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Towards a just agricultural transition in North Africa


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This article looks at the challenges, components, and characteristics of a just transition within the agriculture sector in North Africa. As in many other countries, the last few years have seen local and traditional knowledge of food systems, and ecological and regenerative agriculture put forward as solutions to the dominant agri-food system and ecological crises in North Africa. However, these new dynamics have not been sufficiently studied: there is no overview of these developments or the practices and networks upholding them. This article fills this gap by evaluating and comparing agricultural policy transformations and the possibilities of a just transition in the agriculture sectors in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. The article is divided into three sections. The first section analyses agricultural policies and the trajectory of agricultural development in the region. The second section explores questions of environmental and climate debt, as well as the effects of uneven environmental changes on natural resources and opportunities for development. The third section presents and discusses ecological and regenerative agriculture, local initiatives, and networks of actors who are building a just transformation of agriculture in North Africa.
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December 13, 2021
Towards a just agricultural transition in North Africa
The bleak reality of global climate change becomes clearer with each new report issued
by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. North Africa is extremely vulnerable
in the face of climatic and environmental crises, which are a daily occurrence in the lives
of the millions of people living in the arid, semi-arid and desert areas of the region. Over
the last few decades, drought rates and temperatures have risen continuously, leading to
increasing desertification. The region also suffers from severe water scarcity , land
degradation and livestock depletion. The accelerated environmental crises directly and
indirectly affect agriculture (including grazing) and fishing activities. They also intensify
poverty and erode food sovereignty. Approximately 52 per cent of the total population in
North Africa live in rural areas and this population, which includes small-scale farmers
and farm workers, is among the poorest and most impacted by the stark effects of
agroecological crises.
North Africa’s perilous situation in regard to climate change stands in contrast to the fact
that the region accounts for a very small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, the entire African continent produced approximately 4 per cent of global carbon
dioxide emissions, while the average emissions per African person were the lowest in the
world, at approximately 0.9 tonnes per annum. In the North Africa region, Egypt
produced 0.6 per cent of global emissions, Algeria 0.5 per cent, Tunisia 0.1 per cent and
Morocco 0.15 per cent. A recent study shows the global unevenness of greenhouse gas
emissions: while the Global North’s rates stand at 90 per cent, the Global South produces
only 10 per cent. However, countries in the Global South bear the brunt of the crises
brought on by climate change, and are in dire need of a just transition – to help mitigate
the harmful impacts of environmental change and to adapt to their long-term
Agriculture is both negatively impacted by climate change and a significant contributor to
it. Due to the dominance of global capitalist food systems and industrial agricultural
production, land use and forest management accounted for a total of 23 per cent of
greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2016. North African countries are no
exception to this pattern, dominated as they are by a high-emissions corporate food
regime. Against this background it is vital to assess the possibilities for, and obstacles
to, a just transition in the North African agricultural sector.
Table 1. Selected economic, social and demographic indicators shaping agriculture
in North Africa
Indicator Algeria Egypt Tunisia Morocco
Share of agriculture in GDP (2020) 14.2% 11.5% 11.7% 12.2%
Percentage of the labour force active in
the agricultural sector (2020)
10% 21% 14% 33%
Agri-food trade balance (in $1 million): a
comparison between Europe and the
world (2017)
Agricultural arable land in 2018 (million
7.5 2.9 2.6 7.5
Percentage of irrigated land out of total
agricultural land
100% 3.9%
Rural population in 2020 (in millions) 11.5 58.6 3.6 13.5
Percentage of the rural population out of
the total population (2020)
26% 57% 30% 36%
The agricultural sector in North Africa has experienced significant transformation in the
last few decades. As Table 1 shows, the share of agriculture in GDP is low. Yet despite
the declining share of agriculture in GDP, the agricultural sector remains a primary source
of employment, particularly in Egypt and Morocco. Likewise, the percentage of the
population that lives and works in rural areas remains high, despite ongoing urbanization.
In recent decades, North Africa has also witnessed a sharp increase in rural poverty,
malnutrition and social inequalities. Finally, with the exception of Morocco and Tunisia,
North Africa also has a negative trade balance with Europe.
