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New challenges for the Moroccan agricultural sector to cope with local and global changes

The Moroccan agricultural sector is facing emerging challenges. First, the country is characterized by a significant water stress, as the volume of renewable water per capita does not exceed 750 cubic meters per year. In addition, climate change scenarios predict a decrease by 10 to 15% of average rainfall over the next decades and a rise of 2°C in temperatures. As a consequence, water scarcity will be exacerbated. Second, the current national agricultural strategy, namely the ‘Green Morocco Plan’, aims to increase the overall production of the agricultural sector. To do so, public authorities encourage the adoption of drip irrigation by means of financial support for drilling boreholes and for pumping equipments, e.g. to irrigate fruit trees and vegetables. As a consequence, in many areas of the country, groundwater depletion is of growing concern. Third, domestic markets have become saturated and fruit prices have plummeted, particularly citrus, hindering the original hypothesis of improved economic water productivity by horticultural crops. Moreover, the current agricultural strategy has neglected rain-fed staple crops, such as cereals and pulses, and farmers growing these crops receive limited support. Fourth, the whole economic growth of the country appears to be highly vulnerable to the annual rainfall variability. Because of demographic growth, the country has become a net importer of food, e.g. soft wheat; edible oils, lentils and milk powder, and this may be harmful for its food security. Fifth, Morocco remains a rural country, since 40% of its inhabitants are still considered as employed in the agricultural sector. This is already generating increased tensions on agricultural land. In particular, the numerous land tenure statuses often impede investments in agricultural activities that would be made on the long term. Despite these challenges, the growing domestic demand for food products constitutes a strong opportunity for improved livelihoods for the people employed in this sector. As a consequence, young farmers engage in innovative learning processes in order to achieve higher crops and livestock yields, as well as improved farms’ profitability. Altogether, these elements suggest that the Moroccan agricultural sector will need to actively face new challenges, especially in relation to water management in a context of climate change, sound extension services and improved labor remuneration, as well as the satisfaction of growing food demand. These challenges may require new governance standards, which impose not only to produce higher quantities of food products but also to do so in an environmentally sustainable way. Priority should be hence set to capacity-building of human resources and to promoting rain-fed systems that integrate crops and livestock rather than focusing only on support to heavy investments in irrigation, with limited attention to market and environmental issues