This study examines the impacts of climate change on pastoralists in Morocco. It focuses on the effects of increasing temperatures and decreasing participation on agriculture and food and water security. This report also considers possible adaptation strategies.
Background on North Africa & Morocco
North Africa is considered to be a climate change hot spot with the most immediate threats being increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation (IPCC, 2022; Almazroui et al., 2020). These changes are most injurious to Morocco due to the socioeconomic and ecological characteristics of this country (Schilling et al., 2012). Morocco is the northwesternmost country of the Maghreb region of North Africa, situated between the arid Western Sahara and the semi-arid Mediterranean region (National Intelligence Council, 2009). Most of Morocco experiences a typical Mediterranean climate with warm to hot and dry summers and mild, relatively wet winters (Filahi et al., 2016). Climate change is altering the physical conditions of the landscape and thus has detrimental impacts on the safety and well-being of vulnerable Moroccan pastoralists who rely on the land for their livelihoods.
- Increasing Temperatures
- Decreasing Precipitation
- Drought & Water Scarcity
Seasonal and mean temperatures over most of North Africa have increased at twice the global rate due to anthropogenic climate change (IPCC, 2022; Almazroui et al., 2020). Over the past four decades, the region has seen increased warming in the spring and summer seasons with increasing trends in the temperatures of the absolute warmest and coldest days of the year (Filahi et al., 2016). Additionally, warm spell duration has increased across North Africa as have the magnitude and extent of heatwaves since 1980 (Filahi et al., 2016). Models predict that under the 1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C global warming scenarios, North African mean annual temperatures are expected to be on average, 0.9°C, 1.5°C, and 2.6°C warmer than that of the 1994-2005 period, respectively (IPCC, 2022; Almazroui et al., 2020). This increase in temperature is projected to continue through the end of this century (IPCC, 2022; Almazroui et al., 2020; National Intelligence Council, 2009).
Precipitation in North Africa is typically characterized by dry summers and relatively wet winters and is highly variable interannually (Almazroui et al., 2020; Filahi et al., 2016) Schilling et al., 2012). Morocco has experienced below average annual precipitation rates since the mid-1970s (Schilling et al., 2012; Knippertz et al., 2002). Following this trend, future climate change simulations project annual precipitation decreases of 23% and 34% under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and RCP8.5 scenario, respectively (Hadri et al., 2021). This reduction in precipitation, in combination with consistently higher temperatures, will cause the drying up of surface water as well as the salinization of soil and water (both surface water and groundwater) (Rochdane et al., 2021; Acharki et al., 2022; Simmoneaux et al., 2015).
Drought & Desertification
Over the last three decades, changes in the annual climate cycle have caused more frequent droughts in Morocco (Hadri et al., 2021; Benassi, 2008). Morocco has also seen an earlier seasonal onset and longer duration (number of consecutive days without precipitation) of drought (Filahi et al., 2016; Schilling et al., 2021). This temporal persistence is especially prevalent in the spring season, which has seen a decrease in precipitation of around 25% (Hadri et al., 2021; Filahi et al., 2016; Benassi, 2008). Drought has the potential to contribute to future food insecurity and increased social instability (IPCC, 2022; Hadri et al., 2021; Schilling et al., 2012; Freier et al., 2011).
Due to the arid nature of Morocco's landscape and the high erosion rates of soil in this region, the land is prone to desertification (Hammouzaki, 2013). Rising temperatures are making conditions drier and exacerbating the issue of desertification (Hammouzaki, 2013).
Population growth and urbanization's impacts on a stressed water supply.
Morocco’s already stressed water supply will become further overstretched by the country’s rapidly growing population (Ahmadalipour et al., 2019; García-Ruiz et al., 2011; Schilling et al., 2012). Morocco’s population is projected to grow by 10 million by the year 2050, which will inevitably widen the gap between water supply and demand (Ahmadalipour et al., 2019; Schilling et al., 2012). Morocco is likely to see increased migration toward urban areas as a result of deteriorating rural livelihoods associated with declining agricultural productivity and profits, which will make accommodating the needs of the country’s rapidly growing population more difficult (Waha et al., 2017; Freier et al., 2012). Given the impacts of climate change and population growth, Morocco is expected to reach the status of extreme water stress within the next twenty-five years (World Bank Group, 2018).
