My name is Abdelali Ouhri and I recently graduated in Linguistics from the English Department at My Ismail University in Meknes, Morocco. I am also a young farmer and have been working with my father on our apple farm for years.
Now that I have graduated from university, I have more time to help him on the farm - from flowering season to harvesting. When you work to make a living from agriculture, work at the farm never really stops, as there are so many things to do all year long and so many things that can go wrong. My father works really hard, and all my life I have seen how tough and unpredictable farming can be despite the hard work that you put in.
Work in our apple farm usually starts in February, as this is the most suitable time for pruning and turning up the earth, so that the earth can soak up the sun. We use organic fertilizers because these are important to help enrich the soil. Since the place where we keep our livestock is located away from the farm, we had to hire a lorry to help transport the organic fertilizer to the apple orchard. This was very costly for my father, but he had no other choice.
As time goes by, we irrigate and take out weeds. In our farm, we have adopted the drip irrigation system. We drilled our own well and we pump the water with an engine that is powered by fuel. As we irrigate, we must also be vigilant of possible outbreaks of diseases that can affect the health of our apple trees and the final produce. When a disease pops up, we must identify it and apply a swift and appropriate remedy. We usually rely on what chemical dealers will suggest to us, since we have not had any training on dealing with and applying remedies effectively. Sometimes, the remedies proposed by the chemical dealers do not work, and we have to try several options before we get any results. This year, for example, my father had to buy three different types of medicine to treat the spiders and other harmful insects for apple fruits and its trees, but only the last one was effective.
Harvesting season begins at the end of September. Sometimes, we sell the apple produce when it is still on the trees. We sell it to apple dealers, and it is then up to them to pick the apple fruit from trees and package it appropriately into boxes. This usually happens when we have a very good season. When we get a bad season or limited productivity and the demand is low, we pick the apples ourselves and take them to markets after first storing them in our house for at least one month.
This is what my father and I do all year long in order to get great produce, and earn money to support our family and sustain our livelihood. Although I enjoy being able to help at my father’s apple farm, my dream is to continue my education and get a job. That way I can earn additional income to support my family, while using whatever free time I have to help out at the farm.
Not so long ago, a research team composed of scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, the Bern University of Applied Science ( HAFL), and the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) came to Midelt to conduct a study about youth in agriculture in the region of Midelt, Morocco. In May 2016, I took part in this study and participated in an exciting workshop on rural youth and agriculture, where findings of the study were presented and discussed with many different groups of people.
I found the research was very rich in terms of outlining the important elements that characterize the field of farming, and its negative and positive aspects. During the research and the workshop, I learned about the different types of dryland agricultural systems in the region – such as irrigated, pastoral and agro-pastoral, and the different agricultural practices applied by different people to improve agricultural production. What was interesting is that the researchers had also examined these issues from the perspective of young people living rurally in the region of Midelt.
During the workshop discussions, several governmental representatives noted the importance of specific development projects targeting rural youth in agriculture. The Ministry of Education presented several projects meant to improve the educational system in rural areas and others to provide professional training in improved agricultural practices. Also the Agricultural Bank described many of the financial services and facilities to help young farmers get credit loans. But in my own experience and from what I also discussed with other participants, these projects are a long way from delivering any tangible results. For example, one of the things that, make it really difficult for farmers to get credit loans from banks, is their inability to offer a proper guarantee that is acceptable to the bank. I also believe that many of these types of projects are often designed by a handful of people sitting inside an office with little connection to the realities on the ground and poor understanding and appreciation of the specific needs of farmers.
Agriculture is important to the people living in the region of Midelt. However, making a decent living from agriculture - especially in the case of apple farming which requires a minimum of eight years to get from planting trees to bearing fruits – is really difficult, and often precarious, especially if you are a young farmer. That is why I believe it is necessary for the government and NGOs to build an enabling environment that supports young people – both morally and financially – to stay in agriculture and make a decent living out of it. Young people like me need help and support in terms of skills development and training in agripreneurship and land management, as well as financial capital to help finance innovative land-based ideas and technologies and scale them up.
My involvement in the youth study has been an extremely rewarding experience because it has enabled me to learn so many new things I didn’t know before. My positive engagement with the researchers made me sign up online to become a YPARD member, and also get connected further with other like minded young people who are eager and want to be involved in agriprenurial activities in order to make a positive impact in the livelihoods of their families, but also their rural dryland communities. I have a keen interest in social entrepreneurship and for the first time I feel hopeful and can not wait to play my part in creating exciting opportunities for and together with many other young people like me.
About the author
Abdelali Ouhri is a young Moroccan farmer and social activist.