Cash crops: Fruit and vegetable output stands to raise sector exports

Of the crops set to be developed under the national agricultural strategy, Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV), fruit and vegetables offer considerable opportunities for growth. In 2011, the cultivation of garden vegetables such as cucumbers, onions and tomatoes accounted for 3% of agricultural land, and yet they provide roughly 13% of sector GDP. Fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, and citrus, which account for 11% of agricultural land, also fetch high export prices and are well positioned to help raise export values. As part of its plan for medium-term economic growth, Morocco has set ambitious goals for its agricultural sector: by 2020, the government aims to double sector GDP to reach Dh74bn (€6.6bn) and to increase agricultural exports from Dh8bn (€711m) to Dh44bn (€3.9bn).

As such, the cultivation of high-value fruits and vegetables has been identified as a top priority under pillar I of the PMV, which focuses on boosting revenue from agricultural exports. Today, Morocco has robust fruit and vegetable production levels and is an important supplier of unprocessed agricultural exports to Europe. In 2011, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, a total of 7.55m tonnes of garden vegetables were produced, including cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Fruit production accounted for 1.43m ha of agricultural land in 2011, for a total production of over 1.8m tonnes. By 2020, however, the government aims to significantly boost fruit and vegetable production to reach 14m tonnes.

SECTOR RECOVERY: However, weather conditions were poor at the end of the 2011-2012 season; especially cold temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall in the early part of the year were compounded by record-high temperatures in May and June. These conditions stunted the production of most crops and will have a negative pull on exports through the end of this year’s export season in May 2013. The value of fresh vegetable exports through October 2012 fell by 28.9% year-on-year, generating income of Dh1.35bn (€120m) compared to Dh1.9bn (€169m) in the same period of 2011. Exports of strawberries and raspberries decreased by 10.7% over the same period to Dh928m (€82.5m), down from Dh1.04bn (€92.5m) the previous year.

Citrus fruit, an important source of export revenue, was also hard hit in 2012. While it is normal for citrus trees to lose between 40-50% of their fruit in early summer, the unseasonably high temperatures in May and June caused roughly 60-80% of developing fruit to drop, according to reports from the Ministry of Agriculture, which resulted in the loss of 20-30% of the overall citrus crop. While grapefruit, lemons and pomelos are expected to be less affected, the production of tangerines and oranges are each projected to dip by over 20% to 675,000 tonnes and 763,000 tonnes, respectively. The government agency responsible for overseeing the implementation of the PMV, the Agricultural Development Agency (l’Agence pour le Dé veloppe-ment Agricole, ADA), aims to direct Dh9bn (€800m) in public and private investment to the citrus sector in the next five years. In doing so, the ADA aims to raise the planted area to 105,000 ha for an annual output of 2.9m tonnes by 2018, with 1.3m tonnes to be exported.

RAISING OUTPUT: Pending a return to normal weather patterns, the first stages of the PMV programme should begin to show results in the next few years. To reach its production targets, the ADA is working to implement upwards of 20 aggregation projects in the fruit and vegetable sector for an estimated investment of between Dh3bn (€266.7m) and Dh5bn (€444.5m).

Given the fragmentation of Morocco’s agricultural production, the spread of farming collectives should help to increase the percentage of production that goes into the national value-chain, maximise the value of shared infrastructure and equipment, and ensure that farmers have access to quality inputs.

In addition to aggregation projects, the ADA’s efforts to promote the use of agricultural land for fruit and vegetable production, and to subsidise the installation of more efficient irrigation systems, should all add to elevating fruit and vegetable production in the long term.

EXPORT TERMS: In the short term, the recent conclusion of an expanded trade agreement with the EU should help to widen the market for agricultural exports. Discussions were drawn out by concerns that higher levels of Moroccan products on the EU market would hurt the livelihood of local farmers. However, effective protection mechanisms were put in place, and the agreement entered into effect in the third quarter, coinciding with the beginning of the 2012 export campaign for many goods. Building on Morocco’s advanced EU Association Agreement which dates back to 2000, the new protocol will gradually reduce, and in some cases, eliminate tariffs on agricultural and fisheries exports.

The agreement immediately liberalises 55% of tariffs on Moroccan agricultural and fisheries products, up from 33% previously. Exports of products such as olive oil, green beans, salads, stone fruit and melon will all benefit from free market access. Customs duties will remain on a handful of products, which represented approximately 10% of the total volume of Moroccan exports in 2008, the reference year for the accord; this group includes apples, pears, lemons, grapes, nectarines, apricots, peaches and oranges.

Furthermore, for several key Moroccan exports that are subject to EU import quotas, these levels will be gradually raised. EU import quotas of tomatoes immediately rose by an additional 20,000 tonnes, and this will go up to a total of 32,000 tonnes by 2016. Courgette quotas will move up by a further 36,000 tonnes and cucumbers by 10,600 tonnes, also by 2016. Similar increases are also included for strawberries, clementines and garlic. However, the importation of these sensitive products will be monitored, and protection mechanisms can be enforced in order to shield European producers of these crops and prevent the flooding of the EU market in the case of exceptionally high output. In return, 70% of tariffs will also be removed from European exports of agricultural goods to Morocco, although most of these reductions will come into play in 10 years. EU agricultural exports consist primarily of inputs for livestock farming, dairy products, wheat and processed agricultural goods. The tariff reductions will represent an estimated €100m per year in Customs duties.

NEW PARTNERS: While the EU is likely to remain the main export market for Moroccan goods, the government is working to diversify agricultural trade partners to limit risk and generate new sources of income. The newly re-formulated Agricultural Development Fund (Fonds de Développement Agricole, FDA) will offer subsidies to producers, which vary according to the export destination. For example, citrus exporters are eligible to receive Dh200 (€18) per tonne exported to Russia, and Dh500 (€44) per tonne exported to countries outside of Russia and the EU. Tomato exporters are offered Dh750 (€67) per tonne, and strawberry exporters open to Dh500 (€44) per tonne for any non-EU exports.

With the sector unlikely to see an immediate effect as it recovers from the weak output levels of the 2011-2012 season, the resources being poured into fruit and vegetable production should nonetheless help to boost agricultural exports in the medium- to long-term future.

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The Report: Morocco 2013

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