Water intensive agricultural growth in the Maghreb

Written by Kimberly Wakkary, on 2 December 2019

Both Morocco and Algeria are countries which have adopted plans to boost their agricultural sector through intensifying and expanding the use of groundwater resources. At first glance, these plans seem to be beneficial to both the economy and supposedly boost the livelihoods of farmers. Yet, these plans have been continually met with criticism from media and academics.

Sustainable agricultural intensification?

In 2008, Morocco adopted its Green Morocco Plan and earlier, in 2000, Algeria adopted the National Agricultural Development Program (PNDA). The plans introduce a development model which centres on transferring water from lower-value food crops to high-value export crops and the extension of irrigation frontiers. These plans build on the belief that sustainability can be combined with agricultural intensification. However, this belief is contested.

Studies show a growing competition over water resources and the rapid expansion of groundwater use. Consequently, groundwater levels have dropped significantly and has put millions of rural livelihoods at risk. Additionally, the production of high-value crops is based on cheap labour, much of which is provided by women. As such these models contribute to sustaining existing gender hierarchies through restructuring current labour and tenure relations.

Changing gendered identities and practices

 “Water-intensive agricultural growth in North-Africa: changing gendered farm identities and practices” is a project initiated mid-2019 and funded through the 2018 DUPC2 Call for Research for Development proposals led by institutes from developing countries. Led by Targa-Aide, a Moroccan NGO, the project researches the social and ecological impacts of water-based agricultural growth models. The project looks at how contemporary processes of agricultural intensification in the two countries re-pattern (gendered) relations of agricultural production and focusses on both the relations between different people and people and water.

The project will conduct an in-depth examination of different possible farming and waste use structures and their respective gender arrangements in two area’s facing water-intensive agricultural dynamics, namely the southern region Draa-Tafilalet in Morocco and the southern district Ghardaia in Algeria. With its results, stories of change will be produced to create awareness on how rural actors creatively re-negotiate the rules of the game for their own purpose and reinvent farming identities and practices in the process. Furthermore, the project aims to establish a South-South sustainable rural transformation network, particularly emphasizing gender to improve knowledge to collectively identify and mobilize support for alternatives to the currently dominant water-intensive agricultural development models.

Partners in the project are local knowledge institutes in Morocco: FLSH – Faculte des Lettre et des Sciences Humaines Universite Hassan II Casablanca, Institut Agronomique et Veterinaire Hassan II, in Algeria Bachir El Ibrahimi University and Indian NGO Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM).

Follow the project’s progress on their Facebook page.

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