Interview: Aziz Akhannouch

What are the main challenges to increasing the surface of irrigated agricultural land?

AZIZ AKHANNOUCH: Irrigated land in Morocco is estimated at 1.4m ha, which accounts for 19% of total agricultural land. This figure is low if we take into consideration factors such as rising demand, food insecurity and technical concerns such as production instability.

With pressure on water resources and the growing threat of climate change, irrigated land faces several new challenges. Water resources are not currently able to satisfy the rising demand across other sectors, in particular the needs of the growing population and the development of economic activities. Irrigation management has to remain competitive by becoming more water efficient and addressing two important challenges: the need to expand irrigated land and the improvement of irrigated agriculture performance.

To this end, the Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV) will go a ways to tackling these issues through three different schemes. The first one involves expanding irrigated agricultural land by more than 157,580 ha in nine regions where agricultural land possesses water resources which can be mobilised by dams, either already built or in the process of being constructed. This will enable water resources available for irrigation to increase to more than 1.2bn cubic metres. The second initiative, via the National Programme of Water Management and Irrigation, is aimed at modernising irrigation systems by transforming 550,000 ha of land to localised irrigated land, of which 220,000 ha will be under a collective reconversion project. The third programme concerns the promotion of public-private partnerships, with the goal of fostering better irrigation and improving irrigation systems and their sustainability. It is hoped that this will encourage private investment in the kingdom and allow Morocco to benefit from the expertise of the private sector in carrying out hydro-agricultural management projects under more efficient technical conditions, as well as to help lower costs, meet deadlines and promote the highest global standards.

What strategies have been adopted to expand the aggregated model in Moroccan agriculture?

AKHANNOUCH: Around 70% of agricultural holdings in Morocco have less than 5 ha, which, from a quantitative and qualitative viewpoint, has resulted in irregularities in the supply of raw materials. This is mainly the result of a lack of farming integration. The aggregated model, one of the key pillars of the PMV, will help to avoid these difficulties by encouraging a voluntary union of a group of farmers around an aggregator to carry out certain farming projects. Aggregation will enable goals to be achieved, including the organisation of production through a technical farming framework, pooling production facilities, access to financing and insurance systems, and the improvement of market conditions for agricultural products. In order to promote such cooperation, and with financial support from the Fund for Agriculture, the government has put in place institutional and legal conditions to encourage the development of the aggregated model. This includes access to subsidies for the entities building and promoting the aggregation project, subsidies to support aggregation via laws and general initiatives, as well as preferential subsidies to acquire farm and irrigation system equipment, both localised and supplemental.

In what way has the EU trade agreement impacted Moroccan agricultural exports?

AKHANNOUCH: In terms of agricultural exchange, the EU is Morocco’s main partner, accounting for 63% of total agricultural exports. The kingdom has made major commitments consistent with its ambitions for the agricultural sector. In this regard, the measures launched to equip all of the industry’s economic players and farmers have paved the way for a better opening to international markets without destabilising the market equilibrium. The new agreement represents new opportunities to penetrate the European market and to enable a better supply of our market in agricultural inputs and other products currently grown by European farmers.