Feeding Africa’s Explosive Growth Requires Regional Cooperation
Recent articles underscore the importance of Morocco’s initiatives in West and Central Africa, specifically in the agricultural sector. In a World Bank blog, Jean-Christophe Maur, a Senior Economist in the Growth and Competitiveness Program at the World Bank Institute, argues that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which enjoys a strong working relationship with Morocco, must do more to promote regional solutions. His blog, Feeding West Africa: An Agenda for Regional Trade, points out that “In West Africa, home of nearly 300 million people, agriculture employs 60% of the labor force. However, despite great potential, the region is increasingly dependent on food imports to meet its consumption needs; food imports have more than tripled in the past 10 years.”
This fact alone emphasizes the importance of King Mohammed VI’s initiatives to enhance agricultural cooperation with ECOWAS states (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Niger) as well as neighbors throughout Central and West Africa. Over the past three years, he has visited more than a dozen African countries, and signed agreements related to agriculture and human development that include Moroccan services and resources integral to a regional strategy of collaboration.
As Maur sees it, “Not exploiting regional complementarities represents a missed opportunity. West Africa can help feed itself. The physical nature of West Africa’s agro-ecological zones alone provides a strong rationale for regional collaboration, with soil and rainfall patterns cutting across neighboring countries and creating natural, cross-border economic markets.”
And what is Morocco’s role in this? On the macro level, its annual International Agricultural Exhibition (SIAM) in Meknes each spring brings together farmers, scientists, companies, experts, government officials, and water/irrigation specialists, among others, from all over Africa and elsewhere to discuss latest developments to improve productivity and sustainability of agricultural sectors in Morocco and Africa.
In an address to the African Development Bank, King Mohammed VI spoke to the need “to ensure food security for all our African peoples and to reduce our dependence…through the creation of a common African agricultural market.” Since the agricultural sector employs close to half of Morocco’s labor force and provides up to 19 percent of the country’s GDP, it is a national priority. The outsized role of agriculture means that it has a significant impact on the economy in general.
This is similarly true in West Africa, which would gain significant benefits from closer collaboration in the sector. As Maur wrote, “A more regional approach towards agricultural policy would bring countries the familiar gains from trade, including lower prices and greater variety for consumers, higher prices for producers in many cases, as well as solidarity mechanisms through which excess supply can easily connect with excess demand anywhere in the region.” With more attention to addressing challenges regionally, greater resources and efficiencies can be realized that would “boost yields and generate productivity gains that can be transmitted all along the value chain.”
Morocco Adds Value to the Supply Chain
Morocco is already having an impact on the agricultural sector by providing greater access to fertilizers tailored specifically for African markets. Business leaders accompanied the king on his visits to African countries, and OCP, the phosphates giant, has been leading the charge on agricultural cooperation. Of particular note is a MOU signed with Gabon that provides for a pooling of Gabonese gas resources and Moroccan phosphoric acid production units in Gabon and Morocco, which, together with a total capacity of two million tons of fertilizer, will “eventually have the ability to cover at least 30% of the continent’s total demand. Fertilizer products will be marketed and transported from Morocco and Gabon through regional distribution channels which will also be boosted as a result.”
This initiative was noted in an article by Francis Ghilès, an Associate Senior Researcher at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs: Morocco‘s Progress is Slow, Shaky but Real. He wrote that “OCP Group is seeking to bring African producers of raw materials and feedstock together, bypassing the traditional role of Western companies in the value added chain: phosphates from Morocco, gas and potash from other African countries could be marshalled to manufacture fertilizers in Africa at an affordable price for local farmers. Fertilizer prices on the continent are among the highest in the world and, as a result, farmers use a fraction of what their peers elsewhere use. Meanwhile the percentage of arable land is declining while the population is surging.”
The article points out that OCP Group has become a world leader in the industry and has gradually moved from producing phosphate rock as a commodity up the value chain to phosphoric acids and fertilizers, and is increasing its role in Africa, “the company’s other new frontier. Food production and processing may be more recession-proof than other sectors as world population continues to increase and millions of people are lifted out of dire poverty.”
While analysts often comment on the vibrant growth in Africa and how its population is projected to double by 2050, less has been written about the food-energy-water nexus that is critical to balanced and sustainable growth in Africa. Morocco is demonstrating that it shares its future with the continent and is committed to the survival and success of African countries, as neighbors, markets, and partners.