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close this bookCERES No. 114 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
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View the documentWhat future for morocco's poor?

What future for morocco's poor?

by Mohammed Ennaji

In North Africa, Morocco can be taken as an example to illustrate the problem of farmers without land, since the proletarianization of the peasantry there is not new. Colonization had already cornered over 15 per cent of the useful agricultural land. Just before independence, a few thousand settlers and landlords owned 40 per cent of the cultivable land (reducing an ever-increasing number of peasants to destitution: the number of farmers owning no land rose from 33 per cent in 1932 to 60 per cent in 1952). In the 1970s, almost 75 per cent of farming families still either owned no land or possessed an area which, due to rapid population increase, had become insufficient to cover their needs....

Since most of the rural population no longer possess sufficient means of production, they are driven to sell their labour in order to survive. They subsist by resorting to paid occupations in several economic sectors and to such activities as gathering, handicrafts, and petty trade. This is how most members of the family make their living, leaving only a few to work on the farms which are too small to support the entire family. The women, who normally work in the home, occasionally resort to paid work outside. Children are taken out of school to look after the small family herds or to do odd jobs. When they reach adulthood they seek work elsewhere; thus the family breaks up. The changing rural world has completely disrupted the living conditions of the poorest members of the community.

The ancient tribal, feudal, or communal order consequently falls to pieces, and lineal solidarity weakens. The degeneration of traditional institutions has not yet been replaced by new structures such as centralized political parties, government services, and local authorities.

The economic difficulties of most farmers lie in this new social framework: the land is owned by a minority, and the high population growth rate has increased the imbalance between available resources and the needs of the population. The land has become so fragmented that the farms are now merely microholdings - too small to ensure for the new rural generations the same harvests as their forebears.

Monetarization of the peasant economy. Today, through numerous but in sufficient measures, the Government has aggravated the feeling of need in its aid to the poor (distribution of wheat or work camps for the unemployed). By acting as intermediary in a traditional society, the Government has often become an easy structure to resort to, thus confirming the inefficiency of the traditional order. The break-up of groups and of the traditional family drives individuals to distress, puts pressure on them to move to the towns to seek any kind of odd job and to accept precarious, hopeless employment. The situation is increasingly more stressful with the endless creation of new needs. For instance, a number of consumer goods unknown to the peasants or which would normally have been considered luxuries have already become necessities: sugar, tea, but also shoes, furnishing fabrics, petrol lamps, bicycles, and bed linen. These goods seem to have become more and more necessary and cost more and more. Hard cash has become the foundation for interpersonal relations, and bartering disappeared a long time ago from the markets and villages.

Diminishing stock and the new needs bring agricultural products on to the markets, even if the farmers have to buy them back for their own consumption. Also, contributions in kind (chickens, eggs, butter) have been replaced by bargaining. Nowadays services are exchanged only for payment in cash.

This state of affairs drives the poor farmers, left to their own devices, to a state of constant anxiety and despair, for they can no longer benefit from the redistribution process which was part of the traditional society. At the beginning of the century, the land was leased out against a symbolic loaf of bread, as the idea of paid labour was rare. Today it is normal to negotiate labour against half of the harvest. The price of land and increasing land rent are connected with the fact that the bulk of the land is in the hands of a few landlords and the number of landless farmers is on the increase. The development of leasing out land is another factor which makes the situation even more critical, for it assumes that the leaseholder disposes of sufficient liquidity and agricultural inputs even before he starts production.

Up to not so long ago, farm ownership and social mobility in the rural areas of Morocco were still attainable goals. The status of shepherd, sharecropper, labourer, smallholder were all steps up the ladder of progress in the life of the farmer who started out without any land. Of course, not all of them managed to reach the top of the ladder, but the efforts of enough of them were crowned with success to give hope to others.

Today the high population growth rate and the fact that less and less land is available at a time when traditional institutions are crumbling mean that the peasants at the bottom of the social ladder no longer benefit from even the tribal or feudal protection systems. They hold no recognized position; only the most tenacious and the most enterprising manage to escape from marginalization.

