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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Call for experiences and effective policy approaches in addressing food security and nutrition in the context of changing rural-urban dynamics

Moha Haddouch
Moha Haddouch UNDPMorocco

Enhancing Green commodities Value chains in the Argan Biosphere Reserve as an integrated urban - rural area cooperation system

Moha HADDOUCH : Independent expert 

The Argan Biosphere Reserve (ABR) extends over 2.5 million hectares and it is home to 3 million inhabitants making their living mainly from agriculture, a key economic sector making contribution of an average 40% of GDP.

This area was inscribed as part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 1998 in recognition to its global benefits including a high biodiversity value and the central role it plays in buffering the desertification progress towards northern Mediterranean regions. Argan trees (Argania spinosa) and the gommier marocain (Acacia gummifera Willd.), two common drought-resistant species of tropical origin, still strive to stop expansion of the African Sahara Desert.

This biological barrier is in fact supported by ecosystem services flowing from the Atlas Chains in a mutual defense system where mountains and oases are vitally linked within the argan ecosystem. However, deforestation and soil erosion in the uplands of the Souss massa water basins and ground water depletion and pollution in lower agricultural plains constitute the main drivers of environmental disruptions. 

Recent studies on environment limits to provisioning ecosystem services highlighted tree major effects of modern intensive agriculture on environmental  sustainability to the detriment of the traditional ingenious systems : (i) Water depletion trend had adversely affected the traditional hydraulic systems (khettara / canals) and the unit shadow price of water over the next 4 decades (2011-2045) will rise by almost 300 percent, as the average water table declines from a depth index of 1 to 33.8 , (ii) Insecticide applications in modern agriculture affected drastically wild bee colonies (50 to 70%)  and their pollination services during the last decade and (iii) Overgrazing by goat herds was demonstrated to cause the main argan forest cover loss, shrinking at an average rate of 600 ha/year. 

To put some numbers on how this region is resources dependant, the agricultural added value driven from natural capital represented 40 % of GDP in 2013. However, the poverty and the vulnerability rates remain high: 12.7 % and 19.6 % respectively (2007). 

Reversing this trend by rebuilding natural capital is a new option of the Government. Actually, a project entitled: “A Circular Economy Approach to Agro-Biodiversity Conservation in the Souss-Massa Region of Morocco” has recently been launched under the Regional MENARID program, Integrated Nature Resources Management in the Middle East and North Africa Region. The project, endorsed by the GEF, in accordance with the UNDP procedures, is intended to strengthen the environmental pioneer programs of the Green Morocco Plan.

The rationale of this sustainable development paradigm lays on three pillars (i) Payments for ecosystem services (PES) as market based instruments for biodiversity conservation through mainstreaming natural capital into argan and honey value chains, two  species of high biodiversity significance (ii) Enhancing creativity and innovation through appropriate environment engineering to sustain the water basin functions and ensure better disaster risks management and (iii) enhanced protection of human rights relating to indigenous people that stand behind these vital ecosystem services supplies.

Four low-hanging fruit options of PES are identified and put into practice:

1/ Subsidizing land terracing by enacting the 1969 Decree and the Agricultural Development Fund to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality. In fact land terracing provides three flows of ecosystem services mostly for public use. Soil carbon sequestration of global benefit, water regulation, flood control and dam silting prevention considered as public goods and finally food security benefitting directly to local populations. Preliminary environmental economics relating to land terracing indicate a 1: 7.5 cost benefit ratio (1 dollar invested in nature provides 7.5 dollars of ecosystem service value), as much as 60 percent of this value is benefiting the rural poor through stronger food security.

2/ Eco-branding of ABR products and services by converting organic certified product into green commodities. These double human health and ecological resilience benefits are crucial to build a strong urban and rural cooperation system that secure sustainable supply chains and food safety.  Argan oil, aromatic and medicinal plants, honey, goat meat and ecotourism services are major sectors that contribute significantly to food security and income generation with a potential impact on the environment.  These products will be certified ABR according to the MAB/UNESCO program.

