New study: “The Bet on Food Sovereignty Under the Pressures of Debt and Free Trade”

Executive summary

Here, we present an executive summary of the conversation held by “Siyada Network” with professor and economist Najib Akesbi on “The Bet on Food Sovereignty Under the Pressures of Debt and Free Trade.”

The dialogue included 9 themes/ questions as follows:

1- Is there a real difference between the concept of “food security” and the concept of “food sovereignty?”

2- For decades, Morocco’s economy has been under debt pressure: how does this affect agricultural choices, especially food sovereignty?

3- What is the status of food sovereignty in the country’s strategies before the Green Morocco Plan and Generation Green?

4- What are the reasons of Morocco’s food dependencies and its causes?

5- Morocco has free trade agreements with the European Union, the United States of America and other countries. What impact did these agreements have on Moroccan agriculture, including the food issue?

6. How do resource constraints and water scarcity affect food sovereignty? What is the anticipated impact of climate change on the food sovereignty?

7-The State has included the concept of “food sovereignty” in its documents, on top of which is the “Report of the Development Model Committee”, and a special committee was established in the House of Councillors, which also talked about food sovereignty. What does the state’s perspective on the concept of food sovereignty have to do with that of La Via Campesina, the Siyada Network, and the farmers’ and indigenous people movements?

8. Does the Moroccan or Arab framework open up greater opportunities for regional food sovereignty?

9- How will agricultural policies be under actual food sovereignty?

Professor Akesbi began with a historic presentation of the emergence and evolution of the concept of “food security”, starting with its introduction by International Financial Institutions in the 1980s, which linked the achievement of that security to the provision of food from the international market. Subsequently, the content of the concept was developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) at the World Food Summit in 1996, which linked the achievement of food security to the five conditions: availability, access, continuity, respect for the environment and preservation of health. Dr. Akesbi considered that the “food security” of FAO is wealthier and healthier than its counterpart to the international financial institutions.

As for the concept of “food sovereignty”, although it appears in sync with its counterpart “food security” as put forward by FAO, it means that each country has the ability to control decision-making and choice in the field of agricultural policy: production, distribution, development and formation… and everything related to the agricultural policy. Their first concern and motivation are domestic interests and needs. Therefore, the term “food sovereignty” integrates FAO’s concept of “food security” and enriches it by the addition of each country’s ability to control decision-making and choice.

Dr. Akesbi presents a historical analysis of the correlation of Morocco’s agricultural policy with indebtedness. International financial institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) have intervened since the 1960s, and since then have guided Morocco’s economic policy, including agricultural policy.

These institutions imposed on Morocco an agrarian choice based on preparing the infrastructure geared towards the irrigation of large-scale farming, and for its funding, it allowed borrowing money from the international market. But to ensure that it is repaid in hard currency, Morocco has to direct its agriculture to export. Thus, the agricultural policy was directed to meet the needs of the international market and not internal needs, while at the same time repaying all the external debt.

According to Dr. Akesbi, this led to the neglect of local needs and thus undermining the food security of Moroccans, who have also been forced to abandon their old model of consumption (barley and olive oil, for example), and replace it with subsidized foodstuffs through the compensation fund (soft wheat and vegetable oils). This led to a “disconnect” (déconnexion) between the consumerism model and the production model.

For Dr. Akesbi, there is continuity between the agricultural policy that was established in the 1960s, and the current schemes (Green Morocco and Green Generation). Morocco’s Green Plan maintained the goal of “productivity/productivism” and “export-oriented production”, which further undermined food security and at the same time drained nature’s resources, primarily water resources. He gave the example of the “drip watering” technology, also known as the “goutte à goutte” technology, supported by public finances, which in turn led to a severe depletion of water resources, which was covered by low production figures, benefiting major exporters.

Dr. Akesbi mentions the allegations of the international financial institutions and the State about the country benefiting from the proceeds of an export-based agricultural option. The European market, for example, builds walls to protect its producers from competing with the goods coming from the south (including Morocco). The high standards imposed by Europeans also make the best and most nutritious food products destined for Europe, while leftover goods of lower quality are for the internal market, undermining one of the pillars of food security: healthy and nutritious food.

This agricultural policy deepened Morocco’s food dependence on the international market. The five main items that Moroccans consume are: grains, sugar, oils, meat and milk, which are known for their low rates of achieving self-sufficiency, having been able to do so in the early years of “independence”.

The outcome of these agricultural policies – according to Dr. Akesbi – is a strong dependence on vital and strategic materials such as wheat, corn, sugar, oils and meat. The situation today with regard to these materials (and we can say this objectively and without exaggeration), is the most difficult situation in terms of food security than it was. Thus, Moroccans are importing what they consume, and produce what they do not: it is the paradox of commercial export farming.

