Southern Morocco: the water crisis is already having serious consequences

A few days before the start of the citrus export campaign in the Souss region, the Sebt El Guerdane perimeter in Taroudant, one of the main citrus suppliers in Morocco, is deprived of irrigation water. A decision that plunges the sector into the unknown.

After two citrus seasons weighed down by the drop in production and the lack of market outlets, citrus growers are facing another particularly difficult season. This time because of the suspension, since last Wednesday, of the water supply for agricultural use devoted to the perimeter of Sebt El Guerdane in Taroudant. A decision taken to secure the drinking water supply of Greater Agadir from the Aoulouz dam, whose filling rate is currently less than 19.36%. However, the El Guerdane perimeter is one of the main suppliers of citrus fruits in Morocco, with 250,000 tonnes of national production. This binding suspension comes a few days before the start of the citrus export campaign in the Souss region which supplies more than 580,000 tonnes, or nearly half of national production. Coupled with other factors such as drought and the drop in the water table for many citrus growers, this cutoff of irrigation water is the final blow to years of investment in this area. The region called on the first national public-private partnership in 2005 in the field of irrigation, with a view to optimizing the model of water management for agricultural use. The project, which represents a total investment of MAD 987 million, has made it possible to save 10,000 ha through an endowment of 45 million m³ / year from the Aoulouz dam under a concession to the Amensouss Company. This same model has been transposed to the Chtouka plain, with the establishment of the shared seawater desalination unit intended for agricultural irrigation of the Chtouka plain and for the supply of Greater Agadir. drinking water by the two subsidiaries of the Spanish group Abengoa: Aman El Baraka and the Desalinated Water Company of Agadir (SEDA).

The impact of this suspension
“The situation is very critical. As professionals, we cling to the endowment mobilized for the perimeter of El Guerdane, because the consequences of this decision will be disastrous and in more than one respect ”, explains Abdellah Jrid, president of the Association of producers of citrus fruits from Morocco (Aspam). Direct consequence: “half of the perimeter spread over 10,000 ha today depends directly on the water from the dam, which means in the short term the signing of their death warrant”, explains Youssef Jebha, president of the Water Users Association agriculture (AUEA) “Al Mostaqbal”. And to add that “all citrus growers are already socially committed with the workforce, in addition to other financial charges related to suppliers, bank loans and their rescheduling, those of the royalties due to the Amensouss company as well as the commitments with packing stations and customers ”he emphasizes. In terms of production, one thing is certain, apart from the extra-early varieties currently on the market, other types of clementine and orange such as late varieties may not be placed on the market. According to professionals, these varieties cannot be picked because of the problem of irrigation water. In total, this situation threatens 600 farms and their orchards, 20 packing stations, in addition to 10,000 jobs generated during each picking season. This is without counting the impact of this cut on the population of farms and their drinking water needs.

Professionals protest
As a reminder, the allocation dedicated to the agricultural perimeter of Sebt El Guerdane has been reduced, since Tuesday, May 19, 2020, by two thirds (70%). This is a drop from 40 million m3 to 13 million m3 from May to October. Before suspending the water supply in this area, the regional water commission had allocated, due to the critical situation of water resources, an allocation of 3.6 million m3 per month of irrigation water to citrus growers, ie a reduction of 30% compared to the monthly requirement of 5 million m3 between June and October. Meetings follow one another to find a favorable outcome to this sensitive issue. In a statement made public by the Association of Agricultural Water Users (AUEA) “Al Mostaqbal” and the ASPAM section in the Souss, the two entities expressed their protest against this decision and the non- consultation of professionals, who see their investments wiped out. According to them, this decision plunges the sector into the unknown a few days before the start of the season.

Yassine Saber / Eco Inspirations

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