Africa / Middle East

Moroccan Farmers Combat Climate Change With Olive Trees and Innovation

Climate change is altering Morocco's landscape and creating serious challenges for the agricultural sector. In the Al Haouz province, resilient farmers took steps to adapt, and they have a burgeoning olive industry to show for it.

IFAD/N. Muzurovi
Dec. 15, 2016
By Michelle Smith
IFAD/N. Muzurovi

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In the Al Haouz province of Morocco, farm­ers have adopted tech­niques to adapt to cli­mate change and the results are paying off. The land improved, yields increased, earn­ings rose and brighter employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties have reduced the tide of rural-to-urban migra­tion.

Water short­ages are one of the most chal­leng­ing effects of cli­mate change in Morocco. According to the World Bank, severe drought caused the nation’s eco­nomic growth to decline 1.5 per­cent in 2015. Yet, olive farm­ers in Al Haouz are grow­ing more and earn­ing more than in the past.

Young people used to migrate to the city for work,- Abdelatif El Badaoui, Amghrass coop­er­a­tive

Farmers who used to aver­age about 44 pounds of fruit per tree each year are yield­ing 265 pounds or more from each tree, accord­ing to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). These impres­sive results are largely due to drip irri­ga­tion, a slow-release method that deliv­ers water directly to the plants’ roots.

Since drip irri­ga­tion is more effi­cient, farm­ers can water the fields year-round, making it fea­si­ble to raise cash crops, like olives, and the sta­ples they live on, includ­ing fava, peas and melons. Drip irri­ga­tion also leaves them more drink­ing water.

Erosion is another effect of cli­mate change that threat­ens the region’s water supply and the liveli­hood of rural Moroccans. In the Atlas Mountains, as the ground dried, the veg­e­ta­tion dis­ap­peared. Without land for graz­ing, live­stock farm­ers could­n’t raise ani­mals. Soil slid down the steep, bare slopes into the reser­voirs.

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In a project that spans nearly 50,000 acres, res­i­dents fought ero­sion by ter­rac­ing and plant­ing olive trees, which sta­bi­lizes the soil and retains water. Farmers have been able to return to rais­ing live­stock and now they also have olives to sell for addi­tional income.

Overall, farm­ers are less reliant on rain. New veg­e­ta­tion has cre­ated a new micro-cli­mate, and the earth is softer and less dry, the IFAD reported.

Higher yields can also be attrib­uted to new approaches to prun­ing, col­lec­tion and stor­age, which about 90 per­cent of the region’s farm­ers have adopted. They using elec­tri­cal equip­ment, such as bat­tery-pow­ered prun­ing shears and vibrat­ing tree rakes. And, accord­ing to Reuters, farm­ers who used to store olives for a month or two are having them pressed within 24 hours, boost­ing qual­ity and the sell­ing prices.

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Farmers’ abil­ity to change their approach and access modern equip­ment has been pos­si­ble because of gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies and fund­ing made avail­able through IFAD agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment projects. The Agricultural Value Chain Development Project in the Mountain Zones of Al-Haouz Province, is a $9.1 mil­lion project, which is designed to alle­vi­ate rural poverty by improv­ing the value chain of three crops – apples, lambs and olives.

The five-year pro­gram, which is sched­uled to con­clude this year, has seem­ingly achieved its objec­tives. In addi­tion to boost­ing pro­duc­tion, it has helped the olive indus­try inno­vate with infra­struc­ture includ­ing modern olive presses and a lab­o­ra­tory. Producers market access has improved and the pro­gram has cre­ated attrac­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties for youth and women.

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When cli­mate change dimmed prospects in the agri­cul­tural sector people began migrat­ing to the city. 30-year-old El Badaoui Abdelatif told Reuters he thought about leav­ing. But now he’s part of an agri­cul­tural sup­port team that advises on tree health and pro­vides har­vest assis­tance and equip­ment to farm­ers. Technicians earn well over $23,000 for four months of work.

IFAD/N. Muzurovi

“With all the train­ing and equip­ment we have received, the sit­u­a­tion is more stable for young people here, our qual­ity of life is better, and I don’t think about going any­more,” he said. This is a sen­ti­ment that’s increas­ingly spread among young people.

Women were drawn from domes­tic duties into the work­force. They’ve been among those hired as ser­vice providers and they’re taking advan­tage of other oppor­tu­ni­ties, which is offer­ing finan­cial inde­pen­dence many hadn’t pre­vi­ously known. According to Reuters, ven­tures include an all-women co-op and women-owned olive press­ing equip­ment.

When people can’t grow food due to chang­ing weather pat­terns, they migrate, threat­en­ing food secu­rity of entire coun­tries, said IFAD. But in Al Haouz, the suc­cess of devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives has given rise to a bur­geon­ing olive indus­try, which expanded oppor­tu­ni­ties and sta­bi­lized incomes, so migra­tion has decreased.