The other side of this dependency is the weakness of Morocco’s exports in the international market. Morocco’s imports are critical strategic material, not only for Morocco, but also internationally. Unfortunately, their exports are vegetables and fruits. They are materials that do not have the same strategic value as what they import. This results in a balance of power that is not in Morocco’s interest: to import materials of strategic value internationally, and to export materials which are important but secondary. This results, according to Dr. Akesbi, in the weak negotiating power of Morocco facing European and other exporters (such as the United States and Turkey… etc.).

The Free Trade agreements contributed to this fate. Morocco has signed nearly 60 free trade agreements, most notably of which were signed with the European Union in 1996, and those signed with the United States in 2004. One of Dr. Akesbi’s most important criticisms to those agreements is that they were primarily of politically motivated, and he specifically criticized the agreement signed with the United States of America. Morocco did not gain any economic benefits from this agreement, which the United States desperately needed to present itself as a bearer of economic prosperity and trade for a region that had been a region for its military adventurism. According to Dr. Akesbi, this is what left Morocco in a weak negotiating position: “The United States had 800 experts tasked with preparing the content of the agreement! As for us, there were three or four cadres without the capabilities or a plan of action.”

The other side of the catastrophe of these free trade agreements is that Morocco was recording a free trade deficit with the countries with which it signed these agreements. Dr. Akesbi asked: “Isn’t there a “masochistic” side: the state knows that it has entered into a losing game for the country, and yet it insists on playing it!”.

In connection with the topic of the dialogue, Dr. Akesbi stressed that the free trade agreements are based on a logic that destroys food security and undermines the country’s sovereignty over its food production. Opening the market to economically stronger countries means invading their food products and destroying the local production that forms the basis of food security. At the same time, the rise in value of other countries’ products puts Morocco’s exports in a vulnerable position in the international market.

According to Dr. Akesbi, it led to a preference for import over export among many Moroccan businessmen. Morocco has 5,000 exporters, including only 500 permanent exporters, while there are more than 25000 importers . “They are significant figures,” concludes Aqsabi. It shows that Moroccan investors have taken advantage of the free trade exchange to accumulate profits through imports rather than through exports.”

Dr. Akesbi goes on to address the impact of Morocco’s agricultural choices on the environment and natural resources. He believes that there is a close link between agricultural policy and water policy: “Which water policy is for which agricultural policy?”. The Green Morocco Plan relied on stimulating large-scale agriculture and supporting those oriented towards export. The latter specializes in highly water-consuming products (as well as soil exhaustion), and the justification was always: they are products with high added value and will bring in hard currency. After the major dam’s policy, the Green Morocco Plan adopted drip watering technology, and because it is subsidized (sometimes by 100%), the farmer/ investor prefers to produce export-oriented materials. Thus, this technique led to the opposite of what was hoped for: more water table depletion.

The end result of those choices was undermining Moroccans’ food security, deepen their dependence on the global food market, and threaten their sovereignty over food production. The problem aggravated with the with the Covid-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020. The economic shutdown has struck the global food system at the core. The discourse of achieving food security through the international market has disappeared, to be replaced by local production and achieving food security based on internal production.

This led to an official adaptation to this new reality, but only at the level of a discourse. The concept of food sovereignty has infiltrated state documents, foremost of which is the “General Report of the New Development Model Committee.” Professor Akesbi says: “The discourse glorifies “sovereignty”, but without any new direction or any practical measures that give it actual and practical content, and express a real will to change. Because this will surely require changing the major choices of agricultural policy to be in line with the requirements of “food sovereignty”. But none of this happened! The basic choices of agricultural policy are the same as those that have existed for decades. And even in the “Report” you find an exaggerated praise for the Green Morocco Plan! It’s glaring schizophrenia!”

Professor Najib Akesbi concluded the interview by discussing food sovereignty, stressing that it is an open project based on the Maghreb Unitary Horizon, which opened up vast horizons for its achievement. He initially pointed out that relying on governments to achieve them is not on the agenda. He also excludes the possibility of achieving that unity based on market mechanisms, as the latter is based on competition and not on cooperation. But the integration of the countries of the regions and the integration of natural resources makes it possible to achieve integration in the production and consumption of food. He relies on bottom-up initiatives to build the first blocks of that sovereignty, focusing on the role of organizing small-scale food producers.

Because food sovereignty is essentially based on controlling choices and the ability of each country to be the master of its decisions, and also that the first goal of food production is to meet internal needs, while respecting the needs of other peoples, contrary to the logic of the market and the international market. The choice to secure food for the people is to adopt food sovereignty starting with a radical break of the current agricultural choices and replacing them with choices that take into account the needs of the people in a way that respects environmental balances.

This summary was written in Arabic, and translated by: Noran Samy

Read the full study in Arabic on the Link

Naguib AkesbiAuthor posts

Moroccan professor and economist.