Instability is the rule. There can be no progress when the activities practised for survival are precarious and unstable. An example of this situation is afforded by agricultural wage-earners: permanent farm jobs have been reduced to the advantage of odd jobs or seasonal labour, and workers are not always paid the minimum legal wage. Trade unions are virtually non-existent outside the state farms.

Schooling does not make the situation any brighter: in 1982 only 27 per cent of rural children aged five to 19 attended school, which is no guarantee for success. The majority of them leave school very early to find a job. The youngsters are attracted to the towns, where, however, there is no guarantee of a future. There is no longer any hope in farming. The occupation of the farmer is gradually losing its meaning. This trend is accentuated by the division of labour on the big farms: employers prefer workers who are poorly paid and are willing to move around, who have no legal status and can easily be fired, rather than experts or technicians. The only permanent labour they have are a few keepers or herdsmen.

Increasing inequality. In order to combat the rural exodus, income in rural environments must improve substantially and a sustained effort must be made to make more investments in favour of depressed areas. But, in actual fact, inequality is increasing.

Land has been distributed to barely two per cent of the farmers. Out of one million hectares of land taken over by the Moroccan Government after independence, one-third has been passed on to the new rural te, another third is awaiting allocation, and the last third has been distributed among 24 000 peasants.

But there is more than one form of inequality with regard to land ownership: government aid goes to the richest; only two per cent of landless farmers have access to farm credit, and subsidies for agricultural inputs are preferably granted to the big and middle-sized farms. Barely 18 per cent of the subsidies for consumption reach the poorest echelons of the population. Labour laws, which are already inadequate, are not respected by employers. And generally speaking, agricultural policy focused on "viable" farms does not concern the marginalized peasants.

The creation of non-agricultural jobs is limited and continues to give priority to the urban and not the rural areas. The Government tries to make up for this by creating work camps, but barely five per cent of the poorest families benefit from this operation (200 days of work per person a year). At this rate there is no hope of improving the destitution of much of the population.

Limited land resources. The most obvious solution in the fight against the impoverishment of the landless farmers would be to facilitate their access to land ownership and to the inputs of agro-pastoral production. But most of the land available to the Government has already been parcelled out. The easiest policies are adapted in order to avoid any unrest or social disturbance. It would have been a wise social measure, for instance, to take back the land from the foreign occupants as soon as independence was achieved and distribute it to the poor peasants. Of course, there is still some government-owned land that has not been distributed, but, by handing it out, it would be possible to satisfy only two per cent of the demand.

Other land resources could be mobilized by imposing a limit on the amount of land one is authorized to own: for the time being, this solution has not been envisaged.

Another consideration is that in Morocco, the total redistribution of cultivated land into 13-hectare plots would solve the problem for about 500 000 rural families, or one quarter of the demand. The remaining three-quarters could then not all find jobs since almost all the labour would be provided by the family. The creation of a government controlled farm credit organization could restore a balance in the unequal division of land, but it would probably produce only psychological and political effects. Finally, legislation covering the sharing of undivided inherited wealth could have a positive effect, particularly at the economic level.

Under the present socio-political trends, there is little hope of reducing the number of landless farmers by waiting for land to become available. Other measures should be sought to allow use of the land and other factors of production in conditions that would favour growth of productivity and income.

Reforming the status of sharecroppers, landlords, managers, and farmers would appear to be the more generous and useful measure. Unlike the reform of agrarian structures, reform of the status of tenant farmers would involve no political or social complications for the legislator: it is merely a technical operation that would basically satisfy all parties concerned. There would be no winners or losers. But efforts in this direction made in 1969 and 1973 have largely remained inoperative. The power system in rural areas can only very gradually accept seeing leaseholders improving their status with respect to that of the owners. The experience of the last 20 years shows, on the contrary, that the authority of the landowners appears to have been reinforced, probably because the power of the trade union and political organizations in the villages has diminished.

If all the programmes concerning access to land ownership cannot solve the crisis of rural life, solutions must be sought elsewhere.

Intensified farming. It would be possible to increase paid jobs in the agricultural sector by taking account of the fact that if the cultivable area cannot be extended on the surface it can certainly be extended in depth and in fertility. Increasing soil productivity means employing more people, better skilled and therefore better-paid labour.

