By Zachary Robbins and Katherine Seaton
By Zachary Robbins and Katherine Seaton
Morocco World News
Washington D.C., May 9, 2012
Land degradation has become a growing problem in Morocco for the last few decades; it may not seem like a major problem since Morocco’s agriculture sector continues to thrive, but if the causes of land degradation are not addressed soon, Morocco’s food production will begin to suffer. The main threat is salinization, which, according to a 2001 government report, already affects around 50 percent of Morocco’s irrigated land. Salinization is a process where rising water tables, caused by over irrigation, increase the concentration of salt in irrigated fields, and is damaging because plants cannot grow in salinized soil. Eventually the land must be abandoned.
This problem is particularly prevalent in the dry areas of southern Morocco, where government water subsidies have only recently extended land cultivation to marginal lands that previously had only been used as rangeland.
The damage of land degradation is exacerbated by the elements of the “Green Morocco Plan” that favors resource-intensive, modern agriculture techniques over more sustainable methods like no-till agriculture and collective land management, which included around 15 percent of Morocco’s total land area in 2001.
Much of this problem stems from the World Bank’s program of agricultural restructuring that has been imposed on Morocco since the 1960s. The root of the World Bank’s damage lies in perpetuating a narrative that blames the overgrazing of communal lands, especially Argan tree farms, for Morocco’s land degradation; this narrative continues despite a consensus among researchers and scientists that expansion of agriculture into marginal lands using modern farming methods is the root cause of land degradation, not overgrazing. (Overgrazing does have some impact, but it is only temporary and localized, so once an area of land is degraded, herders move to another pasture to allow the former one time to recover.
Even ignoring the environmental damage of expanding modern agriculture techniques to marginal lands, a recent paper by Dr. Diana K. Davis reveals that despite a 3.2 fold increase in cereal production since the 1960s, “crop yields are still low and stagnant even after the adoption of fertilizers.” Thus, Morocco’s increase in cereal production, a stable crop for millions of rural Moroccans, has only occurred because of the unsustainable expansion of farming to marginal lands and not because of any productivity gains from expensive fertilizers and expanded irrigation.
The fate of cereal production, if it continues along the current trajectory, might soon follow the fate of the Argan tree in southeastern Morocco. The Argan tree is one of the crops susceptible to the land degradation taking place in Morocco and little is being done to combat the death of the tree.
According to Professor Travis Lybbert, as of 2002, the Argan tree covered 867,000 hectares of land in Morocco but has since decreased to 800,000 hectares. If the number of trees continues to decline, the local Amazigh people will lose their livelihood and will be forced to move from land that has been lived on for generations.
The recent Argan oil commercialization has been detrimental to the Argan trees because of the rapid boom and demand for the oil all over the world. Environmental effects are being ignored in order to make a profit and this is unacceptable for the local Amazigh people and women cooperatives that survive off of the tree. With the help of UNESCO, the Argan tree is still thriving in some areas but efforts need to be made to keep the tree from ruthless exploitation by greedy corporations who are intent on reaping the benefits of the oil because without the Argan tree, the livelihoods of the local Amazigh people will be in jeopardy.
Land degradation affects everyone and without a conscious effort to maintain the arable land and vegetation of Morocco, both industry and livelihoods will begin to deplete. Awareness is the first step toward social change; taking small steps like buying Argan oil from women’s cooperatives instead of European corporations or supporting more sustainable agriculture techniques.
Katherine Seaton is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.. She spent the 2011 Fall semester in Rabat, Morocco studying Arabic and Moroccan culture and history. Her research areas include Islamic sources of conflict resolution, international communication and media relations between the West and Muslim regions of the world.
Zachary Robbins is a senior International Studies and Economics student at American University in Washington, D.C. He studied in Rabat in the Fall of 2011 studying Arabic, Islam, and Moroccan history. His research areas include agriculture economics, the economic role of religion in the Middle East and North Africa.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.
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