliament that the country was suffering the worst drought for three years. The sovereign called on parliamentarians to put an end to the "waste and irrational use" of water and called for concrete measures to preserve the water table against abuses in its exploitation.

The lack of rainfall hits the whole territory, but to the south of Marrakech, whose City Council has had to drill water wells to guarantee domestic supply, it has hardly rained since autumn 2020. The year 2022 has been recorded as the most dry since 1981, when the first mitigation measures were launched in the so-called Morocco Plan. The lack of rain, together with increasing erosion, has degraded the vegetation cover in a rural environment with practically dry soils in recent months, but in reality, the drought has been punishing the Maghreb country for more than five years. Already in 2017, Moroccan society was shocked by the death of 15 women who died in an avalanche while waiting to receive food aid in the town of Sidi Bualem, a town of 7,000 inhabitants located five and a half hours by car south of Rabat, in the Essaouira region. It was the lack of water that brought misery to that agricultural town. And it is still that same shortage that destroys the crops in Morocco.

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The Moroccan Minister of Agriculture has also recognized that the water shortage suffered by the country is also due to "a marked delay in the implementation [de los planes] of the national water strategy. In an intervention in a forum organized by the newspaper The Economist Following the celebration of SIAM in Meknes, Sadiki recalled that "alerts about water stress (...) led to the adoption of a new strategy in 2009." Then it was decided to build 60 large reservoirs and a thousand small dams for irrigation before 2030, as well as the start-up of seawater desalination plants and treatment plants for the reuse of already used water. "We have verified a delay in the execution in the last decade," admitted the minister in an unusual exercise of sincerity by a member of the Moroccan government.

A honey vendor participates in the 15th edition of the Meknes International Agricultural Exhibition, in Morocco, on May 7, 2023. JALAL MORCHIDI (EFE)

More than 1,400 companies have participated last week in SIAM, considered the largest agricultural fair in Africa. Among 65 attending countries, 45 of them African, in the historic site of Meknes, the presence of the pavilions of the large European States with agricultural interests in Morocco and the EU itself stood out. In addition to the pavilion of Brazil (a large exporter of meat to North Africa) and, for the first time, of Israel (a pioneer in water use), after the normalization of relations between the two countries at the end of 2020.

Observers of the sector in the Spanish pavilion, which brought together 32 companies, highlighted the establishment of Spanish agricultural companies in recent decades in regions such as Agadir, Marrakech or Larache. This seems to be one of the reasons why, since the entry into force two decades ago of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Morocco, imports of fruit and vegetables into Spain from that country have multiplied by four. “Who is a pure competitor in these times?” asked María Peña, CEO of ICEX (the Spanish public company for the promotion of exports and investments), while looking askance at the crowded Israel exhibitor at SIAM. “Morocco and Spain complement each other. There are Spanish agricultural companies that invest in Morocco, which is intensifying its exports to the EU. In return, Spain offers technology in Morocco for agriculture that is more resistant to climate change”, emphasized Peña, who is knowledgeable about the reality of the Maghreb country, since she previously held the position of economic adviser at the Spanish Embassy in Rabat. "Between the two countries, we have to respond to the challenges we face, such as the drought."

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