An image of the country's flag.

Morocco’s economic performance has steadily raised living standards over the past several decades. In spite of this sustained growth, rural poverty and vulnerability persist. Moroccan agriculture continues to be one of the least productive in the region. About half of the country’s labor force is employed in agriculture, but the sector produces only 16% of GDP. In order to reduce rural poverty and grow faster and more sustainably, the country must increase the productivity of agriculture. A significant aspect of transforming agriculture is developing more effective policies and programs to make better use of the country’s land, water, forests and the rural labor force.

Land and natural resource issues facing Morocco include: (1) lack of comprehensive policies governing land, water, forests and mineral resources; (2) underdeveloped legal frameworks and limited, ambiguous formal laws governing land and other natural resources; (3) a limited rural land market; (4) limited water; (5) undeveloped programs for participatory forest management; and (6) slow progress on women’s rights of access to and control over land and natural resources. In recent years, the government of Morocco has initiated several large programs to address some of these issues, including improving agricultural productivity through expansion of irrigated land and development of water-delivery infrastructure. In contrast to its success in program implementation, the government appears to have been less effective in developing the policy frameworks necessary to build effective natural-resource governance bodies and institutions. In the area of women’s rights, the government succeeded in enacting the relatively progressive Family Code, but the law has not had the desired positive impact on women’s daily lives.


  • Land policy development. Morocco has a long history of legal pluralism. Parallel systems of customary and formal law, informal and formal land-administration systems, land markets, and dispute-resolution tribunals operate; their effectiveness and efficiency is undermined by their plurality. With the support of donors, the government is implementing its ambitious Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert), a series of programs designed to improve agricultural productivity by modernizing the sector and supporting new investment. The plan’s achievements may be limited by the often ambiguous legal environment and well-intentioned efforts to bring legal certainty through land privatization and registration programs. Such efforts may be useful components of an overall plan of growth and poverty- alleviation; however, absent a governing legal framework, including a land policy that recognizes the range of various rights and interests, there is a danger that the rights of marginalized groups may be lost or undervalued, and that piecemeal efforts to address gaps and weaknesses in the existing systems will not combine to create the type of overarching, integrated framework needed to support Morocco’s growth and development in the decades ahead. USAID and other donors with experience developing policies could support government efforts in considering how best to meet the country’s need for a single legal framework governing land rights and provide technical assistance, especially in the areas of: (1) harmonizing principles of religious, customary and civil law; (2) integrating communal and private land rights; and (3) developing a rangeland management and use policy.
  • Forest and rangeland watershed management. With the support of donors, the government has undertaken a variety of watershed management programs in cropping areas. Rangeland ecosystems, which help reduce flooding and runoff and support groundwater renewal, are degraded in some areas from inappropriately located cultivation and overgrazing. USAID and other donors with experience in watershed management can provide technical assistance and support the protection and rehabilitation of mountain and hillside watersheds that are critical to downstream water supply.
  • Participatory forest management policy and legal framework development. While Morocco has made laudatory efforts to create national parks and protected areas, the country has been slow to update its legal framework to reflect best practices or to adopt a participatory forest management approach to forest governance. Donors can assist the government in developing a framework that supports the engagement of local communities and comanagement of forest and rangeland.
  • Implementation of Family Code. Donors with experience with initiatives supporting women’s rights could assist the government of Morocco, women’s organizations, and legal-aid organizations and other civil-society members to develop a strategy to implement the principles contained in the Family Code. Attention can also be paid to ensuring that women are represented in governance bodies developed to manage natural resources, such as water-user groups and forest cooperatives.


Most of Morocco has an arid and semiarid climate and is battling desertification and a trend of reduced rainfall attributed to climate change. The country’s agricultural sector provides a relatively small percentage of GDP, but despite growing urbanism still employs almost half the population. The average farm size is relatively large (1.6 hectares) and 30% of farms are over 5 hectares, but most cultivation is on rainfed land, and productivity suffers from lack of inputs. Livestock allow households to diversify, but rangeland is increasingly pressured by expanding cultivation and degraded by overuse. In years of good rainfall, Morocco’s agricultural productivity is high, and farmers are able to feed the country, but when rainfall is scarce, the country relies on food imports. The country has made strides in reducing poverty, but economic vulnerability remains widespread.

The country does not have comprehensive land legislation: the legal framework governing land is a mix of customary law, Islamic law, French civil law and a series of decrees, some of which date from the early 1900’s. Most of Morocco’s land is held collectively by tribes (with the state serving as trustee) or in joint ownership by multiple, often multigenerational family members. In both cases the land-tenure systems constrain the development of formal land-markets: most of the collective land is individualized but cannot be sold on the formal market, and the multiple ownership interests in private land recognized by Islamic law complicate efforts to register rights under formal law. Most land transactions occur on the informal land market. Parties also tend to rely on local, primarily informal tribunals for resolution of land disputes; public perception of the court system is that it is bureaucratic and corrupt.

Few women own land in Morocco and fewer still own agricultural land. Reforms to formal laws such as the Family Code have resulted in relatively progressive provisions supporting women’s rights to marital property and to inherit family property. In practice, however, women’s rights to access and control land and natural resources tend to be subordinated to men’s rights, and absent affirmative support from NGOs and programs women are not benefiting from their legal rights.

Morocco is a water-scarce country. The country is highly dependent on its rainfall, rivers, and lakes to meet its water needs. Recurrent drought and reductions in annual rainfall have devastating effects on the quality of rangeland and the country’s food production. The government’s Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV) is concentrating significant resources on expanding the amount of irrigated land. With donor support, the government has undertaken large projects designed to bring safe drinking-water to rural communities and informal settlements in urban and peri-urban areas. Efforts to combat the impact of development and industrialization on coastal lagoons and estuaries are less evident.

About 10% of Morocco’s land is classified as forest. Government reforestation and afforestation efforts have resulted in a net gain of forestland in the 2005–2010 period. Many of the forests have high levels of biodiversity, and the government has been a consistent supporter of the development of national parks and protected areas. Less progress has been made in the areas of participatory forest management. Morocco’s legal framework is dated, incomplete, and fails to allow for an appropriate degree of community forest management and benefit- sharing. With the support of donors, the government has made efforts to pilot participatory forest management in some areas, but the programs have been limited in vision and accomplishments.

Morocco has about 75% of the world’s phosphate deposits and is the third-largest producer of phosphates. The country also has deposits of several other minerals and is encouraging oil and natural gas exploration. The mineral sector has been responsible for about 7% of GDP, and in an effort to encourage growth, Morocco has privatized some holdings and is engaged in updating the legal framework.

Published / Updated: January 2011