Despite soaring cereal import prices and an expected drop in production, Morocco still has visibility on its sources of supply. The observation is shared by the various speakers at the 1st Morning on Tuesday organized by the Le Matin Group on food sovereignty. However, actions seem necessary to strengthen the agricultural production system, reduce consumption and move towards substitution. The details.
Will Morocco be able to achieve its food sovereignty? “Probably not”, in the opinion of the experts who hosted, on Tuesday in Casablanca, the first Morning of the Le Matin Group’s conference cycle, dedicated to Food Sovereignty, on the theme “What choices for greater autonomy for Morocco ?”, in front of an audience of specialists. However, everyone agrees that food security is possible to achieve.
From the outset, there is a difference between food sovereignty and food security that should be kept in mind. The concept of food security promotes the abundance of foodstuffs without any consideration for their origins or the conditions of their production and marketing. Local production is not, in this respect, a fundamental condition for achieving food security. Conversely, it is this same local production that defines food sovereignty which, in addition to being a state objective, expresses the substance of peasant aspirations, because it advocates the promotion of local producers, local production and creation as well as the improvement of local know-how.
For El Mostafa Chehhar, director of Domaine vert at the Crédit Agricole Group, “food sovereignty means producing everything Morocco needs. And that is impossible”. Food security suggests independence, maximum optimized local production, an appropriate storage and marketing circuit, economic and physical accessibility and a certain stability. Basically, it is to make agriculture more efficient, resilient and integrated and this is the objective of the various strategies (Plan Maroc Vert, Génération Green). Food sovereignty cannot therefore be achieved for several reasons, the first of which is Morocco’s inability to free itself from world markets and ensure its self-sufficiency for many agricultural products, underlines Chehhar.
Cereal farming below expectations
This inability to achieve self-sufficiency is proven, for example, in cereal farming by the weakness of the current agricultural campaign. “The low harvest forecast for the current cereal campaign (32 million quintals, a 69% drop compared to the previous campaign) can be explained by the drought. But this is not the only cause. The predominance of small-scale farming, the low average yield per hectare and the choice of technical itineraries that are not always adequate are also to blame”, he explains. This is in addition to the international situation which has a direct effect on the price of inputs.
Multitude of factors impacting the decline of the current campaign
“We have never experienced this: low rainfall, almost dry dams and soaring input prices. Nitrogen prices rose to reach 1,000 DH per quintal against 400 DH previously. And it is known, if we use less nitrogen, the yields per hectare decrease”, is surprised, for his part, Rachid Benali, first vice-president of the Moroccan Confederation of Agriculture and Rural Development (Comadaire). This price increase would be the result of several factors. “Morocco is going through a difficult context with several constraining factors. Climate change, the pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia geopolitical situation have disrupted international markets, ”explains Hamid Felloun, CEO of the National Federation of Agrifood (FENAGRI).
The agri-food industry is struggling to feed locally
A large part of domestic needs is met by local production. For cereals, production is concentrated in favorable areas of the regions of Fez-Meknes and Rabat-Salé-Kenitra (about 60% of production, editor’s note). “The major problem in Agriculture is that the average yield remains below expectations. This has a significant impact on the food industry. Today, the industry struggles to supply itself with raw materials such as cereals, oilseeds for edible oil… due to the increase in their prices”, specifies Felloun. Of course, at the beginning, the players tried to resist the increase in prices by absorbing these price increases. Many have unfortunately ended up passing them on. Should we ask the public authorities? “No”, insists the CEO of FENAGRI: “The support of the public authorities is not only financial. The industry already benefits from technical support, guidance and many other measures. There is simply no magic wand and there are mechanisms other than direct support”.
The drop in supply does not constitute a risk for Morocco
Thanks to the Green Morocco Plan, national cereal production covers 60 to 65% of our needs. Morocco, however, remains obliged to import the rest. The purpose of this import is to cover the needs for human and animal food. “The majority of production, 80%, comes from rainfed areas. Of course, prices are soaring all over the world. But we still have visibility on the sources of supply”, reassures for his part, Redouane Arrach, Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture. And to add: “Furthermore, Morocco has strengthened the role of the private sector in its food security strategy; the state retains a regulatory role. Countries that have done this have demonstrated a greater ability to absorb shocks. In addition, the Kingdom has developed food logistics compared to the rest of the region”.
