Located at the north-western angle of the African continent between 21° and 36° of northern latitudes and between the 11th and the 17th degree of western longitudes, Morocco enjoys a privileged position at the intersection of 3 distinct blocks: the Mediterranean sea in the north, the Atlantic ocean in the west (total coast of 3446 km) and the Sahara desert in the south – east. The Atlas Mountains represent a natural barrier between the sea and saharan environmental influences. The territory of Morocco is 715.000 km² .

This particular geographical position confers to Morocco an exceptional range of very diverse bio-climates varying from humid and sub-humid, semi-arid, arid, Saharan and desert, and climate of high mountain in Rif, Mid Atlas, and High Atlas, where altitudes exceed 2 500, 3 000, and 4 000 m respectively. Climate of Morocco is typically Mediterranean. But it is subject to the oceanic, mountainous and Saharan influences. It is characterized primarily by two well marked seasons: a hot and dry summer and a winter runs to brutal and concentrated precipitations. It has a long period of hot, dry weather from April to October, although temperatures at higher elevations during the night can be very cool. The rainy season during November to March may only bring occasional light rain and water sources are heavily dependent on the meltwater originating high in the mountains or on non-replenishable underground water sources in the south. Variable according to areas’, the climate of Morocco is also marked by a strong annual and inter-annual irregularity of climatic factors. Generally, rainfall decreases from the north to the south. Precipitations are only more important on the mountainous regions where they reach 2000 mm in Rif. They are lower than 150 mm in the pre-Sahara and less than 50 mm is Sahara areas.

Morocco, only ten miles from the southern tip of Europe, is very much a country of northern Africa but, unlike most other nations, it has largely been occupied by one group of people. The Berbers date back to the original population in the region, and they continue to dominate small-scale agriculture in the country. The Arabic influence in Morocco can be strongly experienced in the souks (weekly markets) of the cities but it is in the rural and mountainous regions that the simple lifestyle of the Berbers can be observed. The population of Morocco reached 30 million inhabitants in 2003 (Census in 2003) against 27.6 million in 1994, 23,9 million in 1988, and 15,4 million in 1971. The Moroccan rural population passed below 50% for the first time in 1994 (51 % of urban inhabitants vs. 49 % of rural).

Population growth in Morocco is 1.74%. Agriculture remains one of the determining sectors of the economic activity in Morocco, it contributes 17% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and occupies near to the half of the active labor force. However, the production varies with the climatic conditions. The land classification in Morocco shows that 78% of the area (56 millions ha) are located in desert and dry zone (<250 mm/year), 15% (10 millions ha) are in the semi and zone (250 to 500 mm/year) and 7% are in the sub-humid to humid zones (> 500 mm/year).

Morocco forms part of the Mediterranean basin, one of the centers of origin of the species described by Vavilov (St-Pierre, 1988; Hawkes, 1998; Damania, 1997). With its ecological, ladscape, and climate diversity, Morocco stores a rich biodiversity with a large numbers of ecosystems and rich flora. This counts for over 4500 species of higher plants (with 135 plant families, 940 genera and over 600 plant taxa as endemic), with about 200 species considered as rare or threatened species. Increasingly, the country is considered as centre of diversity for a number of cultivated crop plants and wild relatives. Indeed, Morocco constitutes one of the most important areas of diversity in Mediterranean medium. It is an important centre of diversity for such world-wide crops as barley, faba bean and wheat (Neal-Smith, 1955; Nègre, 1956; Perrino & al, 1984). The country’s crop diversity results from long-term adaptation to various local environmental conditions such as drought, cold and salinity (Sauvage, 1975; Graves 1985; Francis 1987). This plant diversity is the most important source of raw material that provides products necessary for food and industry and livelihood security. In many traditional cropping systems very frequent in Morocco, genetic diversity may be the only resource available to resource-poor farmers to cope with the environmental conditions and optimise their crop production.

The national project planning team selected two large priority agroecological target regions to host the project activities within Morocco. These are Taounate and Taza provinces located in the Centre North of the country.

