Interview: Rita Maria Zniber
What are the agriculture sector’s chief challenges?
RITA MARIA ZNIBER: Morocco’s agriculture sector has long benefited from special attention by the public authorities, especially given its contribution to GDP and the number of jobs it creates. The widespread fragmentation of land use, which led to essentially subsistence farming with low yields, has hindered productivity and competitiveness, though large operators with the required expertise can achieve the necessary economies of scale. The challenge in coming years is not only to secure expertise in upstream production but, even more, to optimise downstream activities, consolidate the value chain and market local products, especially by developing distribution networks in target markets.
How can agribusiness value added be increased?
ZNIBER: Public authorities’ efforts in recent years have aimed at introducing the concept of aggregation among operators and small farmers, in order to spread best practices and reach a production threshold that can optimise sales. This concept, however, has been met with distrust from small farmers. The agriculture sector suffers from low value integration; most products are exported and processed elsewhere. Another major hindrance to profitability and growth is the lack of partnerships with processing industries, which could help secure supplies for processers while helping develop agribusiness products with potential for export around the globe under the “Made in Morocco” label.
How has the Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV) impacted the olive oil industry?
ZNIBER: The PMV represented something of an agricultural “New Deal” in terms of rationalising the sector and improving its organisation. Its priority projects helped a real dynamism emerge by integrating the sector to create more growth and value. The plan works on a long-term vision, enhancing subsectors that are neglected or abandoned in Morocco but whose growth potential has been proven around the world. As for the olive oil industry, the PMV has boosted large-scale plantations, favouring public-private partnerships. The gap between Morocco’s olive oil sector and Tunisia’s, for instance, must be addressed quickly in order to better benefit from the growing global demand for olive oil.
Which local goods have export potential?
ZNIBER: Morocco offers high-quality and diverse products with broad international recognition, such as Argan Oil or mandarins from Berkane, in the Oriental region. The implementation of a protected origin designation labelling policy, coupled with an innovative commercial and marketing strategy, should lead to higher valuation of local products. The evolution of demand in target markets that seek original, healthy, tasty products must be at the heart of our promotion strategy. Developing agro-industrial exports is a big challenge for our economy. Although the sector has shown a lot of potential for production, we still need a coherent and efficient distribution strategy for target markets. It is imperative to integrate the entire agricultural value chain, from production to commercialisation, so as to compete in a global market that is becoming ever more competitive and suffers distortions from the subsidies some states grant to their agriculture sectors.
What is the outlook for Moroccan wine producers?
ZNIBER: The country’s wine sector has been in a delicate situation in recent years. Consumption tax hikes in 2012 and 2014 have caused domestic sales to decline sharply and informal activity and smuggling to proliferate. The drop in formal sales has led to a substantial decrease in Treasury revenues. Fewer sales points – especially after the hypermarket chain Marjane stopped marketing wine products – is a major obstacle to developing and maintaining the formal sector. Still, the wine industry has been investing in upstream production more than ever in the past 20 years to modernise the sector. We remain optimistic about its prospects, with its millenary history and important legacy in Morocco.
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