Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean


A think tank criticizes the inefficiency and inequality of water management policies in Morocco


Drought becomes structural in Morocco (photo: MIPA)
Drought becomes structural in Morocco (photo: MIPA)
MOROCCO. A note from the Moroccan institute for policy analysis (MIPA) denounces past and present water management policies in Morocco. Titled "Water policies for irrigation in Morocco have amplified water scarcity, it is time to think differently", it considers them not only unsuited to climate change, taken in a piecemeal fashion in an emergency to respond to social conflicts, but also very unequal. The irrigation strategy would, for example, neglect family farmers in favor of producers of fruit and vegetables for export.

"Since Morocco's independence, the political display of public water and irrigation policies has given the image of a country that works for water and food security. However, one cannot ignore the succession of emergency plans that continue to be launched to mitigate the catastrophic consequences of droughts," says Amal Ennabih, author of this document. This is the first collaboration with MIPA by this doctoral researcher in political science at the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon.

Water scarcity remains a recurring problem in the Cherifian kingdom and threatens to worsen. At the end of September 2019, the Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) estimated the country's water resources at less than 650 m3 per person per year, compared to 2,500 m3 in 1960. The organization estimated that they could fall below 500 m3 by 2030 and even that climate change could lead to the disappearance of 80% of water resources available in Morocco in the next 25 years.

Short-term contingency plans

In January 2020, King Mohammed VI therefore decreed a National Priority Program for the supply of drinking water and irrigation. Covering a period of seven years and benefiting from an investment of 115 billion dirhams, it had five main objectives: an increase in water supply through the construction of new dams, better management of water demand and water recovery, particularly in agriculture, improvement of drinking water supply in rural areas, the use of recycled wastewater for irrigation of green spaces and awareness and sensitization on the importance of preserving water resources and rationalizing their use.
In parallel to this program, an overall budget of 14.7 billion dirhams (€10.6 billion) has been specifically allocated to the supply of irrigation water for an area of 510,000 hectares covering the needs of 160,000 people.

"Why, as they seek to deal with the structural consequences of climate change, public authorities persist in calling for short-term emergency plans," the author asks. Amal Ennabih even makes accusations: "Does the postponement of the design of new water policies that take into account structural drought represent a refusal to recognize the modest results of past and current water security policies?".

According to the MIPA note, water scarcity "is not related to the growing demand for water resources by households or the industrial sector (including the tourism industry), since both consume about 20% of the resources mobilized. In fact, water scarcity in Morocco is deeply linked to the way water is used for irrigation, which consumes about 80% of Morocco's water every year".

Irrigation mainly benefits agricultural exports

Irrigation policy remains uneven (photo: C.Garcia)
Irrigation policy remains uneven (photo: C.Garcia)
"The agricultural strategy, which is based on a "store and save" approach to water for irrigation, has been implemented to make farmers more dependent on rainfall and more vulnerable to drought. The increasing use of technology may have some advantages, but critical problems remain. In particular, Morocco gives priority to irrigation for its exports and, for a country that suffers from water stress, exporting its agricultural products means exporting some of its much-needed water," the author says. A single sentence sums up the problem: "80% of usable water resources are used to irrigate 15% of Morocco's useful agricultural surface, which contributes to 75% of the country's agricultural exports".

The MIPA text notes that "Morocco has built an agricultural water model that is paradoxically unequal: water stored by multiple and expensive hydraulic systems is mainly exported in the form of citrus fruits, other fruits and vegetables (business first) while small farmers have to face the consequences of lack of rainfall and depletion of aquifers".
The document points out that "the current irrigation policy may have aggravated social inequalities. On the one hand, it has mainly benefited large farmers, since the main beneficiaries of water policies are entrepreneurs, farmers who focus on production for export. On the other hand, the traditional Moroccan farmer who depends on rainfall and aquifers has not benefited so much from the modernization of the agricultural sector and has sometimes created even more problems than initially".

Productivity preferred to water saving

Officially launched in 1967, the dam policy today provides the country with 144 large dams and 255 hillside reservoirs that can irrigate between 1.5 and 1.7 million hectares. "It is clear that the construction of a large number of hydraulic devices for water storage and irrigation does not automatically prevent Morocco from running out of water. In the context of climate change and structural drought, a dam can no longer be the ideal solution. The situation in Morocco has changed: the predictable succession of rainy and drought seasons on which Morocco had built its water and agricultural policy has disappeared. Today, drought is structural," comments Amal Ennabih.

"It is interesting to note that over the years, the discourse on water saving has taken a back seat to the benefit of productivity and the famous injunction "more harvest per drop"," the text points out. The policy to promote agricultural drip irrigation began in 2008 with the National Program for Water Saving in Irrigation (37 billion dirhams - €3.41 billion - investment) from the Green Morocco Plan, which subsidized between 80 and 100% of equipment costs.

"It is important to understand that water scarcity is built on the demand for water, the way it is managed and the political, social and economic choices that are made. Morocco therefore needs a new water policy for irrigation that gets back to basics," the author concludes. "The focus should be on improving food and water security and introducing more equitable access to water, without leaving anyone behind," suggests the political scientist.

Read the note Morocco's water policies for irrigation have amplified water scarcity, it's time to think differently

The report's recommendations

1) Move towards sustainable and inclusive policies that also address family farmers by securing their livelihoods (in rainfed areas) against the threats of drought and lack of rainfall. In particular, the following measures could help move towards a concrete solution to this problem:
        . Establish and enforce key water consumption measures and quotas (for surface water or aquifers) to contain water demands and prevent water abstraction and unequal access.
        . Provide financial and technical support for rainwater harvesting projects initiated by farmers.
        . Help farmers to adapt their practices (sowing dates, etc.) to climate change.
        . Generalize the integration of farmers in production chains.
        . Raise awareness of the importance of short distribution channels.
        . Provide training and support to the young generation of farmers in rainfed areas.
2) Investing in crops adapted to semi-arid and arid climates rather than water-intensive climates
3) Continue to invest in alternative water resources, such as reuse of treated wastewater and desalination, to limit Morocco's dependence on rainfall.
4) Policy-makers must also focus on how these technical solutions are implemented and on their social implications, in order to avoid the inefficient use of resources invested in these policies.

Frédéric Dubessy

Friday, September 25th 2020

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