Faba bean and barley are among the most ancient crops and highly imbedded in the traditional cropping systems of these provinces. They are cultivated in rotations and are main components of the cropping systems of the whole region. These two provinces concentrate the largest part of the national faba bean production. These provinces present a significant genetic diversity of these crops in the form of local traditional cultivars evolving in diverse agroecosystems under the pressure of environnemental factors and the effect of agricultural practices. Indeed, local varieties of these crops, important genepool sources for many traits and tolerance to different stresses, are widely grown by farmers in the various agroecosystems. Previous work on collection and characterisation of local crop populations has identified and delimited these zones as ones of high diversity for these crops. These provinces concentrate the largest local faba bean diversity and high variation of barley local populations for most of agromorphological traits.

Project ecosites:

Within the 2 provinces, project pilot sites and participating villages were selected through an interactive process between scientists, extension workers, and farmer communities. Hence, four focal pilot ecosites were selected for hosting the major activities of the project: Ourtzagh, Ghafsai, and Tissa in Taounate and Oued Amlil in Taza. These sites were identified based on the existence of genetic diversity and richness of agrobiodiversity in general, particularly the importance of landraces use by farmers, extent of agro-ecological variation, the status of on-farm conservation by farmers, the previous identification of resistance to diseases in the local germplsam, the physical and technical capacities available in the regions, year-round accessibility to different agro-ecological localities and villages, technical capacities available in the regions (number of extension agents, degree of co-operation of local agricultural bureaux, NGO’s) and existence of traditional agricultural systems, and on the keenness of local and regional partners (farmers communities, local and regional institutions, NGO’s) with which the project team should establish a firm effective partnership, and where there is an effective demand for research-development services. Table 7.2 lists the 4 ecosites with the focal villages.

Table 7.2. Project ecosites and corresponding villages.

Province Community/district Villages Crop
Taounate Ourtzagh Ain KchirBoubiad

Sidi Senoun


Faba beanBarley
Ghafsai Ain MjoudBouajoul Faba beanBarley
Tissa Ras El OuldOutaboubane Faba beanBarley
Taza Oued Amlil Oued AmlilGhiata-Al-Gharbia Faba beanBarley

Taounate agroecological region:

Taounate province extends on a f 5585 km², the total arable area is 356 689 ha (with only 2.6 % irrigated). The legume crops cover 77 500 ha of which 45 500 ha are planted to faba bean. The current population of this province totals with 632 000 inhabitants dispersed through more than 1600 villages (douars) including nearly 70905 farms according to the 1996 census. The province economy is based primarily on crop and animal productions. The province of Taounate is located in the centre north part of Morocco, within the centre-north economic region. It is delimited by:

  • Provinces of Elhoceima and Chefchaouen in the north.
  • Wilaya of Fez in the South.
  • Province of Taza to the east.
  • Province of Sidi Kacem to the West.

This region is characterised by a mountainous topography. Soil nature is highly variable, with dominance of clay texture, and highly eroded. Cropping systems in this are massively based on cereals/legumes rotations. Taounate province is divided by the Ourgha River into two distinct zones for landscape and climate:

  • The first zone located at the North of Ourgha river is characterized by a broken relief and important precipitations that may exceed 1000mm per year, which enables a permanent vegetative cover made up mainly of forests and fruity plantations dominated by the olive-trees. Ghafsai community is located in this zone.
  • The second zone located at the South of Ourgha River, characterized by a flat relief (plateaux) with precipitations that vary between 400 and 600 mm per year leading to a biotope very favourable to annual crops. Outzagh community and Tissa sites are located in this zone.

The climate of the Taounate province is continental with hot and dry summer (40°) and cold and wet winter (5°). The annual precipitations averages 559 mm in the South of the provinces and 800 mm in the Northern part, generally distributed between October and April.

