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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Moroccan biodiversity includes more than 24,000 animal species and 7,000 vegetal species, with rates of endemism particularly high among Mediterranean countries (20% for vascular plants, 11% for fauna). Forest and marine ecosystems are especially rich. Globally, Morocco ranks among the countries with the highest levels of fish diversity. Desert ecosystems, although characterized by limited precipitation, present 750 different types of vegetal species (of which 60 are endemic), 650 invertebrates (mostly endemic), over 250 birds and at least 40 of the most threatened mammals in Morocco. Finally, agricultural ecosystems are spread over 8.7 million ha, hosting a rich variety of local races supported by traditional knowledge and practices.

The general trend for natural resources in Morocco is toward biodiversity degradation and loss. At present, over 600 endangered species have been identified throughout the country, and the degradation rate is irreversible for some of them, especially for those species located around cities and in the Central Rif region. Of the 7,000 taxa comprising Morocco’s fauna, a national study on biodiversity considers 1,700 as rare and/or threatened, representing a potential loss of 24% of plant diversity. A decline in biodiversity is observable in all ecosystems. In forest areas, the strong tendency toward surface reduction, averaging an annual regression of 31,000 ha, represents a constant threat to fauna and flora. Agricultural ecosystems are at risk due to water stress. It is estimated that Morocco will experience insufficient water supply by 2025 and a decrease in usable agricultural surfaces, particularly in mountainous areas and around oases where pressures on water supply will no longer be able to support conventional agriculture.

Finally, an increase in fish catches since independence has deeply affected marine and coastal ecosystems, as well as the sustainability of fish stocks for some species. Sardine populations are particularly affected, along with those of other species, such as octopus and anchovy. Even species not directly caught for food are now critically threatened, notably red coral, red algae and the monk seal. Most lagoons and estuaries are expected to be “dead” by 2025, with experts expressing concern for the genetic pool (viable population size) of red tuna, seal, among other species.

Benefits from biodiversity can be reported in various sectors. For instance, the agricultural sector employs 40% of the Moroccan population and represents 18% of exports and 13% of the GDP. If the anticipated decrease in agricultural yields is realized and the Government is unable to maintain support for the agricultural sector, approximately 1 million families will be affected which will result in an increase in dependence on food aid. Depletion of fish stocks is another serious threat because of the number of people working in fisheries-related trades, and the importance of marine ecosystems as sources of primary materials for industries and nutrition. Indicators, such as the closing of plants, laying-off of factory workers, increases in fish prices due to the low supply of various species, reveal the dependency of Moroccan society on these resources.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Threats to biological diversity in Morocco stem mostly from human activities, economic development and population growth. They include sand mining, water pumping, habitat transformation (notably due to droughts), overexploitation of resources, pollution (for example, salinization affects around 16% of irrigated lands), erosion (which concerns 25% of irrigation canals in the Drâa Valley) and the introduction of invasive species. The degradation of important marine areas is due to increased activity (economic, population, construction) in coastal areas, water pollution and overfishing. In the forest environment, threats include the unsustainable extraction of non-timber products, overgrazing by pastoralists (almost all forests are overgrazed), clearing for agriculture and urbanization. The urbanized surface increases by 4,000 ha annually, with 55% of the population living in urban areas in 2004 as compared to 29% in 1960. Further, open access to forests, such as those in the Middle Atlas region, has had disastrous consequences in terms of habitat fragmentation (through conversion of forests to agricultural land or to cities, tourism complexes, roads). Finally, climate change is likely to worsen the state of the environment in years to come. As a matter of fact, the country’s water resources are expected to drop by 15% by 2020, due to the reduction in precipitation (which has already dropped by 4% since 2000). More frequent droughts are thus likely to occur, placing forests and agricultural ecosystems under even more severe stress, increasing irrigation needs by 7-12% and requiring large investments to counter loss of plant diversity. Climate change is also expected to reduce cereal yields by 50% in dry years and 10% in normal years and to affect animal production.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The NBSAP (2004) features 269 actions and strategic priorities for biodiversity conservation aimed at strengthening biodiversity knowledge, coordination among different actors, the Biodiversity Committee, international cooperation and the legal framework. Although the NBSAP has not been completely implemented in the country, the CBD philosophy has remained one of the strategic axes of numerous sectoral programs, notably CEPA activities, protected areas, species recovery and conservation programs, participation of local populations in natural resource management.

Activities are currently underway for revising the NBSAP and will be conducted in accordance with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020).

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The strategic objectives of the Department of Forestry to 2014 address the multifunctions of forest ecosystems, notably through the development of protected areas. Since the Rio Summit in 1992, 154 sites of biological and ecological interest have been identified, covering approximately 2.5 million ha of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems and humid zones. Ten national parks have been established, 24 humid zones classified under the RAMSAR list, and 3 natural areas included in UNESCO’s international network of biosphere reserves. The aim of these protected areas is to ensure in situ conservation of species through a participative, ecosystem-based approach.

