Combating desertification in Morocco

Land classification in Morocco shows that about 78% of its area is in the desert and dry zones, 15% in the semi-arid zone. Arable land in Morocco is less than 12% of its total land and agriculture is the backbone of the country as it contributes 17% of GDP and provides employment to half of the active labor force. Rainfall in Morocco is variable within seasons and between years.The climatic conditions of Morocco are quite diverse and drought is the most important and dramatic manifestation of such variability. Morocco witnessed the longest drought episode in its recent history (1979-1984, most of 1990s), causing impacts on agricultural production, on farm economics and sustainability, on systems of production (for example, more concentrates are being incorporated into livestock feeding), and on natural resources and environment (acceleration of degradation and resources depletion).

As noted above, over the last century, one important but negative climatic factor was the decrease in rainfall throughout the Mediterranean region. Morocco’s balanced phases of rainy and drought years since the beginning of the twentieth century seems to have been broken since 1975, as the number of dry years has a tendency to exceed the humid ones. The 1980-1984 drought was perhaps the most severe over a period of 1,000 years and a high mortality of trees was recorded. At the same time, arable lands also underwent accelerated degradation and destruction as the desertification process in the marginal lands gained momentum.

Although land degradation is partly caused by natural factors, the accelerated erosion rates are mostly human induced.

  • Overgrazing is the most important cause of soil degradation in the eastern regions of Morocco, the, the Pre-Sahara and the Sahara and approximately 8.3 Mha of rangeland are heavily degraded. Land use conflicts between local tribes and communities over access to grazing areas and water are major causes to continual and often intensive land degradation. Government support policies such as feed subsidies which discourages the reduction of livestock also contributed partly to soil erosion. The large number of sheep, goat, and dromedaries are too heavy a burden on a fragile ecosystem.
  • The disempowerment of traditional institutions has led to the disruption of  management of rangeland. Transhumance has practically disappeared. Settling within the rangeland has become the rule, and cultivation and privatization of the rangeland is expanding. And what remains of the original rangeland is  exposed to fierce overexploitation. In 2003, the World Bank estimated that the  total annual cost of erosion in Morocco was about 0.41% of its GDP.
  • The Moroccan forests are a precious and priceless heritage. Clear cutting is still in use in Morocco but this method is totally unsuitable for the Moroccan mountain forests. The lack of protective foliage exposes the fragile soils to harsh climate. Moreover, one custom that greatly damages the forest is cutting branches to feed the smaller livestock during the difficult inter-crop season. This gradual irrecoverable lopping of the leafy branches disturbs the vegetative metabolism of the trees and also contributes to accelerated soil erosion. In Morocco, 4,500 ha of woodlands are sacrificed to agriculture every year.

Morocco ratified the UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification) in 1996 and adopted its National Action Program (NAP) to Combat Desertification in June 2001, and established its institutional framework for its implementation. The NAP complements existing sector programs, supports their implementation and promotes an integrated drylands development approach to enhance livelihoods. The NAP is an important stage in the process of Morocco’s commitment within the UNCCD but lacks the required funding or the necessary personnel and equipment to fully implement the measures outlined.

Assistance from the Global Mechanism (GM) has strengthened the national capacities to establish a development partnership and resource mobilization strategy for the NAP. The strategy, supported by UNDP and Germany has allowed Morocco to integrate the combating of land degradation into national planning and sectoral investment framework, as well as into the priorities of several development partners. These partners include Spain that has made combating desertification a priority for its cooperation with Morocco, along with Japan, Belgium, the World Bank the European Commission for and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which have responded positively to the strategy by cooperating in the framework of NAP implementation.

Through the HCEFLCD and the Ministry of Agriculture, Morocco allocates 500 million dirham a year to combating desertification and 200 dirham a year to rural development, totaling the equivalent of USD100 million a year. Overall, negotiation between Morocco and its cooperation partners has generated a total of 1.8 billion dirham (USD 225 million) to finance integrated projects to combat desertification. The desertification process has led to the per capita useable agricultural area to decline continuously. The cost of annual natural resource degradation in the forest, agricultural and rangeland sectors and following the silting up of dams is estimated at 2.9 billion dirhams per year.

With efforts over the years, proven practices to arrest and reverse land degradation in all of its form have been implemented in every region of Morocco. These include development of systems of livestock/rangeland integration that provide additional forage and fodder and at the same time increase the cover of plants that can protect the soil, increase carbon sequestration. A number of new farming systems have been developed, better remediation measures have been devised and adoption of new ideas is progressing rapidly, especially for alley cropping. Also, several soil conservation technologies have been developed in Morocco and are available for large diffusion but in many cases these technologies have not been permanently adopted. It seems that a large scale dissemination of these new practices requires some financial incentives that must be sufficiently high to stimulate farmers to adopt the technologies.


Combating Desertification in Asia, Africa and the Middle East – Proven practices, G. Ali Heshmati, Victor R. Squires (editors), Springer Netherlands, 2013, ISBN 978-94-007-6651-8, 476 pp.