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Morocco’s agricultural sector has doubled in a decade. Now the country is developing high value added products for export while covering domestic needs.
In 2010, the agricultural sector amounted to $8.5 billion or 14% of Morocco’s GDP, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. This is almost twice the contribution of a decade ago. And agriculture is one of Morocco’s largest employers, with four million people active in the sector. The Moroccan rural population is estimated to total 18 million, or about 49% of all households.
“Morocco can still count on the bounty of its land and the diligence of its farmers for a substantial part of the country’s wealth,” explains explains Pascale Nejjar, director of FENAGRI, the federation of agricultural processors and manufacturers. “Agriculture remains a pillar of our economy and will become more so as the government enforces plans to increase productivity and re-orient output to richer seams.”
Morocco has about 8.7 million hectares of fertile soil and another 20 million hectares of semi-arid land. Its fertile land is located in temperate areas where fruits and vegetables grow abundantly. The majority of the fertile land (67%) is devoted to the cultivation of cereals. The Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean climates are both conducive to good harvests. Arid areas are more suited to low-density ranching and olive groves.
Moroccan agriculture is globalized. Although the country satisfies full domestic demand for many crops, (e.g. meat, fruits and vegetables) and even exports many of these items, Morocco also imports a variety of foods.
Morocco introduced the Plan Maroc Vert (Green Morocco Plan) to increase the proportion of land devoted to higher valued products, increase the amount of irrigated land, develop a series of six agropoles (concentrated areas of fully integrated production zones), and to expand agricultural exports.
“Part of our emphasis is to increase our share of higher value-added processed foods, both for domestic consumption and for export,” explains Ms. Nejjar. “In our strategic plan we have targeted sectors like olive oil, dairy products, ready-made foods such as tajines or couscous.”
Irrigation has shown excellent promise. In 2003 only about 100,000 hectares were irrigated, or less than 0.1% of the country’s total land. In 2010, the number of irrigated hectares had more than doubled to about 250,000. The goal of Plan Maroc Vert is to reach 550,000 hectares under irrigation by 2020 and to shift from gravity irrigation to drip irrigation. The government is subsidizing drip irrigation investments for farms of less than five hectares when these are created through aggregation of smaller landholdings.
Morocco is located in the Mediterranean olive belt, yet its production of olive oil is only 3% of the world total, compared to Spain’s 36% and Italy’s 25%.
To increase Morocco’s share of world olive production, the government implemented programs to improve the quality of the oil produced, increase domestic and foreign demand, and double the area dedicated to olive groves.
With almost $75 million in financing available to develop the olive oil industry, Olea Capital seeks to increase production capacity to 30,000 tons of olive oil. Most of the new production capacity is aimed at foreign markets.
Milk products is another target of the agricultural development plan and resources have been allocated to the segment’s development. Morocco only counts 50 production units, of which 26 are cooperatives. The government program is focused on improving cattle races, reinforcing milk collection and treatment facilities, and on diversifying cattle feeding methods.
The main area of focus for the producers’ federation, FENAGRI, is increasing the foreign demand for Moroccan processed foods. But this is proving difficult despite the government assistance.
“The Moroccan government provides active support, for example in helping us with sales and marketing efforts abroad,” says Nadia Mabrouk, founder of Saleva, an Agadir-based manufacturer of ready-made dishes such as tajine and tapenade, an olive-based appetizer. “Landing international distributors is our main difficulty, second is increasing awareness of our excellent products.”
Some Moroccan food processors have been successful capturing foreign markets, such Venezia Ice, an ice cream maker. Certain food segments have started using creative Moroccan branding. Tangerines from the northern Berkaane region have obtained an appellation d’origine controlée. Olive oil and other commodities are soon to follow. ●
For more information:
Ministry of Agriculture
FENAGRI (Fédération Nationale de l’Agroalimentaire)