Visiting Morocco recently gave me the sensation of being on an island. While many other North African countries are rocked by rebellion, Morocco seems to be immune to the contagious protests. Probably there’s something burning under the ashes all the same, but right now it feels like a relatively more democratic and tranquil place.
It is interesting to note the huge collective effort towards renewal, in which agriculture plays a predominant economic role. Over 50 percent of the active population works in this sector, and a new generation able to change the paradigms of development is emerging. While the government talks mostly about intensive and industrial agriculture, these young people are creating a model more in line with the reality of rural Morocco; a style of production which has at heart the differentiation of products and biodiversity conservation as much as community and social aspects. They use the internet to communicate amongst each other, exchanging information on cultivation and marketing, and to sell their products directly, breaking many traditional boundaries.
This is, in a way, their small revolution. Saffron, dates, cumin, grains, vegetables and livestock: Morocco is fully qualified to reach a level of food self-sufficiency that in other parts of Africa is still a mirage. And these young people, who include many women, are the authentic and creative face of the process.
Abdelouhab El Gasmi, for example, founded the Cooperative de L’Oasis du Sud with his brother and mother to process local date varieties into syrup (called Rob) and jam. They use recycled glass jars and promote their products nationally and internationally, including on the internet. They also managed to obtain funding for drip irrigation systems and the creation of food gardens to serve the community.
Salahddine Sahrawi, a young agronomist from Safi on the Atlantic coast, belongs to the Forum d'Initiative Citoyen and works with many communities producing raisins, figs and argan. Through his work he introduces these products to cooks in the city, and searches out new marketing channels such as online box schemes and specific retail outlets for small-scale farmers.
I also met Rachid El Hiyani, who works with saffron producers in Taliouine in the south of the country. In the future he hopes to create boutiques selling Moroccan products made by communities and cooperatives of small-scale producers. These cooperatives are now sprouting up like mushrooms, thanks partly to the fact that the Ministry of Economy and Finance has removed some of the oppressive bureaucracy previously hindering their creation.
These young people believe in the future of their country and in sustainable agriculture. Their small revolution is for now the only alternative response to that uncontrolled exodus towards Europe. It is not so strange to imagine that in other countries, like Tunisia or Egypt, these modern and sustainable forms of agriculture, could represent a great deterrent to mass emigration. In fact, small-scale local agriculture could serve as such a deterrent for all of Africa.
Slow Food International President
Photo: Oliver Migliore