By Lisa Bossenbroek, Hind Ftouhi, Abir Benfars and Nawal Taaime.
“This year has been particularly difficult especially for farmers who don’t have a well. They suffer from a lack of rain and on top of that from the Covid crisis”, explains Hamid, a farmer in the oasis of Ktaoua in the Draa valley, South-East of Morocco. The country’s agricultural sector is a central pillar of the national economy. Yet, it faces severe challenges related to the Covid19 crisis and the resultant lockdown. From mid-March until July, the country has maintained a severe lockdown with regional and international travel restrictions. Farmers’ markets have been closed, transportation and movements have been limited, and farming inputs were difficult to obtain. Since then, several national restrictions have been lifted and are now organized at the regional level, hampering the mobility between regions, while the threat of a total lockdown is looming. These factors have added new challenges to farmers who are already dealing with climate change, water scarcity, and salinity. Yet, little is known about how small-scale farmers experience these changes and deal with the challenges related to the pandemic.
As part of the SalidraaJuJ project and the DUPC2-Water-intensive agricultural growth in the Maghreb project which focus on the Draa valley, we interviewed farmers to better understand how they experience and cope with the unfolding Covid19 crisis. After illustrating the importance of the agricultural sector in the Moroccan context and the Covid19 related actions taken by the government, we zoom in on the lived-experiences of small-scale farmers producing watermelons. They farm on collective lands, situated around the oases, and depend on groundwater for irrigating their crops. Although the production of watermelons in an arid environment is part of a very heated societal and scientific discussion, our research rather focuses on the experiences of these small-scale young watermelon farmers in times of the pandemic. Then, we highlight the experiences of agricultural laborers and continue by presenting the experiences of subsistence farmers who farm inside the oasis and who depend on water released from the up-stream located dam to irrigate their lands, sometimes in combination with private wells.
Lisa Bossenbroek is a researcher at iES Landau, Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany, where she is co-leading the project SALIDRAA 2 – Salt in the system, which focuses on the social and environmental impacts of salinization in the Draa River Basin in Morocco. She is member of the projects “T2GS: Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability”, “DUPC2-Water-intensive agricultural growth in the Maghreb” and “Farming in times of crises: experiences, responses and needs of smallholder farmers during the COVID19 pandemic”.
Hind Ftouhi is a researcher in rural sociology and the local project leader of the project “Farming in times of crises: experiences, responses and needs of smallholder farmers during the Covid-19 pandemic” and member of the projects “T2SGS: Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability” and DUPC2-Water-intensive agricultural growth in the Maghreb.
Abir Benfars holds a Master in Water, Energy and Environmental Sciences from l’Ecole Normale Superieure de l’Enseignement Superieure, Rabat.
Nawal Taaime is an agricultural engineer at the National School of Agriculture, Meknes.