On World Food Day Morocco looks back at two tough years for the agricultural sector, although sowing for 2021 has a promising start
Rabat – Morocco’s government has needed to import more food than usual after two difficult years for local farmers. Intense droughts reduced harvests in 2019 and 2020 but strong government action has kept prices stable amid growing imports. Farmers will be sowing wheat and barley in early November under good rainfall conditions which provides hope for the 2021 harvest.
A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released on October 15 shows the current state of Morocco’s food production, as well as imports and exports. The organization gathered data by conducting telephone surveys because the COVID-19 pandemic made field assessments impossible.
A difficult year
Farmers in Morocco faced a difficult agricultural season with the country’s wheat harvest yielding 40% less compared to the previous year. The harvesting season for grains ended in July but many farmers in drought-stricken regions had too little to harvest and instead used their fields to graze livestock. Poor rainfall and high temperatures meant few farmers saw a good harvest.
The latest harvest followed a weak output in 2019, but harvests diminished even further in 2020. Compared to a five-year average, local wheat farmers only managed to harvest half of the usual haul. For barley the results were even worse. Barley farmers faced a reduction of 45% compared to 2019 and of less than one-third of the five year average.
The FAO estimates that one of the reasons for the large fluctuations in crop yields is poor irrigation. Only 15% of the country benefits from regular irrigation connected to dams. The remaining 85% of farmers are dependent on rainfall to water crops. Diminishing harvests worldwide often leads to rising food prices, but Morocco has managed the situation diligently through import and subsidy approaches.
In order to limit the damage from ongoing drought the government responded with several measures. To support local wheat production, Morocco facilitated wheat storage and guaranteed prices of roughly $280 per tonne, a figure that has remained stable since 2017.
To compensate for diminished local production, Morocco opted to import several staple crops that are important for the country’s food supply. Wheat imports increased to 10.5 million tonnes, up one-fifth from the previous agriculture year and 30% above the average. The country purchases its soft wheat from the EU and countries around the Black Sea while Canada provides durum wheat.
Morocco has revised its normal protectionist policies regarding food imports. The government commonly protects domestic farmers by limiting imports through tariffs that rise and fall dependent on the season. Given the intense droughts of the last two years Morocco has instead opted to issue exemptions on these tariffs to support the local food supply.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left few economies around the world untouched. Morocco is no exception with an economic contraction of 14.9% year on year in the second quarter of 2020. Tourism, transportation, manufacturing, and construction have all suffered along with farmers.
In response to the hardship many are feeling, the government has taken swift action by providing an ambitious stimulus plan to support business. Yet, as King Mohammed VI stated in his speech marking the new legislative year, it is essential that “economic progress goes hand in hand with social development.” Morocco will introduce welfare provisions for large swaths of Moroccan society to ease the economic pain.
“As you know, the current crisis, with its health, economic, social and psychological repercussions, is not yet over,” the King stated in the speech, as he announced a strong response that includes pensions, subsidies for families with children, unemployment benefits, and universal healthcare. While many countries have cut such social benefits to free up budgets, Morocco is recognizing the importance of those citizens who need support in hard times.
Despite falling incomes and rising unemployment, Morocco’s government has prevented a rise in food prices with actions ranging from import adjustments to providing subsidies for farmers. With decreasing purchasing power for many, the prices of food have remained stable. In August the FAO recorded only a 1.7% uptick in food price inflation which is due to strong action by Morocco’s government.