3/ The Moroccan Crowdfunding Act was submitted by the Ministry of Finance to the national Parliament. The Act is scheduled to come into force in 2017. This novel financial tool will support the creation of new sources of financing, particularly for investment in natural infrastructures that experience difficulties in obtaining financing through traditional funding channels, particularly for NGO and PES start-ups.

4/ Payment for ecotourism ecosystem services through carbon footprint offsetting. The Ida-outanane circuit known as the honey road is a sustainable development platform that experiences bundled PES aiming at (i) preserving the beauty of the landscape in the Paradise Valley, (ii) promoting bee pollination services at the biggest and oldest traditional apiary of Inzerki and (iii) planting argan trees for carbon sequestration. 

These startups are also submitted to other funding instruments (LDN/UNLCD global mechanism, the GCF and the GEF/SGP).

The project will contribute to achieve most of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development targets and more significantly goal 11 relating to safe cities and communities, goal 12 of responsible production and consumption, goal 13 aiming to stop climate change and goal 15 related to life on earth and sustainable land use.

In sum, this contribution sets out an ecosystem service approach that combines the concept of circular ecology by valuing the natural capital with the complementary concept of social boundaries in terms of food security systems linking rural population to urban communities. 

To ensure a safe and just rural and urban cooperation, agri-food systems should lay on deforestation-free commodity trade evolving equitable public and private PES.  


Moha HADDOUCH, Project National Coordinator

Main responsible entity
Project management unit

“A Circular Economy Approach to Agro-Biodiversity Conservation by introducing payment for ecosystem services (PES) in the Souss-Massa Region of Morocco”

07/2014 to 06/2019

Funding source
GEF,  UNDP and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Morocco

Souss massa region of Morocco

MEN ARID Integrated Nature Resources Management in the Middle East and North Africa Region (PROGRAM),

Conserve the globally important Argan ecosystem in Morocco’s SM region through payment for ecosystem services and the sustainable use of related agro-biodiversity

Key characteristics of the experience/process
In order to achieve the above objective, the project’s intervention has been organized in four main components:
Component 1: Improved enabling environment for the establishment and promotion of PES schemes in the SM region and mainstreaming the approach at national level.
Component 2: Strengthened capacities to implement and mainstream payment for ecosystem services and the sustainable use of related agro-biodiversity.
Component 3: Organic and biodiversity-friendly businesses strengthened through the improved labeling and marketing of agro-biodiversity products from the Argan ecosystem.
Component 4: Pilot PES schemes enhance the conservation of agro-biodiversity in the Argan ecosystem.

Key actors involved and their role
1/ The Agency for Agricultural Development (ADA) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries (MAMF),  is mandated to implement the project
2/ The GEF is the main funding partner
3/ UNDP is the GEF agency
4/ The National Agency for the Development of the Oases and Argan Zones (ANDZOA) is responsible, in coordination with other government authorities, for developing a comprehensive development program that integrate PES.
5/ The Network of Associations of the Argan Biosphere Reserve (RARBA) is supporting community action on the ground
6/ The Idao Tanane pays d’accueil touristique, a nonprofit organization in charge of the ecotourism development

Key changes observed with regards to food security and nutrition and sustainable agriculture and food systems
Enhancing land terracing subsidies
Initiating the argan biosphere reserve products eco-branding
Capacity strengthening to enhance environmental finance
Setting a sustainable development platform in the honey road ecotourism circuit

Challenges faced
Lack of legal and regulatory framework for the financial instrument
Lack of awareness among different actors to enable instruments of subsidies
Lack of awareness among corporate to adopt ecolabeling products and services

Lessons/Key messages
To ensure a safe and just rural and urban cooperation, agri-food systems should lay on deforestation-free commodity trade evolving equitable public and private Payment for Ecosystem Services.