Small farmers in Morocco face numerous challenges that impede their sovereignty over their natural resources and financial success. Some of these challenges are having limited access to credit, lack of access to modern technology, unsuitable irrigation systems as well as insufficient “government support”. The environmental crisis and climate change, as well as droughts and floods, pose significant threats to small farmers’ livelihoods. The high costs of inputs such as fertilizers, seeds and pesticides, exacerbates challenges. Moreover, small farmers are unable to access markets that provide fair prices for their products. As a result, small farmers in Morocco struggle to earn a living which affects their quality of life and social status.
Morocco’s agricultural debt rose by 5.5% from 2010 to 2018. Small farmer’s debts constitute a large proportion of this debt.
The high prices of agricultural inputs and low incomes are the reasons for debt accumulation of Morocco’s small-scale farmers. According to a World Bank report about Morocco’s situation,” demographic pressure, climate variability, inadequate utilization of agricultural land and lack of supportive farming policies are more reasons that contribute to the increase of farmer’s debts1.” According to another report from the same institute, Morocco’s agricultural debt rose by 5.5% from 2010 to 2018 2. Small farmers’ debts constitute a large proportion of this debt. A report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), entitled “Small farmers and debt: problems and solutions,” explains that more than 60% of small farmers suffer from financial problems and debt.
Loans burden small farmers: a field study in northern Morocco’s Loukkos region
Microcredit is a form of microfinance for individuals or households that do not have access to traditional finance. They are extremely small short-term loans to finance small businesses and enterprises. These loans come with heavy burdens on the small farmers. Since interest on these loans is usually high, it adds to the debt burden which therefore affects farmers’ and communities’ economic and social sustainability.
There are many difficulties when it comes to knowing the true state of the small farmers, which leads to the absence and/ or weakening of their own tools of struggle necessary to enable them to carry out this task. In contrast, large capitalist farmers own organized bodies that they use to preserve their class interests. Research in the official reports and press investigations on the small farmers’ situations does not provide a full image over the situation since these reports are mainly concerned with the macro-economic aspects (performance scale, balance of trade, indebtedness, etc.). Therefore, there was no other way but to aim our focus on the small farmers and carry out a field investigation that makes up this case study.
The research was carried out in Loukkos, a region in northern Morocco, which is a fertile 250,600-hectare area. Most of the small farmers in the area exploit no more than 3 hectares of land, majority of it being communal land. This region lives in a state of constant conflict over land ownership between bigger farmers and smaller farmers (rights-holders) as several struggles erupted in the region to recover the lands that were being acquired by circumventing the law regulating the privately owned and individually inherited lands. Among them are the struggles of the residents of the following regions: Awlad Aakil in Moulay Bou Selham, Ain Aabeej, Al-Qawasema and Awlad Al-Ghamary Bezowada. The selling price of the land has risen considerably between 500,000 Dirhams per hectare (around $52,000 – $62,000 USD) and the renting price varies from 12,000 Dirhams to 15,000 Dirhams per hectare a year 3.
There were many impediments during the field investigation due to several overlapping factors. These impediments made it difficult to communicate with the small farmers and limited the number of respondents. We attempted to look for and interrogate women, but it was not possible because of the conservative inclinations of the people in the search area.
1 – 2 Testimonies from the Loukkos region: effects of loans on small farmers.
The first testimony: Location Laouamra, Sidi Allal Al-Sharif
“Hafeez Bin-Isaa, married and a father of 4 children, is a small farmer in the region of Loukkos.” When asked how much land he owned, Hafeez replied “My agricultural land area is about 3 hectares.” He was also asked whether he had any debt and replied “Yes, I have a debt of 50,000 Dirhams. I have borrowed money because of the decrease in prices of the agricultural products and the increase of the production cost. I applied to reschedule my debt to the local agricultural bank, but to no avail.” When asked about the annual production rate of his land, Hafeez replied “It varies between half a tonne to a tonne of different crops such as grains and vegetables.” We have also asked Hafeez if there is a farmers’ organization in the area, and does he belong to any organization concerned with defending the farmers’ rights. He replied, “Yes, there are organizations in the region that protect farmers’ rights, but I am not affiliated with any of them and most small farmers that I know in the area don’t belong to any of those organizations either.”
The second testimony: Location, Bou Jedyane Bani-Idrees
“My name is Ahmed Bin-Ammar, and I am a small farmer in the region of Loukkos. I am married and a father of 4 children. I own 6 hectares of land.” When asked if Ahmed had any debt, in relation to his work in farming, he replied “Yes, I have a debt of 42,000 Dirhams and unfortunately I was not able to pay it back on time because of the low crop prices and the water crisis.” Wanting to further understand Ahmed’s situation, particularly relating to the difficulty he faces when it comes to paying back his debt, we asked “Have you contacted the financial institution you took the loan out from to reschedule the debt?” He replied with “Yes, I have contacted them to reschedule my debt and reduce the monthly installments but unfortunately they rejected my request due to the lack of guarantees I own.” The debt problem has caused an accumulation of interest and forced more the taking of more loans to cover basic living expenses4.
