By Fatima Zohra Bouaziz
Rabat, Apr 19 (EFE).- Farmers in Morocco, which suffered through its worst drought in seven decades last year, are facing another difficult agricultural season due to high temperatures and low rainfall in recent weeks.
Those difficulties, coupled with the rising cost of fertilizers, seeds and phytosanitary products on the international market, have pushed up prices in the North African country, where food inflation rose to 20.1% at the end of February.
This week saw another heat wave with temperatures ranging between 34 and 40 degrees Celsius in different parts of the country, according to the orange alert bulletin of the General Directorate of Meteorology.
According to climate and sustainable development specialist Mohamed Benabbou, “these heat waves are going to precipitate the harvest”, which will have a negative effect on the quantity and quality of various crops.
In the same vein, the president of the Moroccan Confederation of Farmers and Rural Development, Rachid Benali, points out that successive years of drought and high temperatures are impacting the production of grains, pulses and oil crops, with the exception of olive trees.
Benali is hopeful that rain in the coming weeks could help save vegetable production for this spring and summer.
Several farmers that EFE spoke to expressed their alarm at the situation and called for the government to help them.
“These temperatures are not normal. It hasn’t rained since the end of February. In March, which is the start of the season, there has been no rain at all. The wheat plants have only grown 40 to 50 centimeters and then stopped growing”, says Abdelmayid El Uardi, a farmer in the village of Ain Aouda, some 30 kilometers south of Rabat.
El Uardi has some 40 hectares of land, mostly rainfed, on which he plants wheat, barley and oats. This year, he says he expects the harvest to be 80% smaller than normal.
From one of his fields, he shows some wheat plants that have completely dried out, while his assistant uses a small tractor to harvest the rest of the plants that have managed to grow.
“The other fields are already lost, I’ll let the herders use them,” he laments.
The rise in the price of raw materials, with fertilizers costing 45% more, have hit his business hard.
“There are farmers in the area who are selling their land because they can’t stand it any longer. The small farmer is disappearing and the medium-sized farmer is on the way out,” he warns.
According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Equipment and Water, the water situation in the country has improved compared to last year, the driest since 1945. Nearly half of the country’s 152 large reservoirs recorded filling rates of over 50 per cent in mid-March.
But experts estimate that this is still not enough for a country that is suffering as a result of global warming and the overexploitation of aquifers.
Mohamed Benabbou says the country has lost a quarter of its 4 billion cubic meters of water table reserves.
The Minister of Equipment and Water, Nizar Baraka, warned the upper house of parliament on Tuesday that 90% of the 372,000 wells in the country are illegal, while his department is studying their depth and measures to control drilling.
To support the agricultural and livestock sector, the government has launched measures such as eliminating tariffs on the import of cattle, subsidizing the prices of nitrogen fertilizers and seeds for some crops, such as potatoes and cereals, and eliminating VAT on some agricultural products and equipment.
But for farmers like Uardi, these steps don’t go far enough. They are calling for more action to be taken, such as exempting small farmers from paying their debts, eliminating interest rates on loans or creating platforms so that they can sell their produce without intermediaries. EFE