- Economic Reliance on Agriculture
- Pastoralist Livelihoods
Morocco’s vulnerability to climate change is magnified by a variety of economic factors. Within North African countries, Morocco is the most dependent on agriculture in terms of employment (Freier et al., 2011; Schilling et al., 2012). The agricultural sector is therefore of high importance for the nation’s economy, accounting for approximately 17% of GDP, with the burden falling most heavily on poorer populations (Schilling et al., 2012). Furthermore, Morocco has the lowest per capita income as well as the most unequal distribution of income amongst the North African countries (CIA, 2022; Schilling et al., 2012). Since climate change acts as a threat multiplier that exacerbates preexisting non-climate related socioeconomic issues, the people of Morocco, especially those who make their livelihood off the land, are at risk of further impoverishment.
Pastoralists are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are dependent on the health of the land and proper seasonal conditions. Climate change will impact traditional pastoral practices by degrading pasture quality and water quality and by altering seasonal conditions (IPCC, 2022). By the end of the 21st century, climate change is likely to cause a decrease of 15-40% in Moroccan pastoralist primary agricultural productivity (Schilling et al., 2012). These decreasing profits are worsening social inequalities by making poor farmers poorer and rich farmers richer (Schilling et al., 2012; Freier et al., 2011). For instance, following drought periods, poor farmers are often forced to sell their herd in order to sustain their families and their livelihoods (Schilling et al., 2012; Freier et al., 2011).
ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
Adaptation strategies in Morocco are focused in two groups: Governmental and Technological. To increase resilience, adaptation measures should focus on stabilizing agricultural output rather than maximizing it (Schilling et al., 2012). Climate change adaptation may also benefit from integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
Individual farmers do not have the resources necessary to design and maintain resilient farms. Therefore, government policy is essential to building resilience to water scarcity. Agricultural and socioeconomic policies must also take into account future climate change so as to avoid shocks (Rochdane et al., 2011). According to Rochdane et al., government responsibilities may be threefold:
- Provide pastoralists with information about future climate change projections and possible impacts on their current practices.
- Provide education as to how to best make changes in agricultural practices.
- Provide access to new opportunities that arise in the face of climate change.
A successful example of governmental policy is the Plan Maroc Vert (2012-2020), which aimed to raise the GDP of Morocco through agricultural initiatives, combat poverty amongst farmers and increase employment in that sector, and provide technical support to farmers (Montanari, 2013).
Since water scarcity is the most injurious impact on pastoralist, most technological strategies focus on water availability and irrigation. Moroccan pastoralists use special harvesting techniques and crop mixes, such as planting those that require less water or ripen faster, to increase resilience of rain-fed agriculture (Schilling et al., 2011). Farmers may also be encouraged to grow tree crops instead of cereals to allow for efficient use of percolating water and direct seeding, which preserves nutrients contained in the topsoil (Schaldach, 2016; Schilling et al., 2012).
Pastoralists may also increase resilience through the adoption of transhumance, meaning the movements of herds according to precipitation patterns. This practice allows farmers to move to more fertile soils during drought years and conserve groundwater for normal years (Schilling et al, 2011). Transhumance increases future agricultural resilience as the impact on profits from reductions in precipitation depends on grazing management of previous years (Freier et al., 2011).
Amazigh Indigenous Knowledge
The Amazigh (Berbers), Morocco's nomadic Indigenous people, hold Traditional Ecological Knowledge that is vital in adapting to climate change. Traditional practices include transhumance, terracing to prevent erosion, crop selection including cultigens, and pasture management (Montanari, 2013).
Agdal, meaning "protected grazing land", is a historical concept amongst transhumant Amazigh that refers to an agroecological space for preserving communal resources (Montanari, 2013; Auclair et al., 2011). Agdals may be useful in adapting to climate change as they are focused on preserving biodiversity by working with the specific biotic resources of the area.
The Amazigh have many traditional means of water management. They allocate water based on time (hours, days, etc.), not volume (Montanari, 2013; Wolf, 2000). This allows for local and individual management of fluctuating water supplies and encourages conservation. The Amazigh also distribute water resources based on a hierarchy (drinking water for humans, then for animals, then for irrigation, etc.), which cuts out unnecessary usages and demands efficiency (Montanari, 2013; Wolf, 2000).
Morocco has consistently ranked high on the Climate Change Performance Index, coming in 8th in 2022. Morocco was recognized as a leader in international climate change policy and commended for its commitment to the Paris Agreement (Germanwatch, 2022).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phoebe Weller graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2024 with a combined Environmental Studies-Government major and a Gender & Sexuality Studies minor. Phoebe chose to examine pastoralists in Morocco because of their interest in the impacts of climate change on agriculture. They produced this webpage for Dr. Jon Rosales’ Adapting to Climate Change course in the spring of 2022.
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