The future of agriculture is on hold, as this sector is the biggest consumer of water

By Abdelghani Youmni *

The World Resources Institute (WRI) indicates that Morocco will reach an extremely high level of water stress by 2040. However, the kingdom is already considered to be in water stress with only 500 cubic meters of fresh water per inhabitant per year, against 2,500 cubic meters in 1960. This light reminds us that the future of agriculture is on borrowed time, this sector being the biggest consumer of water and also the first polluter, it is a complex equation.

Lhe 2022 agricultural campaign saw a drop in rainfall of 42% to only 188 mm compared to the average of the last 30 years at 327 mm, cereal production was only 32 million quintals, a drop of 69% compared to to 2021. This is not the case for other agricultural productions which, despite the shortage, have shown strong resilience to the credit of the Green Morocco Plan. Exports of fruits and vegetables have curiously increased by 1.5 million tonnes, i.e. an increase of 16% compared to 2021. Prices have remained locally stable despite strong speculation and the superimposition of several intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer local.

Thus the drought and despite a low filling rate of the dams – only 26% in October 2022 -, the Green Morocco Plan (PMV), Moroccan agriculture increasingly irrigated has entered a time rationalization and efficiency which primarily aims to save water and improve the cost-benefit in terms of productivity of each cubic millimeter used. Added to this is the financial and budgetary support of the Executive which amounts to several billion dirhams which is consistent with a desire to preserve the food sovereignty of Moroccans on the basis of the sustainability of employment and agricultural production in the twelve regions of the kingdom.

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We can therefore see how the water variable fits into the complex equalization of food, employment, the creation of value and the well-being of the agricultural world. Due to the 2022 drought, GDPA (agricultural GDP) fell by 14%, thousands of jobs were lost and its impact on national economic growth caused it to drop by at least 1.7%. As for the budget deficit and that of the trade balance, they reached 6.4% and 5.2% of GDP against 5.6% and 2.3% in 2021. Conversely and this is one of the paradoxes of Morocco, the agricultural sector seems, and for several social, cultural and organizational reasons to be an inflation softener.

Should we reinventagricultural policy?

Without water, there is no agriculture, without water there is a massive rural exodus towards the urban outskirts and the big cities. It is not only the strategy of higher yields to ensure food sovereignty and to be able to export that we must set ourselves up, but it is essentially that of better water management and reinvention with mechanisms so-called revolving which will allow a drop of water to have several lives and ensure the life of populations and animal and plant species.

It is for farmers to secure their farms, improve their productivity and ensure dignified income – and in Morocco – to sanctuary its food sovereignty and its social peace under the constraint of water stress. It is undeniable that the problem of our country is not really that of drinking water but it is that of irrigation in favor of market gardening, fruits, vegetables, the feeding of livestock and the agricultural industry.

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If agricultural practices determine the use of water, in addition to being a resource for creating added value and economic growth, it will have to be elevated to the rank of raw materials and non-renewable energy resources, such as gas and oil. As such, the construction of 20 desalination plants in different regions of the country, with an objective of more than one billion cubic meters per year, by 2050, and the wastewater treatment projects constitute a start of projection. towards an agriculture of the future. Producing fresh water or reinventing water will be at the heart of the economy of the future and the best example is Israel, a desert country which provides 87% of its agricultural production thanks to water, fertility and high value-added products. Agriculture in this country is 90% dependent on seawater desalination plants, wastewater treatment and systems for detecting water leaks in pipes, which makes it possible to recover the 30% of lost flows.

As for improving the yield of agricultural production, the rational choice of the strategy «Generation-Green» 2020-2030 mainly aims to improve the economic inclusion of young people in rural areas, by promoting the digital transformation of production tools.agriculture to improve productivity and anticipate future labor shortages. This transition should allow farmers to be fairly compensated for their sacrifices and consumers to pay a fair price. Also, to make irrigation and water saving techniques efficient and to support export markets, by encouraging products with high added value such as red fruits and not those rich in water and with low economic contents.

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* Economist and public policy specialist

Photo of Diplomatic Morocco