Government-Approved Super Food: Threatened Moroccan Fig Cultivars May Provide Security To Rural Moroccans
27 November 2015
By Ida Sophie Winter
Moroccan fig trees are a part of Ahmed Hakam. Until he was nine years old,
Ahmed never ventured outside of his birth village near the northern city of
Ouezzane. He vividly remembers the local fig harvest, when, every year, he,
his mother and scores of women and their children from nearby villages would
gather to dry figs on palm shrub leaves. While women worked, children were
socialized among fig plantations.
''As children, we spent a lot of time playing, eating, singing in fig
trees,'' said Ahmed.
This experience, he says, greatly affected his life path. As a Ministry of
Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries official, he has spent the greater part of
his 32 year-long career on rehabilitating and securing value-added processing
for Moroccan crops. He places special emphasis on figs due to their rich
biological heritage: here, farmers have been cultivating figs by breeding
wild and domestic species for thousands of years, a practice that has allowed
myriad types to evolve and thrive throughout the country.
According to Yossef Ben-Meir, president of the Moroccan-American nonprofit
High Atlas Foundation, however, this biodiversity is threatened by a lack of
investment in community-managed tree nurseries, inefficient water use, and
little value-accessed processing and sale. The Moroccan government indicates
that farmers, unable to utilize value-added opportunities for figs, are
relegating them to mountain slopes and other areas difficult to reach for
transportation. More accessible land, meanwhile, is used for
resource-intensive crops like wheat, apples and pears. In some areas of
Morocco, over 50 percent of fig cultivars have therefore disappeared, and
figs decay, unharvested, on the tree branch. Ancient fig cultivars are being
This decline in production, however, has led to increased domestic demand:
fresh fig prices, says Ahmed, are now higher than those per kilo for bananas
Demand is certainly high internationally (in 2014, global fig demand reached
448 million U.S. dollars and grew 8 percent from 2007 to 2014, according to
marketing firm Index Box), representing significant opportunity for Moroccan
farmers and investors.
To access this market, Yossef says that farmers must first access the
financial and knowledge-based resources to increase production and ensure
The Moroccan government has decided to invest in fig production in
partnership with the High Atlas Foundation, which is already active in
organic almond and walnut production. Together, these institutions plan to
build a nursery near Ouezzane, due to the region's tradition of fig
production and the threats regional fig plantations face from the neglect
that has already extinguished indigenous plum varieties.
The partnership will support 10 varieties of threatened local figs and
distribute saplings for free to farmers. The involved institutions will train
farmers in organic-certified production and value-added processing, and spark
a farmer's coop to share knowledge and explore additional value-added
opportunities. The partnership will also create a scientific teaching garden
featuring all regional varieties.
This pilot program aims to benefit 35,000 rural Moroccans by extending fig
crops by 1,000 hectares. Through it, the Moroccan government and HAF will
support the government's goal of increasing national fig production by 126
percent within the next five years.
Knowledge is deeply needed at a fig plantation near Ouezzane, where farmers
lose out on economic opportunities due to lack of infrastructure and
knowledge. There, farmers dry only their second crop, making it more
valuable, and must sell their first, early-summer crop fresh, as its high
water content counters effective drying. Due to a lack of cold storage, to
generate the most profit from this delicate crop, farmers must harvest early
in the morning and arrange transportation for figs to local souks by the
While dried figs sell for the equivalent $1.80 to $2 per kilogram locally,
fresh figs, at $0.80 to $1, present a roughly 50% loss.
At the farmers' plantation, Hakam points to a large tree surrounded by many
offshoots. Farmers tell him that this tree produces 300 kilograms of fruit
per year. With some pruning, he says, it could yield twice that amount.
When asked what the farming community would do with extra revenue from
increased structural support and efficiency, farmer Fatima Khaima, who left
school at age 15, emphasizes children's education. There is a well-attended
primary school a kilometer and a half away, she says. Past age 12, however,
roughly 30 percent of children drop out because they do not have the money
for $1.20 worth of travel and food at the secondary school, 9 kilometers
Another problem, says Fatima, is road quality. The fig plantation is
surrounded by steep dirt roads that are washed away in the winter.
''[Increased revenue from figs] will help us for our future,'' said Fatima.
One person already benefiting from fig crops is Jamal Belkadi, a farmer in
the nearby village of Asjen. Jamal began his fig plantation in 2000 with two
trees, and, through traditional grafting of tree branches, grew his crop to
170. Starting ''without a single dirham a day,'' he now makes a $4,000 profit
every year to support his wife and two young daughters.
Jamal says these fig trees mean the world to him. They are also significant
for his community, where he creates seasonal agricultural jobs and to which
he has dedicated three trees' worth of fruit annually.
''I feel happy,'' said Jamal. ''My love are these trees. I work with them. I
sweat over them… People come and eat, and say, 'God bless your parents.' I'm
better with God.''
By investing in fig farming communities, the Moroccan government and High
Atlas Foundation can spread Jamal's expertise and make dreams come true for
Fatima's and Ahmed's communities.
Ida Sophie Winter is a student at the Missouri School of Journalism and
project manager with the High Atlas Foundation. She spent 2014-2015 in
Morocco as a Critical Languages and Boren scholar.