2- Irrigation water debt: farmers’ struggle continues
The problem of irrigation water debt is one of the most significant challenges faced by small farmers in the region of Loukkos where they face high costs of using agricultural water. When failing to pay those costs, they are forced to borrow more money to finance their needs. Moreover, since their revenue is limited, they usually face difficulties paying back their loans. When loans accumulate, it can adversely affect their daily lives making it difficult for them to continue farming. Irrigation water is one of the most important factors affecting the region’s agricultural production where farming depends heavily on water supply. This makes the problem of debt due to the use of irrigation water significantly affect small farmers in the region5.
A testimony about the effects of irrigation water debt:
“The family of farmer Mohammed, lives in one of the districts of Laouamra, in northern Morocco, on a farm. Mohammed and his family struggle with the debt resulted from the use of irrigation water, which is a vital source of agriculture in the region. Mohammed recalls that he had decided a few years back to buy some modern agricultural equipment to improve his production and reduce the overhead cost of agriculture. However, these investments require a large amount of water to achieve the desired crop growth. Due to the high cost of irrigation water, Mohammed was not able to pay the 10,000 Dirham water bill. Interest and fines started to accumulate significantly. Mohammed adds “With the water getting cut off, water bills accumulating and delayed fines, I started struggling with more debt which exceeded 20,000 Dirhams once the banking company responsible for bill collection and water management in the region changed. With the accumulation of debt, I started feeling dismayed and worried about the future. This land is all my family and I own to live and if we lose it, we will not have any other source of livelihood.” When we asked Mohammed about the actions the small farmers took to overcome this obstacle, he replied “The farmers affected by these debts have come forward with multiple complaints to those responsible for this matter to settle and manage it fairly but the Regional Office for Agricultural Investment has failed to address these issues, which, if they continue, will lead to the displacement of dozens of families within the entire region and will expose their people to significant loss and land confiscation. There will be a precedent in this area if the lands of the farmers are seized by creditors6.”
Small farmers’ debt relief trick in Morocco
The region’s volatile context in 2011 imposed on political systems several actions to face the uprisings that did not exclude the rural areas and villages. Under the pressure of the 20th February movement, a large number of farmers in Morocco were exempt from the water loans and agricultural debts, or had them reduced, after the 20th of February 2011 movement.
The regions El-Srghna and Laattaouia have witnessed several protests, mainly against the water debt, which the state met with repressive interventions at the beginning before the farmers’ demands were considered. Foremost among them was the rescheduling of the farmers’ debts, which include the use of irrigation water debt, as well as exempting them from the interest of the loans taken out to pay for the said debt, repairing a range of roads and tracks that belong to the El-Haouz office in the Rehamna and Zemrane regions, rehabilitating mud-bedded irrigation canals and providing alternative ones coated in cement, to facilitate farmers’ access to irrigation water.
In reality, a large number of farmers still live in the midst of their accumulated debt crisis, especially during the current agricultural season which has seen rare and scarce rainfall as well as the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war on farming (increased price of inputs).
It is difficult for small farmers to continue their farming under these circumstances, which leads a large number of these farmers to rely on loans as a natural first choice.
2- Governmental Measures in service to bigger farmers
In response to this situation, Mohammed Sadiki, Minister of Agriculture, Maritime Fisheries, Rural Development, and Water and Forests has said “The government has put in place an exceptional programme to mitigate the effects of the scarce rainfall in the current agricultural season and to reduce its impact on the farmers’ activities as well as providing assistance to the involved farmers and cattle breeders7.”
According to the government official, this programme focuses on three main focal points for alleviating the financial burden on the farmers and professionals considered as belonging to the farmers’ loan group, which is focused on allocating additional cover for loans to finance the completion of the supply of the national market and look for a solution to the farmer’s indebtedness for their future entitlements as well as finance innovative investments aimed at renewing water resources.
The government program has allocated a financial cover worth 10 billion Dirhams8, 60% of which is for debt rescheduling or partial exemption. When we conjure up the fact that the farmers involved in the financing process mostly belong to the category of bigger farmers and the strong companies widespread among the agricultural field, we recognize the path that the funding and rescheduling sector is taking. Therefore, if we drop a limited number of middle and small farmers that have small debts, we find the category that benefits the most from this cover none other than the bigger farmers’ category, which makes this whole action a loophole.
