Wednesday, November 22, 2017

When Will it Rain? Morocco's Drought

Morocco is in the second year of a severe drought and the impact on the economy is showing

Photo: Issam Oukhouya/Associated Press

Last year, wheat and barley production in Morocco was at its lowest level in a decade, according to World Grain, an industry magazine. The shortage was due to “inadequate rainfall during the planting season and the shortage of rain during the critical months of February and March.”

Wheat is a staple in Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa, according to the magazine. The average Moroccan consumes more than 440 pounds of wheat every year, one of the highest per capita rates in the world. The country irrigates only about 10 percent of its land, leaving it susceptible to drought.

Last year, during earlier stages of the drought, the king tried an age-old practice in a bid to save Morocco’s crops: prayer. On two Fridays in January, he led national rain prayers after normal worship ended.

But experts say the government needs agricultural solutions, not divine intervention: increased irrigation, better management of a growing population and improved purification of the water already in the country’s water pipes.

Waiting for water from a well in Zagora

Residents of many drought-stricken villages blame the shortages on the overuse of sparse resources for agriculture, especially the cultivation of watermelons and accuse the ministry of agriculture of allowing this water-intensive production "which provides profit for big farmers to the detriment of the inhabitants".

The Washington Post reports David Goeury, a geographer at Paris IV-La Sorbonne University, saying that a ban on water-intensive watermelon farming, would help. Morocco is one of the region’s top exporters of the melon.

“The problem is that watermelon demands a lot of water and requires drilling. If the water table is overexploited, its water level will drop or the quality of the water will be altered because it will come into contact with saltwater,” Goeury said.

The lack of water is having a ripple effect on the country’s gross domestic product and security. Water, the Associated Press wrote, “is becoming a threat to national stability in the kingdom, seen as a steady force in a restive region and key ally with the West in the fight against terrorism.”

Charafat Afailal, the secretary of state in charge of water, said change is needed — soon. “The issue of water has always been a priority for Morocco, but today, after two years of drought, we have to move on to higher gear,” she said.

The Minister of Agriculture, Maritime Fisheries, Rural Development and Water and Forests, Aziz Akhannouch, said in Rabat on Monday that his department will take, during this agricultural season, several measures including ensuring a sufficient and regular supply of inputs and rationalisation of water resources.

In response to five questions related to the preparations for this agricultural season, posed by several groups in the House of Representatives, Mr. Akhannouch said that the Ministry will continue to implement the agricultural insurance program that will concern this season an area of one million hectares of agricultural land and 50,000 hectares of orchards, in addition to a series of financing measures for farmers.

According to the latest available weather forecasts, Morocco should see some showers next week. Rain is expected over three days starting on Wednesday. It remains to be seen just how much rain arrives.


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