The arrival of the Covid-19 in Morocco is likely to put the country’s tourist industry on the ground quickly. However, it is the lack of rain that has been causing great concern in the country for several weeks now. Farmers everywhere are looking to the skies in the hope that the end of March will be more favorable, as there has been no rain since autumn.
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Agriculture is a key sector of the Moroccan economy
The current agricultural season is marked by a significant drop in rainfall, “141 mm compared to an average of 254 mm in the past 30 years,” a deficit of 45% compared to a normal year, said Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch. The “reservoirs of dams have been significantly reduced,” the minister also stressed, while affirming that the state of the autumn harvest remained “satisfactory” but it will depend on future rainfall.
A key sector of the Moroccan economy, agriculture is the first contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (14%), ahead of tourism and industry. “With such a severe drought, combined with the depletion of water resources, this is a particularly hard year for farmers, and consequently for the economy,” said Ahmed Lahlimi, the head of the High Commission for Planning (HCP, in charge of official statistics).
For the moment, water-saving measures are mainly focused on southern Morocco, where dam levels are particularly low.
The scarcity of water resources is aggravated by the overexploitation of groundwater. Morocco is on the list of countries with “high water stress”, according to various studies. With the accumulation of years of drought, “Moroccans have enough to drink for 8 to 12 million people, (…) that is not much” for a country of 35 million inhabitants, a recent editorial in the Moroccan daily L’Economiste worried.
Even if the kingdom is trying to diversify its economy, its GDP remains linked to the agricultural sector which is dependent on the vagaries of the climate. As a result, the country’s growth varies each year according to the rains. The small stock breeders suffer from soaring fodder prices. In addition, a bad agricultural season could push prices even higher.
A brutal economic downturn in the kingdom
Tourism, the other mainstay of the Moroccan economy, was doing wonderfully well until the arrival of Covid-19, which will turn everything upside down.
Since March 16, 2020, Morocco has banned all gatherings. Restaurants, shops, mosques, hammams are closed for 45 days. The tourist industry is in danger of rapidly collapsing, but Moroccans have not yet really felt it. In recent days, tourists who could have left the country have done so, while others remain confined to hotels. Even if the number of contaminations is so far limited (a few dozen), travel cancellations are beginning to weigh on the sector.
Morocco’s International Agricultural Show, the leading agricultural event scheduled from 14 to 19 April 2020, has also been canceled as a health precautionary measure.
Less work in tourism or agriculture means overnight less income, as there is no unemployment insurance or minimum allowance. There is no social security either, so the poorest people will not be able to treat themselves and buy their medicines in the event of a major coronavirus outbreak.
A health and economic disaster is looming in Morocco. The only good news would be the rapid end of the epidemic and the arrival of rain. Otherwise, the Moroccan economy could quickly collapse. In the meantime, Moroccans continue to look to the sky.
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First published in franceinfo: Afrique, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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