The Director of the Green Domain at the Crédit Agricole Group agrees: “Of course, we are seeing a reduction in supply, but it is not yet a real problem”. Basically, it is the surge in prices that worries, not the drop in supply. As for the sources of supply available to Morocco, they remain present: Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh, Romania, Hungary, Canada, France… Morocco is doing well for the moment, agree to say the all stakeholders.
Overconsumption: raise prices to end it
For Benali, the most serious thing is not the supply but the overconsumption: “We consume too much flour. Bread at 1.20 DH is no longer acceptable. This creates a phenomenal loss. A lot of bread is thrown away”. For example, in 2020, 30 million units of bread were thrown away daily, according to the National Federation of Bakery and Pastry of Morocco (FNBPM), i.e. a quarter of total daily production. In other words, some 36 million DH are thrown away every day, based on a selling price of 1.20 DH per unit. And it is the price that encourages the purchase of quantities greater than the real needs. This is why Benali calls for a review “of the price cap which encourages overconsumption. Consumption reaches 350 kg per capita per year”. The speaker pleads for a more reasonable price of bread which makes it possible to find a balance and correct consumption. FENAGRI adopts the same discourse: “We eat a lot of bread. But we waste a lot of it too. The federation calls for a readjustment of the public policy dedicated to cereal farming.
Should this policy necessarily include an extension of the areas dedicated to cereal growing? “No”, immediately replies the secretary general of the supervisory ministry. “Governments must make the best choices while bearing in mind that each choice involves costs. These choices take into account the reality of things: climatic constraints, costs, availability… while ensuring that food security is maintained. I think there are more interesting solutions than increasing the dedicated areas. We can, for example, obtain better yields per hectare, even higher than those of developed countries”, explains the secretary general of the supervisory ministry.
The idea is shared by FENAGRI: “There is room for maneuver for cereals. It is possible to improve yields in favorable lands and small irrigated areas. The concept of aggregation has also proven to be successful in increasing productivity. Without forgetting the new technologies”, she suggests. Combined, these elements even present an interesting substitution potential for the agri-food industry, because of the 18 billion DH of inputs it needs annually, 10 billion are imported.
Water: the sinews of war
According to Benali, the price of wheat in Morocco has not changed for 30 years. “Prices are so high today that it is more commendable for Morocco to opt for water transfer,” he reveals. He even suggests opting for small dams dedicated to irrigation, which consume less money than seawater desalination stations. The supervisory ministry is convinced that Morocco is located in an area exposed to climate change. . “So we have to work on water control,” said the vice-president of Comader.
Free trade agreements singled out
For farms of less than 5 hectares, the subsidy is 100% regardless of the agricultural product grown, Benali points out. Similarly, small farmers are not subject to the CNSS or taxes. Despite this, the channels have disappeared. “In many cases, free trade agreements are the cause,” said the vice-president of Comader. It is therefore difficult to deal with juice concentrate imported from Egypt when you know that the daily SMAG there is 2 dollars. “We are the losers especially against Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey,” continues Benali. The subsidy granted goes directly into the pocket of the farmer opposite. Hence the interest of substitution agriculture and a readjustment of mechanisms and subsidies.
At the same time, and since Generation Green is working towards better integration of the agri-food industry, which is currently poorly integrated, the preparation of the new program contract linked to this strategy takes on these concerns, recalls the DG of FENAGRI. Finally, the marketing circuit, which has a direct impact on the selling prices to end consumers, is important. And the Generation Green strategy fortunately tackles this. “The apple, for example, never leaves the farmer for more than 3 DH per kilo. It arrives at the end consumer at 12 DH”, Benali is surprised.
Sugar and rapeseed: defined objectives to reduce dependence
Increasing the rate of coverage of food needs through local production is a necessity in order to reduce dependence on international markets. Thus, for table oils, “the objective of the Ministry of Agriculture is to achieve coverage ranging from 30 to 40% of needs against 3 to 5% today”, shares Redouane Arrach, secretary general of the ministry. of Agriculture. A realistic and achievable objective by 2030, according to him: “with 400,000 to 500,000 hectares of bour land, where rapeseed is grown only in rotation with cereals, the objective will be achieved without difficulty”, assures Arrach . For sugar, current production covers 47 to 50% of annual needs. Similarly, one million tons are imported each year, part of which is destined for the national market while the rest is refined and then re-exported. The ministry’s objective is to increase the rate of coverage to 70% of needs by local production by 2030.