Adapting to climate change in Morocco

Written by Nerina Muzurovic

©IFAD/N. Muzurovic

A changing climate and unpredictable weather have an enormous impact on food production. When people can’t grow food due to changing weather patterns, they migrate, threatening food security of entire countries.

The changes in the Al Haouz province of Morocco provide a good example of how local farmers’ resilience to climate change can be improved thanks to innovative technologies. Better irrigation has led to higher crop yields, increased available drinking water, and improved job opportunities for young people living in the area.

An irrigation system changes the land—and lives

A decade ago, this stretch of land in a small village of Sidi Badhaj, located in Morocco’s mountainous Al Haouz region was completely barren: fallow ground, empty and dry.

In 2009, an IFAD-financed project provided technical support to introduce drip irrigation technology, here. The new system allowed farmers to irrigate both the olive trees that are their main source of income, and the vegetables - fava beans, melons, green peas - that feed their families.

Just a year after the irrigation system was installed, farmers were already seeing results. Thanks to the irrigation, they no longer have to depend on the rain, and are now able to water their fields year round, including during the dry summer. Incomes stabilized, and migration decreased. The new vegetation also created a new micro-climate: The earth became softer and less dry, thanks to the plants, which also produce more oxygen.

Now, local farmers would like to further improve the irrigation system by installing solar water pumps.

Climate resilience brings jobs back to rural areas in Morocco

According to 30 year-old Mr Abdelatif El Badaoui, Treasurer of the Amghrass cooperative,
“Young people used to migrate to the city for work,” he said. “Now, they can
help provide support to farmers.”
©IFAD/N. Muzurovic

The Agricultural Value Chain Development Project in the Mountain Zones of Al-Haouz Province also introduced a specially-designed model that trained young people to become agricultural service providers. The approach was effective: farmers are now paying for agricultural support themselves. As a result, young service people are able to earn 228,000 Moroccan dirham (equivalent to 22,000 euro) for four months of work. Today, some 17 youth are employed by the Sidi Badhaj cooperative as agricultural service providers: seven women and ten men. There are seven service provider groups (équipes metiers) in total in the nearby rural communes.

Agricultural support providers are organized through an agricultural cooperative. This has had an important impact on young people, who used to have to migrate to the city in order to find work.
Now, young people are trained by the provincial directorate of agriculture. In addition to vocational training, they also receive technical equipment and machinery. This allows them, in return, to provide support to farmers. They help with everything from equipment to work that directly involves the olive trees: from treatment (to protect the trees from getting sick) to pruning. 

As a result of their services, the productivity of olives has improved. For example, some 1,200 hectares of olive trees have been planted since 2010. Before, farmers in the area produced 20 kg per tree; today, production has increased to 120 kg per tree. The quality of oil has also improved. Some 90 per cent of the producers are adopting new approaches to pruning, collecting olives and storing them. Electrical machinery to collect olives, as well as scissors, are among the equipment provided by the project. 

Now that the farmers’ awareness of the benefits of the services of the young service providers has increased, many have entered into yearly contracts with the young people. The lives of the young service providers have improved, and they are not thinking of migrating. 

Do women and men do the same type of work? “Before women used to work at home, and now they are participating increasingly in these activities as a family activity," explained one of the farmers. The work that women do include: collection, pruning, plant protection treatment, fertilizer application, and other tasks. 

Producers, we learned, are interested in renewable energies. They have provided a business plan for installation of solar water pumps to replace the motor pumps they are now using. 

What about climate change? “Everything used to be dry,” said Mr Abdelatif El Badaoui. “Now, thanks to micro-climactic change due to vegetation and green cover, the rain has come back.” Still, locals are noticing decreasing and infrequent precipitation, drought and floods. 

Adaptation to climate change and soil conservation 

The ravines, at this site, are a perfect example of soil erosion—a good point of contrast to the visible
improvement of the plant cover nearby.
©IFAD/N. Muzurovic

A visit to Amghrass highlighted project impact on climate change and soil conservation. Originally, this area was used as grazing land. However, it became eroded, and farmers no longer earned income from pastoral activities and livestock here.

Before the project, this site was an eroded, marginal zone. However, with the IFAD-funded project, terracing was introduced, which allowed for water retention and cultivation of olive trees.

The ravines, at this site, are a perfect example of soil erosion—a good point of contrast to the visible improvement of the plant cover nearby. 

The overall land coverage of the project is 200,000 hectares, benefiting 700 rural people on 4 to 6 hectares of land.

How has life changed for people in Al Haouz?

Ms Tahra Ait Benazou, cooperative Tiwizi (first one on the right),
“The young people are here, now. I have three sons. They are here
with me, and they work in the field and in the cooperative.”
©IFAD/A. Valentini

The project owes much of its success to the participatory approach it adopted for implementation, in which local communities were first asked to identify their needs. These needs were then supported by the IFAD project, whose irrigation system helped locals improve their lives, helped reduce poverty and helped preserve the environment. 

There is no arguing, that climate change has made itself felt, here: “There is one good year in every five years,” said one farmer. “Last year was a dry year.” 

“All our projects are designed by and for beneficiaries. Thus, they are naturally adapted to local and cultural contexts. What we have found is that the people supported by our projects need to see with their own eyes that there will be a benefit to the type of services they would receive. They need to be convinced that there will be results before they decide to join in the activities. Once they are convinced, they are in the driving seat,” said Ms Khalida Bouzar, Director of the Near East, North Africa and Europe Division.

Ms Najia Ghouat (third from the left): “When my daughter needs to buy a book, she no longer
asks her father for money. She comes to me. The work at the cooperative gave me
a greater sense of responsibility.”
©IFAD/N. Muzurovic

On 13 November 2016, IFAD organized a press trip on the margins of the COP22 to three selected project sites in the Al Haouz province, about 50 km south of Marrakech. Reporters from international and national media outlets joined the trip, including Thomson Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, ORF, and VTM, as well as local TV and print media.