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Trees outside forests: Morocco

Omar Mhirit and Mohamed Et-Tobi
Ecole nationale forestière d'Ingénieurs, Salé
Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry

Photo 56. Olive and almond groves in the 1970s in Morocco as part of soil protection and restoration efforts (© Bellefontaine/Cirad)


Morocco conducted a national forest inventory (NFI) in 1999 on 44 650 000 ha. The results show that 12.5 percent of the national territory is forest domain, of which 5.5 percent is classified as forest and 7 percent as other wooded areas. Some 20 percent of Morocco's land area is covered by non-forest tree systems. Subtracting the 11 percent of bare and desert land, we are left with a figure of 56.5 percent of agricultural, pastoral and urban lands. This leaves considerable potential for the expansion of non-forest tree systems.

The population totalled 28 238 000 in 1999, of whom 49 percent are rural dwellers. Of this number, 80 percent live in farm households, accounting for 80 percent of rural employment.

Population growth, soil erosion, desertification, disease and crop pests all take their toll of natural resources, and the burgeoning agro-food industries and expanding export markets also have an impact. Within this changing context, there is a need for a closer look at non-forest tree systems and how to enhance them. The carob tree discussed in this paper is a case in point.


Data from the 1999 NFI and the agricultural surveys were tapped for a classification of non-forest tree systems. These included the 1998-99 general farm survey (RGA - Recensement général agricole) by the DPAE (Direction de la planification agricole et de l'environnement) and specific surveys such as the 1991 citrus survey (Mhirit and Sbay, 1991) and the 1995 survey on rosaceae (Basler et al., 1995).

Treed permanent pasturelands alone carry 84 percent of these tree systems. Orchards plus scattered fruit trees account for a further 12 percent. The DRS (défense et restauration des sols) plantations, which serve to protect and restore the soil and may include fruit, forest fruit or silvopastoral species, amount to about 3 percent. The remaining 0.5 percent consists of urban and peri-urban parks, green shelterbelts, line plantings and rows of poplars.

Patterns and extent of change

Not all non-forest tree systems exhibit the same patterns and extent of change. Pasturelands, for instance, tend to be under great pressure, whereas fruit-tree orchards have expanded. Natural rangelands are not all managed and used in the same way, partly because of certain ambiguities in the legislation concerning usufruct, and largely because of the size of the herds, estimated at 17 million sheep, 2.6 million head of cattle and 5 million goats. The fruit tree sector, on the other hand, has benefited from the development of large and medium-scale water harnessing schemes, and from the 1969 Code on Agricultural Investment, which breathed new life into the agro-industries and opened new markets.

There is no actual inventory of off-forest tree systems as such, but available agricultural and forestry statistics indicate a steady expansion of orchards: first, olive orchards from 1968 to 1988, and then a steep upward swing from 1989 with the introduction of the big rosaceae plantations. Conditions in Morocco have always favoured the introduction and adaptation of a wide range of fruit species, including citrus fruits. Fruit-tree cultivation has accordingly been encouraged, fostering the establishment of both rainfed and irrigated fruit corps.

Trees growing outside forests play a prominent role in food security. The 1998-99 estimates for fruit production were 2 934 370 tonnes, distributed as follows: citrus fruits 50 percent, rosaceae and olives 20 percent each, scattered fruit trees, mainly figs and walnuts, 5 percent, date palms 3 percent and almonds 2 percent (Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Marine Fisheries -- MADRPM) (2000a, 2000b). Their contribution becomes crucial in times of scarcity. The herds supply 98 percent of red meat production, meeting 35 percent of the demand for food. For the livestock production sector, dairy production meets 87 percent of the national requirement, with rangelands and crop by-products supplying 65 percent of this output (MADRPM, 2000b).

Trees outside forests also benefit the national economy: the resource and its products is the prime source of supply for the agro-industries. The agro-industrial sector has seven sub-sectors: oil processing, cold storage, fruit and vegetable processing, vegetable canning, dairy products and byproducts, compound foods, and red meat. Of the 17 846 units involved, 94 percent are traditional industries, 91 percent of which have to do with oil-processing. In terms of providing employment, the fruit production sector offers the equivalent of 56.5 million workdays, on a seasonal and year-round basis. Wood supplies 30 percent of the national demand for energy, second only to oil at 51 percent. Forest species supply 53 percent of the woody biomass consumed in Morocco, fruit tree species 28 percent, and crop residues 28 percent (CDER), 1998).

Soil protection is a major environmental function of trees growing outside forests, particularly rangelands in watersheds. In urban areas, greenbelts and shelterbelts not only add to the beauty of the landscape, they provide an essential bulwark against wind, sand and erosion, produce oxygen and mark boundaries.

