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Understanding the Role of Watermelons in Reproducing Inequality in Morocco

Authors: Cameron Franz*, Pennsylvania State University, Abderrahim Ouarghidi, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa
Keywords: Morocco, Watermelon, Virtual Water, Food, Agriculture, Inequality, Development
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Using a Political Ecology lens, this paper asks how watermelon production and international trade reshapes water governance in a region experiencing increasing, climate-related, water shortages. Through ethnographic fieldwork with actors and stakeholders across the watermelon value chain, I seek to explore how watermelon production and sale through this value chain reinforces or reduces social and environmental equity. The majority of field work was conducted within the Zagora province of Morocco, which lies at the edge of the Sahara desert. In Zagora watermelon production is encouraged by the push toward the intensification of agricultural production and aggregation of smaller farms by the Moroccan Government through the Green Morocco Plan (PMV). The production of watermelons in this region relies entirely on pumping groundwater to irrigate desert fields; a radical departure from the traditional oasis agriculture built around date palms which has sustained this region for millennia. While watermelon has been viewed as an attractive commodity to generate increased economic activity, it has introduced a new set of vexing and complex problems. Through this paper I argue that the intensification of watermelon production has introduced new social and environmental vulnerabilities and complicated water governance in this region. Watermelons are placing significant new demand on already limited water resources, increasing local vulnerability to potentially volatile domestic and international markets, introducing more intense socioeconomic stratification, and posing a threat to a unique cultural landscape.

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