Kira Cragun-Rehders & Pierre-Louis Mayaux

Incentivizing Sustainability and Local Discussions on Groundwater in Morocco

Kira Cragun-Rehders is currently an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz majoring in Psychology.

The Moroccan branch of the T2GS Project is currently composed of Dr. Marcel Kuper, Dr. Lisa Bossenbroek, Dr. Pierre-Louis Mayaux, and Dr. Zakaria Kadiri. The project seeks to research the groundwater-related grassroots practices occurring in Morocco as well as the factors contributing to their perpetuation. I had the opportunity to interview T2GS scholar Dr. Pierre-Louis Mayaux. Dr. Mayaux is a political scientist who completed his Ph.D work on government water services in Latin America and has worked as a part of CIRAD, a French research organization, on water policy in northern Morocco for the last 6 years. Given his experience and expertise, Dr. Mayaux was chosen to be a part of the T2GS team in Morocco where he is focusing on how the local, grassroots practices of groundwater use and extraction interact with policies and the political environment in southern Morocco.

 

According to Dr. Mayaux, the most prominent issues of water management and sustainability in Morocco are aquifer overdraft and over extraction. In the hopes of learning more about what exacerbates these issues, the T2GS Project in Morocco focuses on practices at the grassroots level of water use, which Dr. Mayaux clarified as being composed of “farmers, that would be water users […] that would be many local associations, that would be also producers’ cooperatives.” He went on to explain, “around 35 or 40 percent of the overall workforce in Morocco are farmers. That’s a huge figure for a country who, let’s say, is not part of an emerging country, but, still, is a producer majority economy. That’s really uncommon here to have so many farmers.” It is at this grassroots level of farmers and other water users where informal, unsustainable practices are often learned and shared. Since they make up a large portion of the population in Morocco and informal practices only involve more actors, the practices of water users have a larger impact and create difficulties for developing organization and management in relation to water. Dr. Mayaux emphasized, “I think that those grassroot practices, so far, […] are unsustainable practices. I mean there are, basically, forms of grassroot practices to drill more, to take more water and I think we should be cautious not to equate grassroot practices with sustainable practices. You can have grassroot practices and forms of collection management without the management being sustainable.”

 

Interestingly, Dr. Mayaux explained how the state has incentivized intensified agriculture by providing water to farmers at low costs in return for their pledged loyalty to a certain political power within the state. As such, the issues of water management and sustainability seem to require more research into solutions with interdisciplinarity that can tackle these political and social aspects of the problem along with the ecological factors of scarcity. With this incentivization at the national level, the main question Dr. Mayaux finds arising is, “What will be the carrot, the incentive for [water users] to limit their consumption?”

 

Being such a complex, deep-rooted issue, working to improve groundwater sustainability is no easy feat. Dr. Mayaux mentioned that the team is currently learning from and evaluating the situation to create and assess possible solutions to the issue of groundwater sustainability in Morocco. While no clear solution is currently present, Dr. Mayaux expressed specific interest in the creation of an aquifer contract. He mentioned that while the studies of aquifer contracts that currently exist have “not produced any tangible results with regards to aquifer extraction […] what it can help produce is putting the issue on the agenda, the local agenda, of ongoing things that, I think, force people to meet, force them to speak up, and to create a public space around this issue.” Even though there has not been solid evidence of the aquifer contract’s success thus far, getting people to talk about the issue, he explained, can still help by generating awareness and encouraging water users to think more about long-term consequences of their actions. While solutions are still in the early stages of research and development, the Moroccan branch of the T2GS Project ultimately aims to address the issue of aquifer overdraft to improve water sustainability in southern Morocco.