Like most African countries, Morocco – where 40% of the population still works the land – is already feeling the impacts of climate change on its agricultural production. Last year, during the exceptional season Ibrahimi describes – caused in large part by the regular El Niño weather pattern – Morocco went without rain for more than two months. Overall it received 42.7% less rain during its main planting season than in an average year. The impact on the harvest was catastrophic, particularly on the “zone bour” (dry zone) areas where crops such as wheat, barley and maize are planted. Ministry of Agriculture estimates predicted total output falling 70% on the 2015 season.
“Starting from the early 1990s, we’ve seen on average 15% to 20% less rain annually than previously,” says Mohamed Ait Kadi, president of Morocco’s General Council of Agricultural Development. “The rain now comes in showers instead of sustained downpours, and we see arid areas spreading.” As the host country for the COP22 climate change talks, which open in Marrakechon Monday, Morocco is determined to make this meeting the “African COP”.
Explaining its own experience and acting as an advocate for other African countries, Morocco wants to put the impacts of erratic weather patterns on agriculture at the heart of the discussions. No-one is underestimating the challenges. Water stress, land degradation, rising temperatures and deforestation are all playing a role. Areas such as the Sahel – including Chad, Niger and Mali – have experienced recurring droughts every few years since the 1980s, devastating harvests, economies and traditional farming ecosystems. In 2010 at least 7 million people across the Sahel were threatened with severe hunger and needed emergency food aid from humanitarian organisations.
According to the journal Nature, the viability of all crops in the Sahel belt will become questionable, with maize being the worst affected. By 2090 some 60% of land available for bean production will become unsuitable. Southern and eastern Africa have all suffered catastrophic droughts over the last few years.
Morocco is using the COP22 conference to formally launch its “Adaptation of African Agriculture” (AAA) initiative. As food security becomes increasingly challenged by erratic weather patterns, the initiative proposes measures such as improved soil management, water and irrigation management and better weather forecasting and insurance programmes for farmers affected by drought.
Although the initiative has received some criticism as some of its focus appears to replicate the work already being done by other pan-African agriculture programmes, Morocco believes its main contribution can be to persuade world leaders to sign up to a concrete plan of how to divide up the $100bn (£81bn) promised to support adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries.
“We have to translate the big ideas written in western offices about responses to climate change into something that actually changes the lives of small farmers,” said Morocco’s minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Aziz Akannouch, at a recent conference launching the AAA. It’s about pragmatic responses – things like irrigation projects, developing oases, improving access to fertilisers and credit.