Along with protected areas, the Government of Morocco has implemented various programs on the rehabilitation and recovery of endangered species, as well as a strategy on education and public awareness-raising in regard to environment and sustainable development. Management and development plans for some vulnerable areas and species have been established, as have gene banks. In particular, the Department of Forestry has launched an ambitious program to reverse deforestation trends through reforestation, improvement of sylvo-pastoral systems and integrated development of forest and peri-forested areas. The aim of the Program for the Conservation and Development of Forests is to restore and regenerate 50,000 ha of forests annually, with priority given to native species and forest fire and parasite attack prevention. Positive ecological outcomes related to these measures can already be reported, such as the reforestation of important portions of watersheds, pollution control and improvement in land wastewater treatment. Compensation has also been allocated to populations affected by the Decree on Forest Protection (2002). In 2008, the program compensated 61 user associations (5,600 people) in 19 provinces covering 42,600 ha of forest. Revenues for users amounted to 20 million dirhams (close to 2,000 dirhams per household). In addition, substantial progress has been made regarding the participation of local and indigenous communities in biodiversity protection through so-called co-management projects. The Department of Forestry has notably been working on the establishment of cooperatives and the development of fair trade in relation to forest products (such as the forest co-management project in the Kenitra region). Another good example is the “Rosemary Co-management Project” carried out in the eastern region, close to Oujda. A “contract project” was established between the Department of Forestry and a women’s cooperative that was permitted to exploit 22,000 ha of wild rosemary in order to extract and sell essential oils, while agreeing in return to manage the area sustainably. Positive impacts have already been generated as a result of these projects, both in terms of employment, the well-being of the local people and ecological recovery (for instance, illegal logging fell by 98% in the first year).

To deal with the risk of scarcity of water resources, saving water has become a key focus of the new Moroccan water policy. The Government has developed a strategy for the conservation of water and the development of irrigated agriculture (irrigation consumes over 85% of mobilized water resources). This strategy aims, inter alia, to equip a drip irrigation area of about 550,000 ha in the medium term, ensure the rational management of available water resources, conduct an institutional reform of the irrigation sector and continue efforts promoting participatory irrigation management. Another example of sectoral policy that can contribute to achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets is the “Green Morocco Plan”, led by the Department of Agriculture, on the valuation of local crops, trees, animals, water and pastures. The implementation of this plan is accompanied by a study of strategic environmental assessment for the purpose of upstream integration of the environmental dimension in all of the plan’s components. In this context, the launch of an important project on planting one million date palms in the oases of Tafilalet, up to 2015, at a total estimated cost of 100 million $ USD, should be noted. While preserving biodiversity in the oasis area, this project will benefit 6,000 farmers and generate 450,000 work days and increase date production to 95,000 tons in 2030 (from 26,000 tons in 2010).

Regarding marine biodiversity, Morocco has launched a national strategy called "Halieutis Plan" which aims, inter alia, to follow consistent and integrated plans for exploiting marine living resources. It will also support fisheries management as a whole, thereby strengthening the sustainability of fisheries in the marine ecosystem, respecting the pace of renewal of marine resources and promoting the exchange of scientific knowledge. The “Biological Rest” Program is also being implemented to prevent overfishing by prohibiting fishing during certain periods to allow fish stocks to “rest”.

Further, the process for revising the NBSAP has been launched and will be conducted in accordance with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020).

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Morocco is engaged in processes at the international level for achieving sustainable development. The country has affirmed its intention to actively work towards better environmental management through the ratification of international environmental agreements. The national legal framework has been strengthened and several laws and regulatory texts adopted (e.g. Water Law, Law on the Protection and Improvement of the Environment, Law on Protected Areas, Law on Renewable Energy, Law on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, law relating to studies on environmental impact, law against air pollution, law on waste management, law on the use of degradable or biodegradable plastic bags) to accompany the actions of various actors responsible for environmental management. These legal tools have established a set of fundamental principles for sustainable development (polluter/payer, responsibility, prevention). To complete the legislative and regulatory framework for environmental protection and sustainable development, other legislative texts on issues dealing with coastline management and protection, soil protection, framework law on the National Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development are currently in the process of being adopted.

The National Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development was adopted in 2011, at a time when major socio-economic projects were launched. Considered the core engine of a system for sustainable environmental protection, the Charter aims to better mainstream environmental considerations into policies, strategies and programs of government departments, public and private operators and local authorities. In this context, the National Charter will be an overall reference for sectoral policies and its implementation considered in terms of legal and institutional anchoring at all levels of governance.

Regarding capacity-building, two recent studies should be mentioned that have been carried out under the UNEP project funded by GEF-4 "Development of the CHM and capacity-building for access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources and development of taxonomy in Morocco". These studies have identified the needs for capacity-building to improve taxonomic knowledge and establish a national framework for implementing the Nagoya Protocol. The National Biodiversity Committee has existed since 1998 and coordinates the activities of different actors involved in implementing the Convention. However, it is necessary to institutionalize this committee in order to ensure that its strategic guidelines will receive Government endorsement.

In terms of financial support, Morocco has received $85 million in technical and scientific assistance, notably from the GEF, of which around one-third has been allocated to biodiversity (and biosafety).

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Morocco has developed some monitoring plans and indicators to follow the evolution of vulnerable species, notably in protected areas. Similarly, a set of 65 sustainable development indicators has been developed and maintained by the National Observatory for the Environment. In addition, Morocco launched a program for implementing 16 regional environmental observatories in 2009. To date, 12 observatories are operational and perform the role of ensuring the monitoring of environmental indicators and reporting on the state of the environment. It should be noted in this context that the regional observatory of Oujda is part of the Mediterranean Network for Biodiversity called "Medivercities".

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme