A story of sustainable irrigation to promote a more productive agricultural sector
Would you believe that Morocco’s agricultural potential starts with one drop? A drop coming from one of the country’s rivers that originate from the Millennium Atlas Mountains. Oum Er Rbia, the country’s second largest river, is one of them. It supplies water to half of Morocco’s large scale irrigated areas.
The Oum Er Rbia passes through the Doukkala region in west central Morocco, a region known for its fertile plains. In Doukkala, as in many other agricultural regions of the country, irrigation is crucial as it contributes to increasing agricultural productivity, while securing greater income for farmers. However, water scarcity, accentuated by climate change, represents a growing challenge for farmers in the region, who draw most of their irrigation water from the neighboring river.
To promote a more sustainable irrigation model, the government of Morocco has developed a national plan to help optimize water use and increase productivity in irrigated agriculture (Plan National d’Economie d’Eau d’Irrigation, PNEEI). In large scale irrigated areas, managed by the regional agricultural development offices (Office Régional de Mise en Valeur Agricole, ORMVA), the plan supports the modernization of the irrigation network to provide a better water service to farmers. An effort welcomed by farmers, who have a keen interest in more reliable access to water, which is key for achieving greater productivity, and thus increased income.
Ahmed El Youssfi, 52, is one of these farmers. He owns 14-hectares of land near the village of Thnine Gharbia, in Doukkala. His land benefitted from a World-Bank supported project to help modernize the irrigation network in his area. The goal of the project was to ensure improved access to water from the Oum Er Rbia river for each individual farmer. “We used to rely on groundwater to irrigate our lands; access to water was a luxury and we could spend months during the summer without farming our land and without any income”, said Ahmed.
The national effort to improve irrigation water services in the Oum ErRbia Basin has been supported by the World Bank since 2010, which provided loans to finance the modernization of the irrigation network in large scale irrigation schemes. The improved water service allows farmers to adopt more effective and efficient irrigation technologies, mainly drip irrigation, which is sponsored by the government of Morocco through an incentive program.
“Drip irrigation has changed the way local farmers manage their lands. Not only does it save us 25% of irrigation water but it also increases tremendously our productivity. Over the years, my income is 25 to 30% higher than the times when I relied on sprinkler irrigation” added Ahmed.
Better access to markets
But producing more is not the end game of this effort. Farmers need greater access to markets and agribusiness clusters to see an increase in their income. This is supported by Morocco’s Green Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV), a strategy designed to boost both the agricultural sector’s productivity and its exports.
In the World Bank supported project, Kamel Belabbes is part of the technical assistance team responsible for facilitating synergies between the processing sector and the farmers. “Our role here is to build bridges between the processing sector and farmers’ associations,” he explained. His efforts and the farmers’ engagement have already paid off. The region is now supplying the country’s national sugar company with sugar beet production; the industrial tomato production is also making good headway along with milk production. “We are currently exploring other crops that can supply the processing industry with locally-grown produce, namely soya for the oil industry. This will not only ensure greater income to farmers but will also increase their crops’ added value to meet growing agribusiness demand” added Kamel.
Making every drop count of Morocco’s precious water resources is at the center of the country’s effort to grow its agricultural and agribusiness industry. It is about farmers’ livelihoods, rural jobs, efficient use of water and increased agriculturtural productivity. And with a more sustainable water system management, Morocco can rise to the challenge of becoming a leader in agricultural production and boosting its exports to regional markets.