Fighting hunger and coping with the impacts of climate change on agriculture and rural
populations necessitates an economic, social and environmental transition. What such a
transition should look like, how it takes place, and who should carry it out has been the
subject of much debate (see Box 1).
Sources: World Bank data 2021; * Bessaoud, O., Pellissier, J.-P., Rolland, J.-P., Khechimi, W. (2019) ‘Summary report
on agriculture in Algeria’, CIHEAM-IAMM.
Box 1: A just transition versus just a transition
The term ‘just transition’ refers to a set of principles, processes and practices that create
a shift away from an extractive economy towards a globally equal, low-carbon
economy. The concept of a just transition first appeared in debates between the
environmental movement and the labour movement in North America. It then developed
in the 1990s as a concept linked to workers’ needs for decent employment and green
jobs and was adopted by the International Labour Organization, as highlighted in the
Paris Climate Agreement. More recently, the concept of a just transition has become
more comprehensive, bringing together socio-economic and environmental dimensions,
both at the level of the nation state and globally. The term also creates space for
engaging with questions of gender, class and varied forms of anti-colonialism in relation
to the transition towards a low-carbon alternative to the status quo. This broader
approach towards a just transition enables discussions about a far-reaching social and
economic restructuring that addresses the sector-specific and context-specific roots of
In this context, this article looks at the challenges, components and characteristics of a
just transition within the agriculture sector in North Africa. As in many other countries,
the last few years have seen local and traditional knowledge of food systems, and
ecological and regenerative agriculture, put forward as solutions to the dominant agri-food
system and ecological crises in North Africa. However, these new dynamics have not
been sufficiently studied: there is no overview of these developments or the practices and
networks upholding them. This article fills this gap by evaluating and comparing
agricultural policy transformations and the possibilities of a just transition in the agriculture
sectors in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. The article is divided into three
sections. The first section analyses agricultural policies and the trajectory of agricultural
development in the region. The second section explores questions of environmental and
climate debt, as well as the effects of uneven environmental changes on natural
resources and opportunities for development. The third section presents and discusses
ecological and regenerative agriculture, local initiatives and networks of actors who are
building a just transformation of agriculture in North Africa.
1. Agricultural policy transformations in North Africa
This section analyses the shifts in access to resources and agricultural policies that took
place in North Africa in the post-colonial era, in order to better understand the
transformation of the agricultural economy and the dominant development model in the
region over time.
1.1 Access to land and water in the post-colonial era
Discussions about the agrarian question were prominent during anti-colonial struggles
and in the aftermath of national liberation projects. After the colonial era ended,
countries pursued multiple pathways in regard to managing their agricultural resources
and the colonial heritage within the sector. Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco
implemented a variety of agrarian reform models in the period 1950–1970, which
produced crucial shifts in agricultural policies and the state of rural societies across these
Following Algerian independence in 1962, the National Liberal Front (FLN) adopted
agrarian reforms that amounted to an agricultural revolution. It promoted rural
development by facilitating the access of small-scale and landless farmers to land and by
providing them with social and technical support. Additionally, 250,000 hectares were
redistributed to war veterans who were grouped into 250 productive peasant
cooperatives. The lands previously held by colonists were distributed to over 2,200 farms,
the majority of which were large farms with an average of 1,000 hectares, for a total area
of 2.5 million hectares. During the 1970s, uncultivated lands were nationalized while
large land holdings were restricted.
In Morocco, agricultural modernization became a central pillar of the country’s
development path after independence in 1956. In 1962, for example, the National Institute
of Agricultural Research was established with the aim of modernizing the agricultural
sector. Under pressure from the Moroccan Workers’ Union (UMT), the National Union of
Popular Forces (UNFP), the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), and the Istiqlal Party,
the government passed agrarian reform laws in 1963 to recover the lands of colonizers,
implemented over two phases, ending in 1973. Expropriation of previously colonial land
was significant, amounting to 1 million hectares of arable land: the monarchy
redistributed the lands formerly in the hands of French colonists to rural elites as a means
of securing power and buying loyalty towards the Makhzen. In 1969, the Agricultural
Investment Charter was approved, and in 1972 a law was passed which granted farmers
agricultural lands from state-owned private property. A law on peasant cooperatives,
giving them access to modernized plots in former collective lands, was also enacted. The
state also invested in building dams and undertook large-scale irrigation projects, with the
aim of developing a new, loyal class of middle-income farmers. Nevertheless, the system
of land control remained in the hands of the state. Indeed, it served as a tool to purchase
local elites’ loyalty and to reduce conflict.
