Name: Abdellah Boudhira
Farm Location: Agadir, Morocco, which is located in close proximity, approximately 25 kilometers, to the east of the Atlantic Ocean, Because of this, the area has a very mild favourable Mediterranean climate which is highly conducive to growing year round.
What do you produce? Our chief crop is tomatoes, but we also grow green beans, squash, potatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, and edible gourds.
Farming background? My grandfather and father are of the Berber culture and have been farmers since the early 1950’s, which coincided with the time Morocco gained independence from France. The Berbers are found in scattered communities throughout North Africa, with about 14 million in Morocco. They have a rich history of gardening and farming. Although my grandfather and father grew many different crops, their chief crop was tomatoes. My grandfather never bought seeds but carefully only saved seeds from ripe healthy tomato plants. He did this until the late 1980’s. So it is a family tradition, a cultural tradition to farm.
What changed in the 1980’s? That is when Hybrid F1 seeds became available. The hybrids had the advantage of a long shelf life and could be exported internationally. These advantages caused Moroccan farmers to stop saving their heritage heirloom seeds and instead began to use the hybrid seeds.
When my grandfather passed away in 1998, the farm was split among the descendants, and regrettably, much of it was sold off. My father kept his share of the small farm and continued to work the land. My grandfather and father marketed their produce in a way that included various middlemen. This meant that farmers received low prices for their produce, but due to the costs incurred by the middlemen, consumers were forced to pay high prices for the same produce. This bothered me a lot and I chose to change the way that produce was marketed. I then began selling the produce I grew directly to consumers in the city markets. I knew that food sold in the wholesale market came from conventional farms and those were heavily sprayed with chemicals to control pests and diseases, I strongly felt then that I would have an advantage if I could produce healthy food without the use of those harsh chemicals. I also knew that in order to grow healthy food, I would first have to select seeds from vegetables that both had excellent taste and were nutritious, unlike conventional hybrids. Unfortunately, the only seeds available in my area were the hybrid seeds.
Are you able to access non-hybridized seeds? If so, how is this possible? I studied hard in school and became very fluent in English and I decided to then create a Facebook account detailing my gardens. As a result, I quickly gained many good friends in the United States. Those friends told me about the availability of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Company. Those said friends purchased seeds from Baker Creek and mailed them to me. However, Moroccan authorities blocked the seeds coming into the country and returned the seeds to the American senders. I knew somehow I could find a way to bring in the organic heirloom seeds I need. I felt this was the only way I could receive the organic heirloom seeds because of the strict policies of the Moroccan government regarding importations. Because the Moroccan government welcomed the big name chemical companies and the commercial hybrid vegetables, it was extremely difficult to find heirloom organic sources of seed in the country. I really do not understand this and it caused me a lot of mental distress! Thanks to my kind American friends, I have been using organic seeds since 2011 and I have saved seeds from some of them for replanting. I frequently post photos of my gardens of organic produce and flowers for all to see and enjoy on my Facebook page.
How would you describe the way you farm? I am very happy to say that I farm the same way my grandparents did generations ago. Just as they did, I never use any chemicals or hybrid seeds, only heirlooms. When I graduated from high school in 2001, I then began farming full time with my father. At this time, he was farming the same way as most other farmers in my country, most all of whom had left and forgotten the traditional ways of farming and adopted farming the land with conventional methods. I was determined to switch to organic farming in Morocco and worked very hard to tackle all the challenges that would be necessary to build up the soil fertility with compost and manure and to bring organic heirloom seeds to the farm. The soil in my area required considerable effort to restore fertility.
What are some other challenges you face as a farmer in Agadir, Morocco? Morocco has a total land area of 710,850 sq km, but the majority is classified as desert; only 12 percent is suitable for agriculture. My location is considered a semi arid zone (250 to 500 mm rainfall per annum) and most crops require irrigation. This is becoming increasingly difficult due to depletion of the water table. There is also climate change with the result of less precipitation. There are some serious insect problems which can be very difficult to treat organically. There some serious insect problems, particularly with regard to the Tomato Leaf miner moth (Tuta absoluta), a pest that can cause nearly 100% crop failure. There is also the white fly, and Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV). These pests and diseases can cause serious damage to tomatoes, as well as zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, and many other vegetables and flowers.. As a result, many farmers have started to grow vegetables under more controlled conditions, for example, isolated greenhouses in order to more easily deal with pests and diseases.
Despite the many challenges I face as a farmer in Morocco, I feel a great sense of accomplishment because my work has now become more internationally known and my Facebook farm page has gained favour and provides enjoyment to many around the world. I am happy to share my story with you.
Connect with Abdellah on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbdellahFarmer