Morocco faces its worst drought in three decades

The lack of rainfall and the drop in reservoir water have set off alarm bells in the North African country
Marruecos sequía

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Bouskoura village on the outskirts of Casablanca

The lack of rainfall this autumn and winter and the drop in reservoir water to unprecedented levels has led Moroccan experts to warn of one of the worst droughts facing the Maghreb country in the last three decades, a "very serious" situation for farmers that will lead to the probable loss of cereal and leguminous crops.

The anticyclone that is currently affecting Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Portugal is delaying rainfall in Morocco, which is endangering the country's agricultural season. "Cereal and legume production are already doomed this year," Moroccan agronomist Abdelmoumen Guennouni told Efe.

This is the most serious drought Morocco has experienced in recent decades, according to Guennouni, who points out that the lack of rainfall in this period coincides with the low levels of water in the country's reservoirs and the overexploitation of aquifers.

A structural problem

Like Guennouni, several experts and professionals from the agricultural sector consulted by Efe express their pessimism about the current drought, warning that climate change is aggravating the problem.

The Minister of Equipment and Water himself, Nizar Baraka, has warned of "the great decline" in the water resources in reservoirs, a problem he described as "structural".

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PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Three women walk with their donkey carrying plastic containers of water to their homes on the outskirts of Azrou, Morocco

Baraka said on 2M public television news last week that the country's reservoirs are at their lowest levels, at no more than 33.9% (compared to 62% in 2018), while the level of the Al Massira reservoir (located in the Casablanca region), the second largest in the country, is at 7% of its capacity.

Meanwhile, the cumulative rainfall between September and January stood at 38.8 mm, a deficit of 53% compared to the previous season.

The situation is such that King Mohammed VI, in his capacity as Commander of the Faithful (the country's highest religious authority), ordered special prayers to be held in all mosques on 4 February to ask for rain.

"We depend on Allah's clemency" is the expression repeated by farmers and livestock breeders consulted by Efe, all of whom are concerned about the unprecedented nature of this year's drought.

"Everything is dry"

One of them is Abderrahim Zrouti, who has cultivated 300 hectares of wheat but has lost all hope of production this year.

From his field in the rural town of Sidi Yahya Zaer, on the outskirts of Rabat, Zrouti shows the plants in the early tillering stage, with the ear still inside the neck of the plant. At this stage of the year, the wheat should be much taller and the ears should be hanging and well formed.

"December and January are crucial for the wheat crop, but this year, as there has been no rain, there will be no production, and we are expecting losses of 80%," Zrouti laments, stressing that these wheat grasses will only serve as pasture.

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PHOTO/AP  -   Moroccan women filling containers with water from a hosepipe in Zagora, south-eastern Morocco

Zrouti grows his wheat on unirrigated land, as do most of those engaged in cereal production, which is the main component of Moroccan agriculture in terms of cultivated area.

The same critical situation is registered in all regions of the country: "Everything is dry", warns a Spanish farmer who produces throughout Morocco.

"In Berkane (northeast), for example, several farmers are abandoning their orange farms because there is no water or because of the poor quality and high level of salinity of the water resources in the wells and canals," the Spaniard affirms.

Livestock farmers are also in the same situation, denouncing the high fodder prices. A sack of barley has gone from 230 dirhams (around 21 euros) to 450 dirhams (42 euros), according to a professional in the sector.

Such is the extent of the shortage that many have no choice but to give up their livelihood. "I know farmers who are selling their herds because they can't bear the losses any longer," warns Guennouni.