Rural populations also benefit from the resource, which supplies fuelwood and wood for home-building, artisanal activities and tool-making, not to mention food and the preparation of home remedies and cosmetic products. The trees are also a source of income - honey is just one example. Several species, such as the olives, figs and pomegranates frequently cited in the Koran, reflect specific values of Arabic and Islamic culture and religion. In rural areas, trees are perceived as refuges, symbolizing prosperity and the sense of belonging to a particular place or group. Multi-purpose trees have considerable social and economic significance.

Institutional and management aspects

The Code on Agricultural Investment is the main legal instrument for trees outside forests. It stipulates incentive measures for afforestation, reforestation and restocking, and for fruit-tree cultivation. Forest law, town planning and natural resource legislation also cover these resources. In terms of land ownership, some 86.5 percent of these trees come under collective ownership systems, 12 percent are on private land, one percent are on public land, and 0.5 percent on state land.

Management responsibility lies primarily with specific services of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry, and with the Ministry of Land-Use Planning. DRS, a forest service activity, involves soil protection from wind and water erosion, water conservation, boosting productivity on slopelands, buffering the socioeconomic infrastructure from the impact of erosion, and enhancing farmer income. Where erosion constitutes a menace to the community, the affected areas are declared zones of national interest (périmètres d'interêt national - PIN). The State then bears the cost of erosion control infrastructures and protective reforestation. Subsidies are granted to farmers for the construction of bunds around fruit-tree, forest or cereal crops.

Photo 57. Date-palm grove in The Todra Valley, Morocco. (© Bellefontaine/Cirad)

The most notable planning and management systems for non-forest tree systems evolved as part of the Rif Integrated Development Project and the Eastern Pasture and Livestock Development Project (PDPEO). The Rif project involves forest and peri-forest areas. The goal is global and integrated land use and natural resource planning and development for homogenous zones, based on a flexible, participatory planning approach assuming stakeholders as partners and these lands as their legacy. The Eastern project concerns rangelands and combines several types of action: improved production (browsing and grazing resources, mostly trees and bushes); environmental protection (water and soil); resource enhancement (product diversification, fuelwood, planting and management of rosemary bushlands, tree crops and apiculture).

Natural resource management has long been in the capable hands of rural people, with their undeniable traditional skills and knowledge. The most striking illustration is the wise and complex exploitation of natural rangeland under a regime of nomadic herd movements and practices judiciously planned to make the most of plant resources. In these nomadic systems the herds follow the rains, but they also move from the plains to upland areas with the change of seasons. The social abilities of farmers and pastoralists have also favoured the emergence of peasant associations. There are 56 national and 124 regional associations and a number of cooperatives, 58 percent of which are agricultural cooperatives.

Assessment and planning

Resource planning for these systems represents a wide range of stakeholders and viewpoints, including state management sectors, ministerial services such as the departments of the interior, urban planning, environment, public works and so forth, plus the National Councils for Agriculture and Forests. Farmers associations such as the chambers of agriculture, local communities and NGOs are all involved, as are the big fruit farms and the paper and pulp industries.

Various plans and strategies designed to check resource degradation and promote woodland areas also concern these tree systems. The national watershed management plans, the desertification control plan, reforestation, farmland conservation management and the Master Plan for protected areas, the law on development of the bour areas (rainfed agriculture zones), the rangeland development strategy, the national forestry programme, and the 2020 rural development strategy all have sections on these systems. The 1994 reforestation Master Plan specifically stresses the sustainable development of forest and peri-forest lands and watershed protection. It also targets a new reforestation process based on a participatory approach favourable to non-forest systems. Various state and semi-state funds such as the Hassan II Foundation, the National Forest Fund, and funds for rural and agricultural development and community infrastructure all support these guidelines.

Agricultural surveys and censuses provide data for agricultural policy monitoring and follow-up. The data processing and statistics division does annual random sample surveys on plant and animal production, (permanent national surveys or occasional regional surveys). Tree statistics were provided by the 1991 citrus survey and the 1995 rosaceae survey, whereas the 1998-99 RGA survey furnished statistical data on tree cover, varieties, maintenance, age, health, etc. The purpose of the RGA was to collect structural data on agriculture, pinpoint changes with respect to the 1974 census, and establish a data file on all farms to provide a sampling basis for topical agricultural surveys. The sample stratification contained eight classes based on land use, rainfed croplands, irrigated croplands, fruit plantations, forests, rangelands and uncultivated lands, small towns, large towns, and big douars (villages). Sample size was determined in accordance with the importance of agriculture within the region and crop diversity. Morocco now has a fairly well-developed circular sampling system designed to cover supply side, extension, agricultural policy extension, monitoring and planning sectorial needs.

Carob-tree assessment

The carob-tree (Ceratonica Siliqua L.) is of considerable social and economic significance. This Mediterranean legume ranges from the plains to the hills. In thermocline terms, it grows in arid to semi-arid Mediterranean areas and adapts well to poor soils. Homogenous stands of trees are found on privately owned land and in state forests.

