Water intensive agricultural growth in North Africa: changing gendered farm identities and practices

  • Partners: TARGA-AIDE (lead), FLSH Université Hassan II, IAV Hassan II, Bachir El Ibrahimi University, SOPPECOM
  • Donor: Stichting IHE Delft
  • Donor Programme: DGIS - UNESCO-IHE Programmatic Coorperation II

This project was selected under the DUPC2 South-South Call and is led by Dr. Lisa Bossenbroek, researcher at TARGA AIDE/CRESC Association, Rabat, Morocco. Morocco and Algeria have embarked on similar water-intensive agricultural development models, premised on transferring water from lower-value food crops to high-value export crops and the extension of irrigation frontiers. These water transfers are strongly promoted by both governments through subsidies and other kinds of support and are embedded in a model of green growth that is anchored in the belief that sustainability (manifested most visible in the use of efficient and modern water management technologies such as drip irrigation) can be combined with agricultural intensification. Experiences to date question this belief, as studies show a growing competition over water resources and the rapid expansion of groundwater use, causing groundwater levels to drop dramatically. This puts millions of rural livelihoods at risk. Moreover, the production of high-value crops is premised on cheap and flexible labor much of which is provided by (poor) women, and as such restructures labor and tenure relations along existing gender hierarchies. In sum, current pathways of agricultural intensification in Algeria and Morocco appear both unsustainable and inequitable. In light of these changes, the project aims to shed light on the social and ecological impacts of waterbased agricultural growth models. It looks at how contemporary processes of agricultural intensification in the two countries re-pattern (gendered) relations of agricultural production (tenure and labor), focusing both on relations between different people and on those between people and water. It aims to do so, firstly, through an in-depth examination of different possible farming and water use configurations and their respective gender arrangements in two area’s facing water-intensive agricultural dynamics (Morocco’s southern province of Tinghire and the Algerian southern district of Ghardaia). The team will use the results to, secondly, produce a palette of stories of change. By documenting how various rural actors creatively re-negotiate the rules of the game for their own purpose, reinventing farming identities and practices in the process, the team hopes to diversify and pluralize imaginations of future pathways for agricultural development models, paying special attention to those that are sustainable and just. Lastly, the project aims to establish a South-South sustainable rural transformation network with a particular emphasis on gender to enhance critical knowledge in view of collectively identifying and mobilizing support for alternatives to the currently dominant water-intensive agricultural development models.


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