Vegetables in Moroccan markets are almost as costly as in some French shops, despite a minimum salary that is five times lower: the country's agricultural economy, which is centered on exports, is being challenged by record inflation, which is prompting public outrage.

inflation au maroc
A vegetable market in Sale, Morocco (©AFP)

According to the High Commission for Planning (HCP), the inflationary spike of +10.1% year on year in February, including a 20.1% increase for food goods, drew condemnation from all parties in the middle of the month. Ramadan is a holy month with increased consumption.

Discontent is growing if the scope of rallies over the high cost of living stays restricted.

"The price increase is a shame (...), we are an agricultural country, and yet vegetables are expensive there," protesters in Rabat said on April 8 in front of Parliament.

To supply the domestic market, the government stopped the export of some items, particularly tomatoes, in early February, eliciting concerns from professional organisations, which urged Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch to rethink the action.

According to the HCP's chairman, Ahmed Lahlimi, the situation calls into question the viability of the Moroccan agricultural model, especially because this vital sector of the economy (13% of GDP and 14% of exports) is prone to droughts and interruption.

"Agriculture must undergo a revolution in order to change the production system, move toward food sovereignty, and produce what we consume in the first place," Mr. Lahlimi said in an interview with the news site Médias24 at the end of March.

Faced with criticism, Agriculture Minister Mohamed Sadiki blamed the rise in food prices on "external and cyclical factors" such as rising raw material costs and a cold spell that delayed tomato harvesting.

Morocco approved an ambitious "Green Morocco Plan" (PMV) in 2008, allowing it to guarantee food self-sufficiency, ranging from 50% to 100% depending on the supply chain.

Despite a loss of about 7 billion cubic meters of rain per year since 1985, agricultural production has more than quadrupled in value: from 5.6 to more than 11 billion euros since the implementation of the PMV 15 years ago.

However, the kingdom is still suffering from a structural drought, which "reduces the cultivated area and thus the supply, causing prices to rise," according to Abderrahim Handouf, an agricultural engineer specialized in irrigation, to AFP.

In addition, the costs of imported raw materials (seeds, electricity, nitrogen fertilizers, etc.) have risen "from 30% to 70%," according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The same is true for wheat imports.

The "Green Morocco Plan" (renamed "Green Generation" for the period 2020-30) prioritized fruit and vegetable exports, putting pressure on the domestic market and favoring rising prices.

Mr. Handouf emphasizes that voices are being raised to urge a reorientation of Moroccan agricultural policy toward a plan that "ensures food sovereignty, beginning with the seed industry, where Morocco lags far behind."

Another challenge for the executive: reforming the marketing system, which is beset by intermediaries that make "three to four times more than the transfer value," according to fruit and vegetable growers who protested in a letter to Mr. Akhannouch on March 31.

However, the government has announced many measures to combat speculators. Measures "that have not yielded the expected results," admits government spokesperson Mustapha Batas. He assures that prices will shortly be reduced.

Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Morocco hiked its benchmark interest rate to 3% last month, the third rise in six months, in order to slow the spiraling inflation that is impacting low-income and vulnerable people.

This move irritated the government, which is banking on a rebound via development, which is still sluggish, and is concerned about "negative repercussions on Moroccans' purchasing power," according to media sources.

According to Ahmed Lahlimi, the High Commissioner for Planning, inflation would continue as long as "we have not carried out reforms to improve our supply and productivity, with work to clean up our meals distribution systems."

Sources: AFP, France 24.
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