In Tunisia, three years following independence, Law 48 of 7 May 1959 enabled the state
to take possession of neglected and unused collective agricultural properties, covering an
area of approximately 500,000 hectares. In the same period, local notables, merchants,
self-employed and powerful members of the ruling Constitution Party were able to buy
some of the colonial lands. Then on 12 May 1964 a law was passed that nationalized
300,000 hectares of colonial lands. Thus, by the end of the 1960s, the Tunisian state
owned 800,000 hectares of agricultural land: approximately 10 per cent of the total area
of agricultural land in the country. These lands helped initiate the short-lived experiment
of peasant cooperatives in Tunisia, which disintegrated in 1969, just eight years after it
was launched. After this, Tunisia began to shift towards a more market-based, neoliberal
approach. In a move that benefited local leaders and powerful individuals, Tunisia
privatized collective lands through the Law of 14 January 1974.
In Egypt, agrarian reform was a central policy during the first era of the July 1952 regime,
in the early post-colonial period. Between 1952 and 1970, 343,000 hectares (12.5 per
cent of agricultural land) were redistributed, to 343,000 families, consisting of 1.7 million
individuals – almost 9 per cent of the rural population. As the result of the Nasser
regime agrarian policies, villages saw significant changes in their class composition: while
the larger, more influential landlords lost much of their lands, there was an increase in the
area owned by small- and medium-scale farmers, and there was improved rent security
for tenants. Also, there was a minor improvement in the situation of landless farmers and
agricultural workers. The ‘green revolution’ instituted by postcolonial governments relied
on agricultural mechanization, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seed varieties to
increase agricultural production.
Ultimately, North African agriculture development models in the two decades following
independence focused on modernizing the agricultural sector and preserving large farms,
whether through state administration or through highly centralized and controlled
cooperatives. To various degrees, North African countries adopted progressive, state
capitalist and ‘green revolution’ policies. This was achieved through a combination of
strategies, such as providing technical and material support to farmers, supporting
production inputs, inaugurating large irrigation projects, boosting and disseminating
modern agricultural knowledge and guidance, establishing research centres and
agricultural schools, and establishing agricultural cooperatives. In this era, the state in
these countries utilized discourses of modernization reliant on mechanization, commercial
and export agriculture, and the marginalization of small-scale local knowledge. In fact,
despite the emphasis on food self-sufficiency, the export of cash crops continued to follow
the same pattern that had been dominant in the colonial era, especially for commodities
such as citrus, vines, vegetables, cotton and olives.
1.2 The impact of neoliberalism on agriculture and natural resources
The turn towards neoliberalism in North Africa began in the 1980s. Under pressure from
international financial institutions, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
World Bank, countries in the region began to liberalize foreign trade, devalue local
currencies, and allow an increased dominance of the market, through both the continued
privatization of public companies and the gradual erosion of public services. Priority was
accorded to reducing public debt, social spending and employment rates in the public
As a result of neoliberal transformations, North African countries saw a major change in
water and land management. The state withdrew from the management of natural
resources, allowing the private sector to take over. This led to an increase in the
penetration of private investment companies in the agricultural sector, with the private
sector acquiring more resources, particularly in vast desert areas, through access to
groundwater and land that the state made available to major agricultural investors.
In Algeria, the era of state farms came to an end in 1980s, with the latter being divided
into small farms of 10 to 70 hectares. In 1987, these lands were progressively moved into
the hands of agricultural investors. Accompanying this change was a gradual shift
towards market forces, notably with the long-term liberalization of agricultural
production inputs, leading to an increase in the price of fertilizers, pesticides and farming
equipment. This in turn led to an increase in the prices of agricultural products as a
whole. Following the 1994 agreement between Algeria and the IMF, state support for
agricultural inputs was completely removed.
In Morocco, the neoliberal transformation in the agricultural sector intensified in 2003.
This was exemplified in the privatization of two public companies that had managed the
bulk of the lands recovered from colonists: the Agricultural Development Company
(SODEA) and the Agricultural Land Management Company (Sojita). With this move, the
ownership of 90 per cent of former colonial lands was transferred to private investors, the
state’s major administrative notables, the army, and the security apparatuses.
In Tunisia, neoliberal policies were implemented before the initiation of the Structural
Adjustment Programme (SAP) under the World Bank in 1986. The state geared
agricultural production towards export and high value-added crops, facilitating private
sector access to land and putting an end to state commercialization of agricultural
products. These policies were coupled with the state’s progressive withdrawal from
traditional agricultural sectors.
Since 1979, Egypt has pursued a policy of economic openness. State-owned farms were
dismantled, agrarian reform laws were amended, and the Agricultural Cooperative Union
was dissolved. Also, the state applied a set of measures to reduce subsidies to farmers in
the Nile Valley and Delta, such as removing pesticide and fertilizer subsidies, and
allowing the private sector to control agricultural production inputs. Further, the
ownership limit imposed on agricultural companies was abolished, enabling investors to
own more reclaimed lands. In 1992, Law 96 was passed, regulating rental relations
between landlords and tenants. This law put an end to rental security, triggering a
sustained wave of protests in the Egyptian countryside.
In North Africa as a whole, during this period, states focused on expanding their hold over
desert agriculture for the export market while accelerating the commodification of state
lands, making them available to agricultural investors. Since the 1990s, policies of
agricultural development in the desert have been regarded as a solution to the food
provision and production crisis in North Africa. International financial institutions
supported policies of agricultural expansion in the desert based on a capital- and
technology-intensive model of production of mostly export crops, with associated
degradation of water and land resources.
As a result of these neoliberal transformations, food self-sufficiency policies were
terminated in favour of more market-based food security policies. The latter meant that
food came to be sourced through market mechanisms, often irrespective of provenance –
whether this be global commodity markets, domestic production or even food aid.
Accordingly, major shifts occurred in diets, leaving North African countries exposed to a
sharp increase in nutritional diseases and food dependency. Algeria and Egypt became
amongst the biggest importers of wheat globally.
Following 40 years of neoliberalism, the key features of the current dominant agri-food
system in North Africa can be summarized as follows:
The removal of subsidies for small peasant farmers and the gradual withdrawal of
the state from all forms of technical and material support for agricultural production.
This includes the state abandoning its role in centrally controlling agricultural
operations and practices, such as fertilization, and the types of seeds and
pesticides used. This withdrawal has given the private sector unfettered access to
food staples and import channels. The state also entirely surrendered its role in
determining the prices of agricultural inputs and outputs to the forces of the market,
ceasing agricultural input and credit subsidies.
The promotion of a model of industrial agriculture based on large-scale farms. This
was achieved by reclaiming desert spaces and enabling agricultural investors to
access large areas of land. Thus, colonial structures were repurposed and
reproduced through a system in which land is now in the ownership of the few;
these dynamics are particularly visible in the cases of Morocco and Egypt.
The adoption of a policy of primarily export-driven agriculture through financial
incentives, the provision of chillers in airports, etc. Most importantly, North African
states form part of a system of international trade that serves to bolster the interests
of the Global North at the expense of local populations in the Global South.
The dominance of a globalized, consumerist diet with a high rate of cheap
carbohydrates, leading to an increase in the rates of food-related diseases, high
rates of obesity and malnutrition. Additionally, there has been a replacement of food
self-sufficiency policies with market-based food security policies.
