Although mining and trade have long played a crucial role, the Eastern Region has always depended heavily on its agricultural sector for economic growth. With an array of different climates and about 8.5% of the national usable agricultural land, the region has the natural setting for production of several goods. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, it produces 13% of Morocco’s fruits, has 10% of its olive trees and 10% of its vine plantations. The Eastern Region is also responsible for raising 8% of the nation’s red meat. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates there are 134,000 farms in the region, although the majority of them are small plots using traditional means of production. The total cultivable area is about 700,000 ha – 109,236 ha of which are irrigated, according to a UN report on the Oriental region that was published in 2011. More than 70% of available irrigated lands are located in the region’s provinces of Berkane and Nador.

SMALL ROADBLOCKS AHEAD: However, agriculture in this corner of the country faces a number of similar issues that affect the sector in other areas of the kingdom. Irregular rainfall, division of land into small plots and relatively low levels of access to credit for purchasing modern farming equipment have all hindered the process of bringing a boost to agricultural production. As such, encouraging much needed investment to the region to ensure produce can be taken to markets further afield, both domestically and outside of the country, remains an ongoing challenge.

INVESTING IN THE LAND: Under the Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV), the national strategy for agriculture development, policy devolution is crucial. There are 16 regional-level schemes known as regional agriculture plans, which allow the overall strategy to be implemented locally, thus taking into account different agricultural contexts around the country. In the Eastern Region, this will translate into the development of a total of 77 projects at a total investment of Dh9.1bn (€809m) until 2020. This will benefit the region’s main agriculture products: olives, citrus fruits, dates, animal husbandry, milk and almonds. It also puts an emphasis on the need to attract private investors.

Of the total investment under the plan, 63.6% will be government expenditure, with the remaining 36.4% to be brought in by private companies wanting to set up shop the region. Authorities expect that cheaper labour compared to other regions and the natural availability of agricultural inputs for large-scale industrial production will help to attract new business. Under the PMV, the government expects to increase the number of agro-industrial outfits in the region from around 65 in 2012 to 142 by 2020, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Exports of fruits are targeted to grow from 80,000 tonnes to 345,000 tonnes by 2020.

BUILDING ON SUCCESS: The key to the plan is the development of existing competitive advantages, rather than trying to cultivate new segments. Most of the projects will be designed to increase the production of strategic products and bring them closer to industrial processing and packaging areas to facilitate expedition to markets. The biggest single investment per product class will go towards increasing agro-industrial processing of fruits, which will receive a total of Dh1.2bn (€106.7m) between 2010 and 2015 for six projects aimed at enlarging production areas around packaging stations. Building on the existing production and processing of olives, especially in the region of Taourirt, that are largely exported to the US and Europe, the regional agriculture plan will put in motion 11 projects that will convert 29,000 ha of cereals cultivation into olive production in Driouch, Nador and Berkane, with an overall investment of Dh407m (€36.18m) between 2010 and 2016. This will be crucial for the growth of olive processing in the region, which is ultimately dependent on the availability of enough produce.

“Over the last two years we have seen the price we pay to local producers double because of weaker crop yields and lower availability of produce,” said Naima Essenhaji, the owner of Triffa Conserves, a local olive conserves manufacturer based in Oujda that exports 85% of its annual production to France and Belgium. The total olive plantation area in the Eastern Region is set to double, reaching 119,000 ha by 2020. International olive certification programmes have allowed for small local units to upgrade and start focusing on more value-added products such as bio-olives for European markets. Some cereal plantation areas will also be transformed to create 8250 ha of new almond plantations in the provinces of Oujda, Taourirt, Jerada and Berkane, with an investment of Dh162.6m (€14.42m) by 2014.

OPENING FLOWS: Strengthening the reliability of water sources will be essential to sustain an increased agricultural output in the future. “The region had issues with irrigation, but with the PMV, this has changed,” said Kamal Kantari, the general manager of Groupe Kantari, the region’s biggest clementine exporter, based in Berkane. “Water supplies are now automated, and water is stored to mitigate weather and rain patterns. Compared to our capacity in 2005, production could be doubled by 2014.” With more than 4000 ha of citrus plantations and 14 pack houses, Groupe Kantari exports between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes of agricultural products a year to Russia, Europe, Canada and the US, and the Middle East. Increases in the total area of irrigated land will ultimately allow the firm to triple production between 2010 and 2018. The group expects to increase valueadded products by adding orange juice for export, and hopes to take advantage of government facilities to boost processing activities.

AGROPOLE DE BERKANE: A large part of the efforts to attract private investment has been directed towards the creation of the Agropole de Berkane. Construction work was started in May 2010, and the total cost for the project is set at Dh473m (€42.05m). This 100-ha zone will be created as an agro-industrial area, focused on adding value to the region’s production through the creation of an agro-industrial cluster.

The first 52-ha section has already been completed and 86% of it has been allocated for development by private companies. The key aim is to attract medium to large agro-industrial units, with the biggest plots at around 7000 sq metres in size. Work on the next 20-ha section is due to start in early 2013. The project is set to include an agro-foods section, an area for the processing of produce and a third zone focusing on logistics. Additionally, it will also include research centres dedicated to training staff as well as product testing.

AGGREGATION: Creating conditions for new investment into the region will be important. Increasing land aggregation could also have a positive impact on agricultural investment in the Oriental. “The fragmentation of land is posing a problem, in particular for small cooperatives. This is discouraging investment, as some 20% of the land is made up of micro-plots,” said Kantari.

Over the long run, the sector will also benefit from increased accessibility to export channels. “In order to export our olives we always need to go to Casablanca, and use the port there, and this reduces our competitiveness. It is a disadvantage for local companies,” said Essenhaji. The region’s agriculture sector will thus need to integrate more to take advantage of its attributes.