Poverty among Berber families in Morocco

SEATTLE – From 2001 to 2014, Morocco’s per capita consumption increased to 3.3%, leading to a decline in monetary poverty and vulnerability to 4.8 and 12.5%. Despite these improvements, rural areas in Morocco still experience a higher level of subjective poverty. In 2014, the rural poverty rate in Morocco increased from 15 percent to 54.3 percent.

The majority of Morocco’s rural population is made up of Amazighs or Berbers. The Berbers are an ethnic group originally from northwestern Africa and mainly inhabit the rural region of the Middle Atlas. The Berbers are also known as nomads and generally work as farmers or shepherds.

Rural poverty among Berber families creates challenges

Emma Hayes visited a Berber home in Morocco while studying abroad. Hayes told the Borgen project: “The Berber people are historically nomadic. They are nomadic farmers who raise goats and move around because the goats need new grazing areas. They travel with the essentials: clothes, kitchen utensils and plenty of tapestries, rugs and fabrics to make their tent when not staying in another type of shelter.

Most Berber families live in tents or caves and use plastic cans as a supply of water. Hayes said the family she visited lived in a cave on the side of a large hill that provided stable shelter. She said, “There were a lot of flies and they had a lot of non-perishable food. They had a fire for cooking and to help keep flies away.

Most Berber children do not go to school and instead help their parents to keep their herds. The government also does not allow children with traditional Berber names to enroll in school. Hayes said: “It’s not traditional for girls to go to school, but the family can’t afford it either.”

According to the 2017 report on human rights in Morocco, poverty among Berber families and illiteracy rates above the national average are not uncommon for the ethnic group. In addition, basic government resources are not available to Berbers in mountainous areas, such as the rural region of the Middle Atlas.

Although the Berber population is numerically the majority, it is the victim of segregation and various policies of systematic discrimination. Amazigh citizens often do not receive any civil or political rights, opposing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Moroccan authorities do not recognize ancestral rights and the Amazigh language by excluding it from government, justice and the socio-professional environment.

The tribe’s lack of recognition has led the Moroccan government to decree tribal lands to be “forest domain areas”, which are treated as if they were uninhabited. These lands are monopolized without profit granted to the Berbers or concern for potential environmental effects.

How discrimination contributes to rural poverty

Various decrees carried out by the Moroccan state have caused land grabbing, land scarcity and a lack of services for Amazigh shepherds. Land grabbing increases poverty among Berber families and makes them stateless in their country of origin. Victims of land grabbing ultimately have to choose between forced migration to the outskirts of big cities, leaving the country, or staying in rural areas.

Mineral springs from rural and mountainous areas are used to irrigate golf courses and large farms. This creates a scarce water supply for small farms and hampers any potential income from agriculture, a key source of income for the Berbers.

The Metallurgical Society of Imider (MSI) inhabits the lands of the Amazigh community of Imider. MSI illegally operates a silver mine and diverts water, drying up the water table. This releases toxins into the environment and puts a strain on an already insufficient water supply in this semi-desert region. Amazigh residents have been protesting peacefully against these measures for more than five years but continue to suffer police violence and unfair prison sentences.

Due to SMI’s over-pumping of water, Imider farmers have experienced water levels of 60 percent in recent years. In addition, many fruit trees withered due to lack of water. The silver mine also released wastewater containing mercury and cyanide. This water poisoned animals, contaminated livestock and spread skin diseases.

Due to their nomadic nature, Amazigh herders are looked down upon by public institutions and local authorities. They do not receive any kind of aid, social security, health care, local public services or education for their children.

Improvements for the Berber population

In 2011, Morocco put in place a new constitution which officially recognizes the Amazigh language. In some schools, the government has started offering Amazigh language courses and funded a training program to increase the number of qualified teachers for the language. The government is currently considering legislation that would allow schools to teach in the Amazigh language rather than strictly Arabic.

Education for All Morocco (EFA) is an organization that helps provide secondary education for girls in the High Atlas mountain region. The organization provides the girls with boarding houses, three meals a day, showers, beds, computers and volunteer tutors. To date, an average of 90 percent of girls are successful in all grades, and 50 EFA alumni now attend university. By recognizing the Amazigh language and culture, the Moroccan government is taking steps to ensure the equality of the Berber community.

Despite this progress, the authorities must provide the Berbers with the same resources and services to help improve their situation. Additionally, recognition of their tribal lands can reduce rural poverty among Berber families by maintaining their shelter, food and water supply.

The new constitution gives Amazigh citizens hope for a future of equality and the eradication of discriminatory practices.

– Diane Adamé
Photo: Flickr

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About Wesley V. Finley

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