3- Morocco’s Green plan: Small Farmer Debts
The issue of the small farmers’ debt in Morocco is one of the most important economic and social problems this vital and crucial sector faces. Relying on Morocco’s green plan9, which relies on the “Government Plan for the Development of the Agricultural Sector in Morocco,” a number of measures have been taken to deal with this issue, including the exemption of 80,000 farmers from their debts in favor of the farmers’ Agricultural Loan Group, as well as scheduling the debts of approximately 200,000 farmers using an estimated amount of 5 billion Dirhams in loans spread over 5 years at the rate of 1 billion Dirham per year. Those benefiting from these procedures must have loans that do not exceed 100,000 Dirhams each10.
If we drop a limited number of middle and small farmers that have small debts, we find the category that benefits the most from this includes none but the bigger farmers, which makes this whole action a loophole.
However, these measures did not fundamentally resolve the problem, where many farmers continue to accumulate their debt and fail to pay them back, which impacts their ability to continue in the agricultural profession and secure their livelihood.
Among the claimed points of criticism in Morocco’s Green Plan in dealing with this issue is the lack of clarity of the time plan needed for resolving this issue and the application of the necessary procedures. Moreover, some of the governmental measures, such as the exemption of loans program, have not yet achieved the hoped-for results with many farmers still struggling because of the same problems after the program’s completion.
In addition, some of the government’s actions to solve the problem focus on providing financial assistance to the small farmers, which does not address the real root of the problem. More attention is required to improve the farmers’ economic situation through increased productivity and improved resource management which will help them escape from the debt spiral.
The demands and struggles to achieve them: weapons of those in the bottom
Small food producers live in poverty and vulnerability and are increasingly forced to the taking of loans and selling their lands or renting them to large capitalists whose acquisition of the lands of the individually owned and inherited land proprietors groups, forest lands, and the state’s land is steadily increasing. The liberal model had failed to guarantee the country’s main food needs and after Morocco’s Green Scheme had been implemented, its results were the state’s finances being depleted and indebtedness and austerity measures deepened.
Economic, social and environmental damage continues to grow through “Green Generation Strategy 2020-2030” that is also based on large-scale export-oriented farming. In view of this situation, the urgent demands of the small farmers become really important, which are summarized as follows:
- Increase government support to enable them to preserve their land and improve their productivity.
- Provide high quality and affordable seeds and materials to improve their productivity.
- Protect agricultural lands from grapping, pollution, encroachment, and the effects of climate change.
- Support local marketing of their products and achieve added-value and better competition in the market.
- Improve their social and economic situation by obtaining a sustainable and decent income from their agricultural work.
- Enhancing farmers’ cooperation: small farmers’ productivity and efficiency can be improved through sharing knowledge and experiences with each other.
- Support organic and local farming to improve consumers’ health and reduce negative environmental impact.
These are some of Morocco’s small farmers’ demands for the improvement of their inferior living conditions which intersect with the demand for food sovereignty and all aspects of the peoples’ sovereignty over their wealth and foremost among them is the right of their land and its goods.
These demands and others are mobilized by local and international organizations such as La Via Campesina11, Siyada Network and Agricultural workers union… etc.
The collaboration of these struggling groups along with the contribution of those at the bottom, its pillar being the small farmers, is the only way to destroy the prevailing production relations, and offsetting it with an alternative mode of production based on meeting the basic food needs of the local population and an ecological agriculture approach, as well as distributing wealth/assets in an equal and democratic way. Let us then work towards solidarity among all, to have a unified and cohesive base for a food sovereignty project, towards healthy food and a sustainable environment.
This post is translated from Arabic. Find the original text on The Link
translated by: Noran Samy Gamal Khedr
This publication was supported with funds from the Rosa Luxemburg stiftung. This publication or parts of it ca be quoted for free as log as proper reference to the original publication is provided.
- World Bank Report: “Investing in Agriculture for Food Security and Prosperity”, published in 2013
- The IFC’s report on agricultural debt in Morocco can be found at https ://2u.pw/R7tTYM, which addresses the challenges of agricultural debt in Morocco and makes recommendations for enhancing farmers’ competitiveness and improving financial risk management in the agricultural sector. The report also analyses Morocco’s agricultural debt performance and the factors affecting its development during the period.
- ATTAC Morocco’s Study: In Defence of Food Sovereignty in Morocco: https://2u.pw/AOWa7s
- Field Search Form
- Irrigation water and agricultural challenges in the Loukkos region, northern Morocco” article published in Sustainable Human Development Journal, article link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325705025_Irrigation_Water_and_Agricultural_Challenges_in_the_Loukkos_Area_Northern_Morocco
- Previous Source: Field Search Form
- Minister Siddiki reveals measures to alleviate the debt accumulation of Moroccan farmers: https://assafir.ma/72989.html
- Press Release: Maghreb News Agency Link: https://cutt.us/kqJOC
- Press report: Morocco exempt debts of 80 thousand small farmers: https://cutt.us/CuzSu
- Morocco’s Green plan: https://www.agriculture.gov.ma/ar/dat-agri/plan-maroc-vert
- The website of the international peasants Movement is on the Link: https://viacampesina.org/en/