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Olive groves and businesses boom as rural Moroccans get on the grid

May 1, 2020

A Bank-backed electricity scheme has helped Moroccans turn on lights across the country.

Kindergarten teacher Fatima Zahera Hagou remembers how, less than a generation ago, when the sun went down over the Moroccan countryside, her rural village of Dar Laain ground to a halt as locals bedded down for the night.

Nowadays, her village, some 25 km southwest of Marrakech, bustles with life after dark, thanks to the expansion of the electricity grid. Residents have benefited from youth clubs, a communal bathhouse and an industrious women’s farming collective.

“I cannot imagine life in the village without electricity. It helps them a lot. It helps them improve their produce and become more efficient,” said Hagou. “It brings us hope.”

In recent years, the African Development Bank has invested $200 million in Morocco’s effort to expand its electricity grid and give residents of remote towns and villages a chance to open businesses and increase farming yields.

Over two decades, the scheme has connected some 40,000 villages to the grid. In 1995, only about a fifth of Morocco was hooked up.

Hassan Lissigui, a regional head of the National Electricity Office, said one-third of Moroccans can now access a transformative power source.

“The impacts are real. They are measurable. A welder, for example, cannot operate without electricity. The same goes for a farmer,” Lissigui said.

While Morocco has struggled with relatively high rates of joblessness, the expansion of the grid has boosted a $299 billion economy that grew by 2.7 per cent in 2019, according to World Bank data.

When Ahmed Hassani, a married father of four, inherited farmland from his parents in Douar Bou Azza, another village outside Marrakech, the only available water source was an old well, and its dry soils yielded little produce.

“We used to have very little activity, but thanks to electricity we solved the problems related to irrigation,” said Hassani.

“In recent years, olive production has increased significantly. Barley production as well.”

Nowadays, Hassani rides a scooter beside olive groves that have grown more lush and verdant thanks to the electricity-powered irrigation system. At harvest time, he hires four or five hands to help bring in the crops.

Morocco generates 28.75 billion kWh of electricity for its population of some 36 million people. Fossil fuels account for more than two-thirds of this capacity, the remainder comes from hydroelectric plants and other renewable sources.

Mohamed Dakni, a 32-year-old welder from Douar Bou Azza, is one of the many Moroccans who have benefited from international efforts to finance the country’s network of power stations, cables, pylons and transformers.

“My business has grown. I can now afford to work on my art and expand my clientele,” said Dakni.

“I used to make small objects that I sold for a cheap price at the market. Today I can develop my business, my creativity, and make a better living.”

Dakni, who wears goggles in a ramshackle studio when welding together model camels, cacti and other attractive home furnishings, said he had seen many improvements in the area.

“We now have access to roads, electricity and water,” he said. “And the next generation will bring its own set of changes. That’s how it goes.”

*AFDB

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