Agriculture in Morocco is still largely extensive. Although much progress has been made in irrigated areas, much remains to be done; cropping methods tend to be simplified without necessarily increasing yields; the number of working days per hectare is very low, with a maximum of 40 days per year for rainfed crops, 200 in irrigated areas, and an average of barely 250 days for market-garden crops.

Since independence, 28 reservoirs have been built to bring almost 900 000 hectares under irrigation (so far 600 000 ha are irrigated) at an enormous cost, and the results have yet to be seen. At most, the intensification of production through irrigation will apply to only 12-15 per cent of the cultivable land. In rainfed areas, farmers are not yet familiar with the technical solutions and do not apply them extensively. Thus there are only 4 000 tractors for 5 million mechanically arable hectares of land, i.e., one for every 1 250 hectares. However, tractors are not necessarily a condition for intensive farming - sometimes quite the opposite could be true - but considering how much deep ploughing and early sowing increase both the cropping area and average yields, it is regrettable that so few machines are used.

Working the land by mechanical means would not require less manpower than annual crops do using draught animals, since the machines make it possible to sow much larger areas and, above all, to increase yields and thus also employment. However, the effects of mechanization are not all positive, particularly when it is used in extensive farming. In some regions the use of farm machinery leads to the elimination of those crops that are not easy to cultivate mechanically, such as pulses or certain industrial crops (flax, fenugreek), in favour of cereal monoculture. Agricultural development therefore implies polyculture and rotation cropping (necessary for maintaining soil fertility and for better distribution of labour throughout the year).

Training rural manpower. Every year, the lack of intensified farming to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing population leads to the departure-of masses of rural inhabitants to the towns. It is the young men who leave, often the strongest, the more innovative, the better educated. The rural areas are losing the only inhabitants able to change their way of life and who have the vitality and the will to succeed. Their reasons for leaving are numerous and obvious. Life is easier in the towns, and the opportunities and prospects for employment are greater there. The villages offer no cultural life but restraints and customs instead.

Because those workers who stay behind are the less skilled, problems of know-how on the farms arise. As a result, orchards have been reduced in size on the big farms, seed improvement has been delayed, cropping methods have been simplified, and several of the more specialized skills have disappeared (grafting, pruning, etc.). The opposite seems to have occurred, however, in the market gardens of the big towns and with the new industrial crops.

There is no point pleading for the cause of retraining farm labourers unless such a programme in accompanied by a number of related measures: intensified farming, greater crop variety, better markets, higher pay for labour, and technical training according to need.

But to achieve this, it is not sufficient to make rules, or pass legislation, or even provide purely financial or administrative measures. The problem is to make a global change in the economy, increase purchasing power in urban areas, and bring about a positive change in the demand for labour.

Improvements must be made in labour legislation, which is of no use if it is not backed by a strong social movement. The need for it must be voiced clearly by those concerned. Labour laws are no good on their own, but no progress can be made without them.

For instance, in the same way that it imposes taxes, the Government could impose on employers a wage scale, better protection for workers against industrial injuries, proper lodgings for them, recognition of their level of education, and a pension scheme. But all this implies a change in the relations between the Government and the land owners. The long-term interests of both parties cannot do without improving the conditions of farm labour.

Improving non-agricultural employment. If the smallest viable farm covers 13 hectares, half the rural population must find a living in non-agricultural activities. This is already happening: part-time work is no novelty, nor is it a Moroccan speciality, but it has become more and more typical of the labour situation in Morocco in the last 15 years or so.

Recent studies have shown that secondary activities, which in numerous cases have become the principal activity, are mainly in the services, transport, urban construction sites, and government work camps. Secondary productive industries and handicrafts are in a bad way in rural areas, except where the products are intended for the tourist market.

One solution would be to consider "proto-industrialization" by encouraging workers from areas with insufficient available land to move to the highly productive agricultural areas and work in the processing sector. The range of possible activities would include: processing dairy produce, wool, skins, horns, honey and wax, pottery and ceramics, stonework, oil; drying (dates, apricots, pulses), preserving (meat, jam), fibre (plaits, weaving, hide tanning), energy products (biogas, wind and solar energy), leisure industries and tourism.

In order to develop and expand these possibilities, serious investment programmes need to be devised and adapted to each single case, and these must consider continuous training for the labour force.