Morocco’s Mixed Harvest

In the southern Moroccan countryside, near Agadir, patchworks of large, canvas greenhouses cover hundreds of hectares of land. Inside the greenhouses, men stroll on ten-foot stilts, carefully picking ripe tomatoes to be packed and shipped to the European Union.

The greenhouses are part of a 12-year-long government project called “Plan Maroc Vert 2020,” which focused in part on increasing Morocco’s commercial tomato exports. Recently, a kilogram of Moroccan tomatoes sold in France for about the same price as in Morocco itself—one Euro per kilogram.

The government has declared the recently completed Plan Maroc Vert 2020 a success. Agricultural GDP has increased annually by 5.25 percent, compared to 3.8 percent in other sectors; agricultural exports doubled, with 90 percent of tomato exports headed to Europe; and almost 350,000 jobs were created.

But the government’s focus on growing large, export-oriented farms has left smaller farmers to water their own soils, both literally and figuratively. Small farmers rarely qualify for the government subsidies for well drilling, water storage tanks, and irrigation systems, and large farms have depleted the water table enough to make many small farmers’ wells run dry.

For agricultural workers laboring on large tomato farms, low wages keep many living hand-to-mouth, while a few large tomato companies—many with foreign ties—have continued to grow.

As Morocco enters its next phase of planned agricultural growth—dubbed “Generation Green 2020-2030”—it has pledged to bring 400,000 agricultural households into the middle class and to double agricultural exports to almost $7 billion per year. But without attention toward Morocco’s traditional small-scale farmers, the rural poor will continue to wither.

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.