1.3 The current situation: a marginalized peasantry and an extractive
capitalist mode of agriculture
The decline of the welfare state in the post-colonial, neoliberal era saw the emergence
and reproduction of a localized dualism that had existed in the colonial era: the existence
of two agricultural sectors – one characterized by private, large-scale farms in receipt of
state support, the other based on small-scale farmers in plains, valleys and oases,
dependent on rain-fed agriculture and characterized by under-development and
In North Africa, agriculture is a major sector of employment for women, accounting for 55
per cent of women’s employment, in comparison to only 23 per cent for men. With the
migration of men and women (whether it be for economic reasons, or as a result of wars
and conflict), the number of seasonal migrant workers is continuing to increase. In Egypt,
for instance, according to the 2010 agricultural census, the total number of women
workers in the agricultural sector amounted to 5 million in that year, 40 per cent of whom
undertake unpaid labour for their own families. Further, the growth of capitalist forms of
agriculture has amplified the feminization of agricultural work, along with the dependence
on girls, who can be as young as eight years old, who work in very poor and exploitative
conditions. The nature of agricultural work is problematic on many fronts, starting with
the working conditions and health and safety issues (see the next paragraph), and
extending to the local and global division of labour and its relationship with women’s
empowerment and development. The working conditions of women farm workers are
especially important in light of the current Covid-19-related health crisis, as well as fears
of a new food crisis, which would exacerbate already existing tensions in the region. For
instance, the recently published FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) shows a large increase in
the prices of meat, dairy, cereals, vegetable oils and sugar between November 2020 and
November 2021, worldwide.
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous production sectors in the world. According to
estimates of the International Labour Organization, approximately 170,000 agricultural
workers are killed every year. Workers in agriculture are at least twice as likely to die at
work as workers in other sectors. Millions of agricultural workers are exposed to serious
work injuries in accidents linked to agricultural equipment or poisoning with pesticides and
other chemicals. Indeed, due to the underreporting of deaths, injuries and work-related
diseases in the sector, it can be assumed that the real picture of health and safety for
agricultural workers is likely to be worse than official accounts.
Relationships of unequal exchange in the global system underpin the agricultural crisis in
North Africa. Countries in the region are subjected to unequal exchange with the Global
North, particularly the European Union (EU), through a variety of trade agreements that
enable the EU to benefit from North African agricultural products at preferential rates.
These agreements not only facilitate the exploitation of the region’s resources, they also
maintain and further entrench the difference in wages in the agricultural sector in the
South compared to the North, and the extraction of surplus value for the benefit of
European consumers. As the biggest trading partner of North African countries, much of
the region’s production is geared towards export to the EU market. The EU therefore
directly impacts development policies and the dominant trade and agriculture plans in the
region. Under the slogan of ‘trade for development’, the EU, in partnership with local
elites, pushes North African countries to sign free trade agreements, which, in turn,
aggravates the structural crisis.
As dependency theorists argue, while colonialism may have gone, the development
model of the colonial era has remained dominant in different ways, perpetuating the
disparities between the Global North and South. Under neoliberalism, former colonizers
played a key role in integrating peripheral economies into the global economy and trade
system and creating patterns of dependency. Meeting the needs of the European
market necessitates monocropping, large farms, and catering to the preferences of
European citizens – for example in the way in which olive oil is prepared, or in the
cultivation of specific varieties of dates, strawberries, flowers and citruses.
In sum, these agricultural policies and practices have created another form of dualism.
On the one hand, industrial agriculture degrades land and water. Based on the
intensification of capital and energy, capitalist agriculture further pushes agricultural
workers – men and women – into precarity. It also exacerbates inequalities and
centralizes land ownership. This is clearly the case for desert agriculture, where large
areas are allocated to big investors while small-scale farmers are restricted to limited
spaces. On the other hand, the absence of subsidies for peasant farming has led to the
impoverishment of small farmers and the degradation of natural resources in oases and
rural areas. Further, the legacy of the ‘green revolution’, with its intensive use of fertilizers,
pesticides and hybrid seeds, has culminated in the neglect of intergenerational local
agricultural and ecological systems. As a result, natural resources such as land and water
have deteriorated, the biodiversity of seeds has declined, and the balance between
humans and the environment has been disrupted, causing what is referred to as a
‘metabolic rift’.
