Morocco to Convert 1M ha to Conservation Agriculture - how ICARDA/INRA Fit In

November 28, 2021
Published by
ICARDA Communication Team
Dr. Mina Devkota demonstrating CA machinery in Morocco
Dr. Mina Devkota demonstrating CA machinery in Morocco

On November 12th, the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture, Marine Fisheries, Rural Development, and Water and Forests announced that up to one million hectares of cereals will be cultivated under Conservation Agriculture by 2030.  

Morocco, the only country in the region to practice Conservation Agriculture (CA) at scale, will now become a hub for dryland sustainable agricultural systems, boosted by decades-long joint research on CA between ICARDA and the National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA) of Morocco.  

Conservation Agriculture is a sustainable agricultural production system guided by three core principles: no (or minimal) tillage to the soil after harvest; permanent soil cover to lock in moisture and reduce evaporation; and crop diversification replacing monocropping - to enhance soil health and subsequently improve crop productivity and household resilience. 

Over a long and productive partnership, ICARDA and INRA have investigated crop rotation systems of cereals, legumes, and forage crops under CA at the ICARDA/INRA Marchouch research station near Rabat and across INRA’s research stations in Morocco.  

They produced clear scientific evidence that conservation agriculture is highly beneficial to the country’s agricultural system. 

“The ICARDA and INRA research made a strong and successful case to the government for CA to be integrated within Morocco’s new ‘Green Generation 2020-2030' strategy,” says Dr. Vinay Nangia, ICARDA’s Research Team Leader in Soils, Water, and Agronomy. 

According to Dr. Nangia, this officially establishes CA as a scientifically sound system, trusted to deliver significant impact to the country. 

Morocco's Prime Minister and former Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch visits ICARDA in Morocco.
Morocco's Prime Minister and former Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch (right) visits ICARDA in Morocco.


New Science over old ways 

In Morocco, cereal cultivation –often monocropping- is practiced on 4.5 million hectares of land, which is equivalent to 80 percent of the country’s arable land surface.

Year after year, farmers cultivate the same rainfed cereals -primarily wheat and barley- depleting soil nutrients, reducing organic matter, and eroding the land due to frequent tillage. 

“Morocco’s soils are some of the most fragile in the region, and contain less than two percent of organic matter,” explains Dr. Rachid Moussadek, a Moroccan agronomist for INRA and ICARDA, and a CA expert of more than 15 years.   

Adopting CA will reduce soil erosion by half, he explains. “In addition, each hectare cultivated will capture around 0.5 tons of carbon dioxide, in line with the Net-Zero carbon emission Pledge launched at COP26.”  

Agriculture can strongly contribute to solutions to climate change by increasing ecosystems’ resilience.  “In this regard, conservation agriculture has a massive role to play,” Dr. Moussadek explains.

Water way to go… 

Climate change is severely disrupting rainfall patterns in the region. Less rain means reduced cereal yields and lower productivity and income for dryland family farmers. 

“For more than a decade now, we’ve had a drought every other year in Morocco. Single-crop cereal farmers are finding themselves in dire straits,” says Dr. Moussadek.  

Dr. Mina Devkota, an ICARDA agronomist who has conducted multiple CA experiments in Morocco explains that the joint ICARDA/INRA research has also proven that under variable rainfall conditions, CA produces more stable yields than crops cultivated under conventional systems. 

A unified approach 

The cooperation between ICARDA and INRA initiated in 2004 with the launch of the Moroccan Collaborative Grants Program (MCGP), has evolved and deepened over time, with conservation agriculture at its core.

Its main objectives are to stabilize harvests and livelihoods for small and medium-sized farmers and to restore severely degraded soils back to health.

Dr. Nangia explains that MCGP, now in its fourth phase, is doing a lot of work to bridge the yield gap in wheat-based production systems through improved CA-based agronomic innovations, increased genetic gains, and crop productivity. 

Other key actors will amplify and support CA in the new Moroccan Strategy, specifically the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CRP WHEAT), the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), the World Bank, and the CGIAR ‘Excellence in Agronomy’ initiative.  

Conservation Agriculture


CA addresses more factors than you might think 

Dr. Nangia hopes that integrating CA within Morocco’s broader agricultural strategy will solve persisting bottlenecks that hamper adoption at scale.

Expensive farm machinery acquisition remains sluggish, for example, and there is a need to boost institutional support for farmers who might experience short-term income loss before reaping the benefits of enhanced soil quality under CA. 

This income loss, explains Dr. Moussadek, is due to the fact that parts of the crop residue biomass must remain on the field to enrich the soil, rather than be used to feed livestock.

“Forage crops, a long-forgotten element in Morocco’s agricultural system, must be revived and procured to farmers who adopt CA,” Dr. Mousaadek adds.  

To include those varieties, however, sufficient amounts of forage seeds will need to be produced, and value chain frameworks established.

“Breeders must follow this paradigm shift by developing crop varieties adapted to conservation agriculture,” says Dr. Filippo Bassi, Senior Scientist, and ICARDA’s durum wheat breeder. 

According to Dr. Nangia, new initiatives led by CGIAR - ICARDA’s umbrella organization - can address other bottlenecks.

“Through CGIAR’s new ‘Excellence in Agronomy’ and ‘CWANA’ projects, we can better inform the Moroccan government on how to translate their vision for CA into a step-by-step approach and provide tools and data for informed decision making."

INRA, Dr. Nangia explains, will remain the main research arm of the Ministry of Agriculture and collaborate with ICARDA to solve the remaining knowledge gaps.

Dr. Moussadek sees another significant benefit of CA, outside of stable cereal production and soil health.

“Converting one million hectares of arable land to Conservation Agriculture will spur entrepreneurship for the rural youth, particularly in manufacturing local CA farming equipment and machinery, and in producing the required seeds.”  

“Conservation agriculture is not just about improved yields,” he concludes, “It addresses many more factors than you might think.” 


ICARDA is grateful for the productive partnership with the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA Maroc) and the continued support of the Government of Morocco.

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