Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber

You are using software which is blocking our advertisements (adblocker).

As we provide the news for free, we are relying on revenues from our banners. So please disable your adblocker and reload the page to continue using this site.

Click here for a guide on disabling your adblocker.

Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber
Fourth consecutive year of drought

Cautious optimism for the Moroccan early vegetable campaign

The Moroccan early vegetables industry seems to be recovering from a difficult production period. After a long swim against the current, growers have finally managed to reach a production threshold similar to last season's, at the cost of financial losses and a delay of more than a month in the launch of the campaign. So says Amine Amanatoullah, a producer and exporter of early vegetables based in the Souss Massa region.

A long, hot, dry summer
Morocco is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of drought. Dam reserves have reached a critical low, and digging deeper and deeper is required to reach the water table. Wells has reached depths of over 300 meters in the Souss Massa region, and digging a well has become a financial gamble, as producers are not sure of reaching the water. The Agadir seawater desalination plant is the only guarantee of continued production. "The water problem is a major concern for growers and limits the surface area available for vegetable growing", explains Amanatoullah.

The water shortage was coupled this season with an unprecedented heatwave, raising the temperature to a record 50.4 degrees in Souss Massa last August. Temperatures under the greenhouses reached over 70 degrees during the day and 45 at night for 3 days. "This coincided with the planting period for several early vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and zucchinis. The heat wave simply scorched the plants. We lost 22-25% of the plants in the region, which had to be replanted."

Act 2: Seeds shortage and phytosanitary concerns
The plant losses coincided with growers switching to new seeds resistant to the viruses that are plaguing the crops. "The pressure on seed distributors was overwhelming. It has to be said that seed distributors do not keep stocks, for tax reasons which makes this disadvantageous, and that growers have had to wait an unbearable amount of time to replace burnt plants. Some have even been resorting to importing seeds themselves. Seed replacement was also slowed by import procedures, as the shortage also coincided with the deployment of strict plant health vigilance measures."

Despite the introduction of new seeds resistant to known viruses, the transition is not easy, adds Amanatoullah. "The new seeds are not all conclusive. We continue to cohabit with viruses, and the only solution remains the removal of contaminated plants, which contributes to the loss of volumes." According to previous statements, professional sources estimate the virus-related losses to be on the order of 15% last season.

A late start to the season
All these factors on the production front delayed the growing phase, but growers managed to recover, says Amanatoullah. "Using their own means to import seeds, or waiting for the situation to be resolved, growers were able to return to normal operations after an average of one month. The first harvests have begun, and we will supply the market until April".

The delay in the season was particularly noticeable in the local market. "October usually sees a harvest surplus as exports start timidly, which reduces vegetable prices in Moroccan wholesale markets. This October, however, has seen inflation in vegetable prices in Morocco due to the lack of produce," says the grower.

Producers managed to maintain stable acreage
Will the consequences of this complicated summer end at the delay of the season? "We dare to hope so," says Amanatoullah. "We've managed to recover production areas to the same level as last season, or even with a slight increase. The picture varies from grower to grower: some have reduced their acreage, others have increased it, or kept the same area as last season. In addition, large groups have funded small-scale growers to produce certain crops such as round tomatoes, which increases overall acreage."

"The government's decision to subsidize the production of specific vegetables has also helped to maintain a stable acreage," adds the grower. In October, Agriculture Minister Mohamed Seddiki announced that, for the first time, the government will subsidize the production of tomatoes, onions, and potatoes by 50-70% of their value. In addition, the government will also mobilize 600,000 tonnes of phosphate fertilizers for this season, and subsidize nitrogen fertilizers to the extent of 2.2 billion dirhams (200 million euros).

A cautiously optimistic outlook for the campaign
Maintaining a stable acreage is certainly a remarkable performance for the industry, given all the hardships of the infamous season. But doubts are still hovering. "The acreage indicator is not relevant on its own, since the problem is rather technical than a question of resources. Yield remains the decisive parameter. As of early November, now that we have sufficient production, we still have a way to go. We've learned that acreage and volume can be two very different things even at the very harvest moment."

The advent of virus-related losses remains the biggest threat, reducing yields at the last moment. Amanatoullah explains, "In the production phase, we strictly control the spread of pests by applying a quarantine system and using limited, permanent, and well-trained staff. At harvest time, we use seasonal staff or third parties such as transporters, which raises the risk of contaminating crops from farm to farm. Volume losses can therefore be significant."

Potential export restrictions are also a factor when it comes to export volumes, and have prompted some growers to reduce their acreage of early vegetables and convert their greenhouses to the production of other crops, such as red fruit, as has been the case in the Souss Massa region. Amanatoullah says, "Another export restriction is not to be ruled out this season, despite evidence that this measure was not effective last season. The biggest producers in Souss Massa have cautiously maintained the same acreage fearing of the recurrence of restrictions."

"The season will be no worse than the previous one"
The grower pleads for sustainable solutions, "in the interests of producers and the local market." He argues, "We're on the right track after the government decided to subsidize growers, which is a relief for an economically fragile industry. But to maintain sufficient production and stable prices for the local market, it will be necessary to increase acreage considerably while keeping the pest threat under control."

"What we need are seeds that are actually resistant to viruses, and large areas to guarantee sufficient production to supply the local and foreign markets. Prices will then automatically be stable. In the meantime, we continue to cope in a difficult environment and manage to get through it as best we can, and I think that this season will not be any worse than the previous one," concludes Amanatoullah.

For more information:
Amine Amantoullah
Tel: +212 661-281321
Email: [email protected]