2. Just transition: facing an unequal ecological exchange
As previously argued, the concept of ‘unequal exchange’ advanced by proponents of the
dependency theory focuses on the movement of labour power and capital. However,
despite its importance in providing valuable conceptual insights, this concept fails to
provide an in-depth insight into the mechanisms of a just transition. Understanding the
possibilities of a just transition requires looking at the process of unequal ecological
exchange, a concept which is more comprehensive than the former. To achieve this, it is
key to investigate four clusters of resources: 1) the raw materials and energy used to
produce goods and services; 2) the land required to directly or indirectly produce those
goods; 3) the services consumed in order to produce those goods; and 4) labour in
supply chains. Such unequal socio-economic and environmental flows prevents countries
of the Global South achieving development on their own terms.
BOX 2: From unequal ecological exchange to climate debt
The concept of unequal ecological exchange emerged and developed within academic
debates, while the concept of ecological debt materialized within the environmental
justice movement. As a term, climate debt was introduced during the 1992 Earth
Summit in Chile, with the aim of highlighting the continuity of historical and colonial
forms of exploitation of resources in the Global South. Above all, ecological debt is an
economic concept that is shaped by two struggles relating to distribution. The first one is
unequal ecological exchange that can be summarized as the cumulative product of
unequal trade-centred environmental exchange, while the second is the climate debt
that can be summarized as a historical but persistent unequal distribution of global
carbon sinks to the benefit of advanced capitalist countries.
Social and environmental movements of the Global South have faced difficulties with the
first aspect of the concept of ecological debt. They have therefore focused on calculating
and estimating climate debt. This was first done in 1999, through the Committee for the
Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). The 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate
Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, also adopted the
concept of climate debt. In the proceedings of that conference, climate debt is defined as
the total of ‘emissions debt’ and ‘adaptation debt’. The former refers to the cost of
historical and current excessive emissions per person in the Global North, which deprive
countries of the South of their fair share of air. The latter points out the exorbitant costs
incurred by countries of the Global South in adapting to the significant damages and
risks of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, despite their limited contribution
to the environmental crisis. Climate debt is therefore seen as part of a broader debt to
Mother Earth. In the Cochabamba conference proceedings, developed countries were
called upon to take a set of measures which can be summarized as follows: 1)
decolonizing the atmosphere by reducing greenhouse gas emissions; 2) remunerating
countries of the Global South for losing development opportunities due to life under a
colonized airspace; 3) taking responsibility for climate change-based migration; and 4)
tackling debts related to climate change mitigation and adaptation and handling the
damage of the excessive emissions of the Global North.
In North Africa, historically unequal ecological exchange is intertwined with relationships
of exchange with European countries. Here, unequal exchange affects the allocation of
water, land, climatic resources, energy, and labour power, all of which are geared towards
food production for European markets. North African countries bear the environmental
costs, as their local ecosystems are destroyed and their natural resources depleted. They
also bear the economic costs by generating surplus value through international trade with
European countries. This, in turn, has far-reaching consequences for the sustainability of
resources, energy and land in North Africa, as well as for the ability to develop
frameworks for food sovereignty and to achieve a just transition locally. Unequal
environmental exchange perpetuates an imperialist way of life in the capitalist core
countries, while severely restricting the chances of a just transition in the South. What is
presented as an environmentally and socially just transition for Europe is not necessarily
the case for the peripheries attached to the continent in the southern Mediterranean and
West Africa.
Discussions about just transition focusing only on the capitalist core in the Global North,
whether in relation to the crisis of the Western mode of production and consumption, or
indeed the introduction of technological ecological modernity as a solution to the crisis,
completely overlook the situation of countries in the South, as well as the possibilities for,
and hindrances to, achieving a just transition in those contexts. Here, a critique of Global
North-centric just transition is essential: while such a transition is portrayed as global, it
broadly disregards questions of ecological and climate debt in relation to countries of the
Global North. As studies about Moroccan women workers on farms in the south of
Spain have shown, unequal exchange and climate debt should be at the heart of
debates about a just transition in North Africa. The export of vegetables, fruit and cheap
labour to Europe is a by-product of the destruction of nature.