Project-focused districts:

Taounate province is subdivided into five municipalities and 49 rural communities. Following Table shows the description of the CT districts. The project sites in this region are located in two different districts under the authority of two different local development centres (CT) under DPA of Taounate which extends on all the territorial commandment of the province (governorate). These are:

  • Ourtzagh CT district with two communities, namely Ourtzagh (with Sidi Sennoun as focal village) and Ghafsai (with Bouajoul as focal village) Tissa CT district. These sites were covered by the project on in situ conservation of agrobiodiversity on-farm.
  • Tissa CT district with two communities: Ras El Ould and Outaboubane (Oulad Riab), these communities were included in a study on relationship between diversity the diatery and crop diversity.

The 13 rural communities of the CT district Ourtzagh totals 56 786 ha arable area (Table 7.3). Cereals cover 27 273 ha (average 1990-2000). The legume crops cover the second most important part with an area of 6384 ha (average 1990-2000) of which faba bean covers 4605 ha (average1990-2000) which represents 72 % of the total grain legumes area.

Structure of development services in the province of Taounate.

CT Number of communities Population Urban Population Rural Population Arable area (ha) Total area (ha)
32-01 Taounate 9 124616 24677 99941 59000 72244
32-02 Karia 10 151455 13270 138185 120511 147565
32-07 Tissa 13 162124 7059 155065 135000 163500
32-08 Ouartzagh 13 163751 6740 157011 56786 136800
33-07 Tahar Souk 4 47388 3312 44076 14303 2565J

Important crops:

The mains crops found in Taounate region are:

  • Cereals : durum wheat, wheat, barley
  • Grain legumes : faba bean, peas, chickpeas, letils, common bean
  • Forages : bersim, alfalfa, mixture, medicago, mais
  • Vegetables : potatoes, tomatos, onions
  • Fruit trees : olives, almonds, figs

Taza agroecological region:

Taza is located east of Taounate province and Fez wilaya, limited by Taourirt province in the east, pronvinces of El Hoceima and Nador in the North, and province of Boulmane in the south. The province accounts 47 rural communities of nearly 708300 inhabitants. The province accounts 58 000 farms. The province total area is 1 412 282 ha of which only 23 % is arable land devoted to annual crops and trees. The topography of the region is mountainous with plateux in the east part. Temperature varies between 0 and 38°C on average. Rainfall is unequally distributed with high humidity in the North West (more than 500mm/year) and aridity east of the province (100 to 200 mm/year). Three major soil types dominate in the region. In the Rif Mountains, vertisols are the most common with high favorale potential. The part on the Atlas Mountains is caracterised by a low aptitude because of the strong slopes. The valleys of the main rivers where predominate alluviant  soils with high production potential.

Focused districts:

In Taza agroecological region, the project activities will be implemented in the district of Oued Amlil. Oued Amlil district covers 6 communities totaling 110035 inhabitants and extending over 58118 ha arable area which represents about 20 % of the province total area are presented in the following Table.

Structure of development services in the province of Taza.

CT Number of communities Population Urban Population Rural Population Arable area (ha) Total area (ha)
33-01 Aknoul 7 67029 3324 63705 25190 170700
33-02 Had Msilla 8 87160 0 87160 62481 92861
33-03 Taza 9 209073 121271 87802 71250 115800
33-04 Tahla 8 84834 25168 59668 44250 214710
33-05 Guercif 9 150168 41997 108171 1I3014 729793
33-09 Oued Amlil 6 110035 6524 103511 58118 88418
Total 47 708299 198284 510017 261289 1412282

Important crops:

The crops found in the Taza region are basically the same as in Taounate region but with different propotions of area occupation.

Faba bean is the major legume crop in the province as well as in the Oued Amlil district where it represents more than 73 % of the area devoted to grain legumes (60 000 ha). Cereals occupy 151 000 ha, that is the first share of the arable area with barley representing nearly 60 %. Plantations of fruity trees such as olive trees and figs are very frequent with a total of 63 800 ha. They usually found in association with annual crops, particularly faba bean and cereals. Figures 7.8 and 7.9 show the evolution of the area and yield of faba bean and barley in the Taza region.