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Morocco: irrigated area shrinks as drought empties reservoirs

January 17, 2024 at 3:51 pm

A man fishes in the river of Moulouya in Morocco on 2 November 2021 [FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images]

Six consecutive years of drought have left Moroccan reservoirs at critical levels, prompting a big drop in the area of land being irrigated, the country’s water and agriculture ministers have revealed. According to Reuters, by mid-January, Morocco’s average reservoir filling rate had dropped to 23.2 per cent from 31.5 per cent a year earlier, water minister Nizar Baraka told a meeting on Tuesday.

A statement from the royal palace added that rainfall was 70 per cent lower than in an average year. The country’s second biggest reservoir, Al Masira, which serves the economic hub of Casablanca, is almost empty.

The worst drought in more than two decades prompted the Moroccan authorities to ban the use of drinking water to clean streets or irrigate parks in cities and to stop reservoir water being used to irrigate some key farming areas.

The decision took many farmers by surprise in the area of Taroudant in the Souss region, the main source of Morocco’s fresh produce, which supplies supermarkets across Europe and is a major source of export revenue.

“Stopping reservoir irrigation has sapped my investment,” said Mbark N’Ait Ali, a banana and vegetable farmer in Taroudant. “This year’s production is in danger.” Wells have dried up in the area, with farmers having to dig down to 400 metres with no guarantee of finding enough water, he added.

This “violent drought” had forced a reduction in the reservoir-irrigated area to 400,000 hectares from 750,000 hectares before the dry spell, explained agriculture minister Sadiki. “Autumn crops are at a critical condition… we pray for rain.” The ploughed area with rain-fed cereals has dropped this year to 2.3 million hectares, from 3.65 million hectares last year, which was also a dry year, he pointed out.

Morocco’s statistics agency expects the cereals harvest to be less than average this year, meaning more wheat imports.

As well as building waterways and new dams and reservoirs, Morocco plans eight new desalination plants powered by renewables. It aims to produce 1.3 billion cubic metres of fresh water from desalination by 2035.

“We are afraid it will be too late when desalination will be ready to irrigate our farms,” commented N’Ait Ali.

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