There have been many estimates of the scale of climate debt. For example, at the
Copenhagen Summit, a study by the International Institute for Environment and
Development estimated the cost of climate change to developing countries at up £6.5
trillion over the next two decades. Likewise, another study by the African Development
Bank demonstrated that the costs of adaptation in Africa range from $20 to $30 billion per
annum over the next 20 years. Submitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) after the Paris Climate Summit,
these reports highlight the plans of North African countries (among others) to reduce
emissions and adapt to climate change, and the expected costs of such changes. For
Tunisia stated that in order to adapt to climate change and achieve a 41 per cent
reduction in emissions by 2030, in comparison to the 2010 level of emissions, the
state needs international funding, capacity-building, and technology transfer, the
total cost of which would be $20 billion.
Morocco estimated the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent
at $50 billion.
Egypt identified the need for $73 billion to alleviate the impacts of climate change,
without setting specific quantitative goals for reducing emissions.
Algeria reiterated its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 22 per
cent by 2030. These plans were put forward without a specification of the value of
this support or of climate change adaptation. Such a change, however, requires
external support in terms of funding, technology development and capacity-
Although these figures are dramatically bigger than the development support North Africa
receives, they portray but a small aspect of the economic burdens of climate change, and
the global responsibility for bearing its consequences.
3. Agroecological and regenerative agriculture as vehicles for a
just transition in North Africa
North African countries are, to varying degrees, integrated into the contemporary global
food system, which is dominated by transnational corporations, international trade and
export-led agriculture. As previously argued, these patterns of global unevenness have
led to the rapid degradation of natural environments and resources, and to the
marginalization of small-scale farmers and peasants, and the local communities in which
they are embedded.
The region therefore needs to rewrite its agricultural, environmental, food and energy
policies. It is necessary for alternatives to be locally centred and to be able to flourish
autonomously, independent of European interests. This necessitates a bottom-up, rather
than top-down, approach – one that is informed by the daily practices and struggles of
agricultural workers, local activists and actors in the region. It is evident that some
peasant practices and ideas spreading in the region intersect with the principles of
regenerative ecological agriculture – also known as agroecology (see Box 3). These form
the building blocks of an ecological transition in the agricultural sector. The adoption of
these practices is driven by a number of factors, including peasants’ need to cope with
climate change, and the high prices of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. There has also
been a renewed interest among sections of both the rural and urban population in re-
invigorating traditional agricultural technologies and using innovative ways to confront
water scarcity, soil degradation and rising temperatures. Grounded in concrete realities,
these practices delineate a possible starting point for building a bottom-up just transition
project. A just transition must empower the local population and redefine development as
development that is based on participation, and the preservation and renewal of
BOX 3: Agroecology as a science, a practice and a social
Agroecology can be defined as a science, a practice and a social movement. The
main aim of agroecology is to transcend the dominant agricultural paradigm and to
develop agro-ecosystems that have minimal dependence on external inputs through
practices that work with natural cycles and which centre farmer autonomy and agency in
decision-making and the production of knowledge. Regenerative agriculture is a
branch of agroecology which represents a more reparative farming system.
Regenerative agriculture and agroecology directly address the challenges of climate
change as they focus on soil health, biomass, biodiversity and soil carbon
sequestration. Regenerative agriculture and agroecology are guided by some of the
following principles: 1) the interdependence of all parts of the agrarian system,
including the farmer and the family; 2) the importance of ecosystem balance; and 3) the
need to multiply ecological interactions and the workings of natural cycles in order to
reduce the need for chemicals and other industrial inputs. Agroecology and
regenerative agriculture enable farmers to thus both meet their food needs through
sustainable production methods while also revitalizing natural and agricultural
Source: Based on Méndez et al. 2013 and Wezel et al.، 2009
3. 1 Practices of agroecology, regenerative agriculture and food
71 72
Table 2 shows a selection of eco-regenerative agricultural practices identified through
studies of local and indigenous knowledge related to water preservation in North Africa,
as well as the few studies dealing with ecological and regenerative agriculture in the
Maghreb, namely in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. These have been complemented by
the results of my own fieldwork in the countryside of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco between
2008 and 2019, as well as interviews with scholars and activists in the North African
Network for Food Sovereignty.