Forest species growing on private and state land face a number of severe constraints, but farmers are careful to protect the carob-tree, a privilege justified by its unique virtues and advantages. Its great popularity is mostly due to its vast potential for rural development and soil conservation, and for mountain-area economies. Both the fruit and the seeds have numerous domestic and industrial uses, as well as undeniable qualities. Every part of the tree is useful and valuable. There are six production units for gum arabic8 , and ten crushing plants with an annual processing capacity exceeding 80 000 t.

No unauthorized removal of forest products is legal on state land, so carobs growing there are used more for browse than for fruit. The forest administration guarantees the right of sale for carobs of authorized provenance. On private land, the owners are simply obliged to pay a pre-harvest tax on the estimated volume of the harvest. In state forests, carob output is auctioned on an annual basis with no guarantee of quantity or quality. In fact, this is more properly seen as a right to pick the harvest, which is done by people living nearby, who then award the harvest to the highest bidder.

The juxtaposition of private and state-owned lands where carob thrives makes it hard to identify the provenance and quantify the product. In 1995 in the province of Ben-Mellal in the western high Atlas region, a thriving carob zone, a survey was carried out to learn more about the carob sector (Zouhir, 1996). An estimated 12 000 ha are under carob in this region, with an average density of 16 stems/ha. This works out to 7 000 ha of state forest with a density of 20 trees/ha, 4 000 ha of private land with a density of 10 trees/ha, and 1 000 ha of collectively owned land with a density of 15 stems/ha. The data on the public or private provenance of the product, quantities, and income were gathered by forestry staff at the pick-up centres in the weekly souk (market) where bidders and sellers meet during the season. The data were then compared to the forest service and exchange office data for the 1991-95 periods on sales and prices, as well as import and export figures.

The survey findings for the province estimated actual harvest quantities at 8 395 quintals from six forests, and user income from the product at US$ 470 120. At the national level, government records indicate an average annual 8 206 quintals of carob offered for sale for an intake of US$ 261 760. In exchange terms, the year 1994 showed a major flow of carob and carob by-products: 110 280 quintals exported for a value of US$ 8 322 404, and imports of 26 680 quintals for a sum of US$ 5 244 045.

The survey highlights the social and economic importance of carob. It also shows that a part of the carob crop is not officially recorded. The actual quantities harvested in just one province exceeded the amount offered for sale at the national level. The volume sold represented some 33 percent of the volume actually harvested. The 67 percent difference is thought to have come from carob harvested on private lands. The findings seem to make sense in terms of the production potential of the two categories. Income to the population would therefore represent 64 percent of the total amount and over twice the income put in the hands of the rural communes, showing the importance of carob for local economies.

Because the survey concentrated more on carob as product than as resource, it had its limitations. Neither the carob fruits nor foliage consumed in situ by livestock nor the value of carobwood was considered. Still, the survey can be used by rural communities to determine local harvests, by foresters to assess unmonitored amounts, by farmers' associations for market data and/or to stimulate investments, and by development agencies to appraise the impact on rural income. It could also be upgraded by bringing in other assessment criteria such as whether state or private property is involved, carob varieties, productive and unproductive trees. The foregoing is all strong justification for a tree-by-tree survey.

The size of the carob crop is an argument in favour of carob promotion and of such tree systems. Some industrialists, looking at the international demand for and importation of specific carob by-products, put money into carob plantations in forest areas. For lack of a clear legal framework, the results fell short of expectations. They then turned to the intensive carob plantations in the Khémisset and Agadir regions. Rural populations have also expressed real interest in growing carob, especially since the harvest and transfer process presents economic advantages for farmers. Carob could be safely introduced on a large scale as it is a hardy tree that can adapt well to marginal and sloping lands, whilst offering real economic and environmental benefits.


Generally speaking, each off-forest tree system faces its own specific constraints, but some obstacles to development are common to all. These include: the complex legal status of land, the fact that plantations are scattered, poor plant matter and farm practice performance, the lack of water, and so forth. The woody biomass yield of local and introduced species is low. Meeting the demand for biomass fuel raises the problem of mounting need coupled with ecosystem degradation. Carob trees, multi-purpose trees in pastoral and mountainous zones, and date palm culture in oasis and pre-Saharan zones are all sectors suitable and advisable for development. The best species and land use interactions also need to be identified.

The focus of the 2020 Rural Development Strategy is on natural and agricultural resource issues, of which Trees outside forests are an integral part. The objective is to foster the emergence of a climate of economic growth and well-being for the people of Morocco, while at the same time correcting disequilibria in rural areas and enhancing rural potential. The establishment of agro-ecological criteria and the identification of social and territorial areas are positive ways of respecting local specifics. The new rural and agricultural development code puts forth a number of principles. These feature multi-purpose agriculture, the contractualization of relations between public and/or private actors, and the regionalization and territorialization of policy-making. These measures also hold promise for improved management, planning and assessment of Trees outside forests.


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8 Gum arabic is extracted from carob seeds. It is used in the food industry, but also has other applications in the paper, textile and pharmaceutical industries.

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