Poverty Among Berber Families in Morocco

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SEATTLE — From 2001 to 2014, Morocco’s consumption per capita increased to 3.3 percent, causing monetary poverty and vulnerability to decrease to 4.8 and 12.5 percent. Despite these improvements, Morocco’s rural areas still experience a higher level of subjective poverty. In 2014, Morocco’s rural poverty rate increased by 15 percent to 54.3 percent.

The majority of Morocco’s rural population is comprised of Amazighs or Berbers. The Berbers are an ethnic group native to northwest Africa and predominantly inhabit the rural Middle Atlas region. Berbers are also known as nomads and typically work as farmers or shepherds.

Rural Poverty Among Berber Families Creates Challenges

Emma Hayes visited a Berber household in Morocco while studying abroad. Hayes told The Borgen Project, “Berber people are historically nomadic. They are nomadic farmers who keep goats and move as the goats need new grazing areas. They travel with the basics: clothes, cooking utensils and many tapestries, rugs and cloth to make their tent when they are not staying in another type of shelter.”

Most Berber families live in tents or caves and use plastic cans as a water reserve. 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 many flies and they had a lot of nonperishable foods. They had a fire to cook on and to help keep the flies away.”

Most Berber children do not attend school and instead aid their parents in herding. The government also does not allow children with traditional Berber names to enroll in school. Hayes said, “It is not traditional for girls to go to school but the family also could not afford it.”

According to the 2017 Morocco Human Rights Report, poverty among Berber families and illiteracy rates are higher than the national average are not uncommon for the ethnic group. Furthermore, basic governmental resources are unavailable to Berbers in mountainous areas, like the rural Middle Atlas region.

Although the Berber population acts as the numerical majority, they fall victim to segregation and various systematic discrimination policies. Amazigh citizens often receive no civil or political rights, opposing the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights. Moroccan authorities fail to recognize Amazigh ancestral rights and language by excluding it from the government, justice and socio-professional environment.

The lack of recognition for the tribe has resulted in the Moroccan government decreeing tribal lands to be “Forest Domain Zones,” which are treated as if they are uninhabited. These lands are monopolized without profit given to the Berbers or concern for potential environmental effects.

How Discrimination Contributes to Rural Poverty

Various decrees conducted by the Moroccan state have caused land grabbing, a scarcity of land and a lack of services to Amazigh shepherds. Land grabbing increases poverty among Berber families and causes them to become stateless in their native country. Victims of land grabbing ultimately have to choose between forced migration to the periphery of large cities, departing the country or remaining in the rural areas.

The mineral springs in the rural, mountainous areas are used to irrigate golf courses and large farms. This creates a scarce water supply for smaller farms and hinders any potential income from farming, a key source of income for Berbers.

The Metallurgical Society Imider (MSI) inhabits the land of the Amazigh community in Imider. MSI unlawfully operates a silver mine and diverts water, drying the water table. This releases toxins into the environment and strains an already insufficient water supply in this semi-desert region. Amazigh locals have peacefully protested against these measures for more than five years but continue to endure police violence and unfair prison sentences.

As a result of SMI’s immoderate water pumping, farmers in Imider have witnessed water levels of 60 percent in recent years. Additionally, numerous fruit trees withered due to a lack of water. The silver mine has also caused wastewater containing mercury and cyanide to release. Such water has poisoned animals, contaminated livestock and spread skin diseases.

Due to their nomadic nature, Amazigh herders are disregarded by public institutions and local authorities. They do not receive any sort of aid, social security, healthcare, local public services or education for their children.

Improvements for the Berber Population

In 2011, Morocco implemented a new constitution that officially recognized the Amazigh language. In some schools, the government began offering Amazigh language classes 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 girls from the High Atlas mountain region with a secondary education. The organization supplies the girls with boarding houses, three meals a day, showers, beds, computers and volunteer tutors. To date, an average of 90 percent of girls pass all years and 50 previous EFA students now attend university. By recognizing the Amazigh language and culture, the Moroccan government is taking steps to ensure equality for the Berber community.

Despite this progress, authorities must provide Berbers with the same resources and services to help improve their situations. 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 an eradication of discriminatory practices.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr

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