Strategic reserve, food security: an interview with Mohammed Sadiki (2/3)

The war in Ukraine has placed the notion of food sovereignty and food security on the agenda almost everywhere in the world. But as early as October 8, 2021, when no threat was looming on the horizon, King Mohammed VI devoted part of his opening speech to the fall parliamentary session and the new legislature to this issue. The Sovereign had emphasized the safety of strategic needs and supplies, food, energy, medicines… with a continuous update of national needs.

The Ministry of Agriculture has thus just launched the first call for tenders relating to the constitution of Morocco’s strategic food reserve. It concerns cereals for an initial quantity of 4 million tonnes, i.e. one month’s consumption. In the process, this quantity will probably be called upon to be increased. Mohammed Sadiki, Minister of Agriculture, announces below the start of the operation to constitute the strategic food reserve and explains the complexity of this new system.

Médias24: Isn’t Morocco at risk of a cereal shortage next autumn, because of the war in Ukraine?

Mohammad Sadiki : We import 9 million quintals of cereals from Ukraine every year. This year, when the war started, we had already imported 6 million quintals. We have 3 Mqx left that we can complete via other markets without difficulty.

Our grain import strategy is to diversify markets, and our model is based on the PPP approach [partenariat public-privé]. It is the private sector that takes care of the purchases. Of course, we have mechanisms to encourage the private sector to do so. And the operators buy from this or that origin depending on the price. In general, cereals from the Black Sea are the cheapest. But that doesn’t mean availability is at risk elsewhere. It is first a question of price.

The cereal harvest period will soon begin internationally. So far, all the reports I’ve read have very good production forecasts. It is rather the rise in prices that we must fear.

We are also in the process of establishment of the strategic reserve announced by Her Majesty on October 8, which concerns food, energy and health.

There is a reflection at the government level. This is not an easy task. Each product will have a specific approach…

– Let’s talk about food products. How will you fund inventory?

– Financing is one point among others. It’s a whole framework and mechanisms that need to be put in place.

The first element is the legal mechanisms and bases. Secondly, there must be a principal who is ultimately responsible for building up the stock and managing it.

It is then necessary to determine the products concerned. These are food products that Morocco does not produce, or does not produce enough of. For example, cereals and edible oil.

If you decide to store the equivalent of six months of grain consumption, it is 24 million quintals. This involves blocking the equivalent in storage capacity, preparing logistics, financing.

There is also the case of agricultural inputs, for example nitrogen fertilizers, because we do not produce them in Morocco. For these nitrogenous fertilizers as for phytosanitary products, it is necessary to secure the needs of a complete campaign.

Of course, we are talking about strategic stock, but it will not be static because the products are perishable. The timeline and mechanisms for ongoing renewal need to be determined.

You have to know when to store. You have to follow the evolution of prices during the year and know when to buy.

All this is taken into consideration within the framework of the reflection on the national food system, the first objective of which is food security. To do this, there are two complementary objectives, first food sovereignty, then the security stock.

– When will we see the first operations to build up the strategic reserve?

– For wheat, we have already started with the Ministry of Economy and Finance. We are implementing the existing mechanism at ONICL level.

The idea is to first store the equivalent of three months of reserve and to do so gradually. We have published a first call for tenders where operators are invited to build up stocks of soft wheat and durum wheat, imported against a maximum storage premium of 2.50 DH per fortnight and per quintal. The overall objective of this call for tenders alone is 3 million quintals of soft wheat and one million of durum wheat. I must specify, because it is very important, that the principal is the State. It is he who makes all the decisions relating to the management of this stock.

We already have storage capacity, and operators are ready to expand capacity further should the need arise. It is this mechanism that will be applied for cereals.

– Talking about food sovereignty, we can’t help but think of oils. Morocco was producing much more than at present, and the oilseed plan is lagging far behind.

– We have drawn up a proactive program to go from a coverage of 2% of needs by national production to 50%, and this in a few years.

But, first of all, when we talk about oils, I consider that we must include olive oil.

Morocco has made enormous progress in this area and has even ranked 3rdand world rank in olive production. The progress is spectacular, and the dynamic will increase because the new plantations of recent years are reaching the stage of becoming productive.

I would add that in the olive sector, a large part of the investments have been subsidized within the framework of pillar II of the Green Morocco Plan, that of solidarity agriculture.

We are also going to move towards improving the production of table olives, for example, with a better adapted varietal profile. There will also be actions to be carried out at the level of the distribution circuits.

Let us now look more generally at oilseeds.

Morocco produced much more than currently, but the decline began in the 1990s to accentuate in the early 2000s, following various liberalization and free trade agreements. Before that, oilseed crops were grown under contract, with guaranteed prices.

The Green Morocco Plan tried to relaunch these crops with the 2013-2020 program contract, without achieving its ambitions since local production covers at best 2% of national needs.

We are working to draw up a new program contract with the interprofession, different from the past, and which introduces innovations:

– Diversify species: the new program contract gives an important place to rapeseed. It is an autumn crop, and we are going to dedicate areas to it, a sort of quota. We will try to set it up as a main culture and not as a substitute culture.

– As far as sunflowers are concerned, we must continue. Until now, if areas remained unused after autumn cereal sowing, they were switched to sunflower in the spring. From now on, we will dedicate areas directly to sunflower, which will be grown there in the first instance.

– Morocco has extremely high potential in soybeans, which is a summer crop and has a very short cycle, from 2.5 months to 3 months. Inevitably, this culture must be irrigated.

Here, I make a parenthesis concerning the irrigated perimeters, in the areas devoted to beet. This crop is affected by a disease, root rot, which cannot be eradicated. This is the case in almost all regions, Doukkala, Beni Mellal, Gharb…

The only way to eradicate it is to practice what is called crop rotation. Instead of having a succession of beet crops, you have to break the cycle of the disease by inserting a crop that does not carry this disease; soybeans can be that crop.

Second, soy is a legume; this means that it does not need nitrogen. Growing soy therefore improves fertility because it leaves nitrogen in the soil.

The industrial investment is the same for the three species, there is no need for adaptation.

The idea is that, in the next program contract, we include the three species with one objective: to go from 2% to 50% coverage of our needs, over the horizon of the program contract, that is- i.e. five to seven years.

– Will this program contract be signed this year?

– Yes. Industrial operators will have to focus their management efforts on increasing yield, and also ensuring a reasonable selling price.

Everyone, the administration as well as the operators, agrees on the technical aspects. The financial aspects remain to be defined. We hope to sign this program contract by the summer.

TO BE CONTINUED

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