As demonstrated in Table 2, these practices are linked to an increase in soil biomass, a
high level of organic matter, the enhancement of biodiversity, and an increase in effective
ecological/biophysical interactions within the agricultural system. Additionally, these
practices renew and preserve the agricultural landscape, maintain and provide water
resources, improve the livelihoods of agricultural workers, and provide safe, healthy and
culturally appropriate food for local populations.
Table 2: Selected practices of eco-regenerative agriculture in North Africa
Category Practices
Soil management, soil
improvement and carbon
No-till farming
Crop rotation (alternating cereals with
leguminous crops)
Diversity of crop compositions in farms
Unprocessed organic fertilizers
Processed organic fertilizers (compost)
Liquid organic fertilizers (compost tea)
Organic worm-based fertilizers (vermicompost)
Liquid worm-based organic fertilizers
(vermicompost tea)
Water resource management Khattaras, Foggaras, cisterns (al-Majel) in
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, respectively
Bridges (Tunisia)
Growing country-specific varieties
Night irrigation (Egypt)
Crop condensation
North African oases three levels farming
Category Practices
Energy saving Manual labour
Use of animals
Flow irrigation
Night irrigation
Solar irrigation
Environmental landscape
management and wildlife control
Ecological traps
Manual collection of grass
Multiplying varieties and not planting the same
crops in the same plot of land
Sustainable agricultural
Terrace cultivation (mountainous regions of
Morocco and Algeria)
Oases systems
Mixed agro-pastoral systems
Seed sovereignty Seed self-production
Municipal/domestic seed usage
The aim here is not to give a complete overview, but rather a snapshot of practices
related to ecological and regenerative agriculture in the contexts studied. Despite
increasing experimentation with agroecological practices – often with the support of
grassroots initiatives and organizations – fully integrated eco-farms remain very rare in
North Africa.More commonly, peasants mix ecological farming practices with capitalist
farming practices, examples being the use of both chemical and organic fertilizers, or
resorting to both ecological and non-environmental modes of crop irrigation.
The emergence of these practices can be explained in part by the strategies small-scale
farmers develop to bypass difficult environmental and economic conditions. For instance,
small-scale farmers in Egypt are more inclined to switch to the use of animal waste and
organic fertilizers when faced with the exorbitant prices of chemical fertilizers and
pesticides. Similarly, they favour local seeds and rely on seed saving and sharing
practices to circumvent the high prices of imported seeds. Likewise, in the Maghreb,
small-scale farmers and peasants use local knowledge and technology relating to
environmental water preservation in the face of increasing water scarcity. While these
practices do not necessarily stem from a radical environmental vision for agriculture, they
can nevertheless be transformative. They serve as attempts to improve the livelihoods of
impoverished farmers, helping them continue their farming work in the face of capitalist
Sources: Author’s fieldwork in Egypt and Tunisia, 2018 and 2010; Ameur et al., 2020; Hamamouche et al.,
2018;Mohammed, and Ruf, 2010; Ayeb and Saad, 2013; Boualem et al., 2011.
exploitation. In this case, practices of agroecology and regenerative agriculture can be
depicted as a kind of agroecology of the poor, as they are a product of poor people’s
focus on their own livelihoods.
3. 2 Local actors and networks
There are a number of civil society organizations and government research institutions
that support the transition towards ecological agriculture at different scales. This section
highlights some of these initiatives.
Some of the institutions, associations, organizations and networks mentioned in Table 3
below play multiple roles in promoting agroecology and regenerative agriculture, through
for example providing training tools on agroecological practices, producing research and
reports, and facilitating networking between actors. In North Africa, farmers’ cooperatives
occupy a key position in supporting ecological farming practices, particularly when
understood in the context of the Maghreb-specific concept of cooperatives (Ta’adoudya),
which encompasses notions of solidarity, cooperation and sisterhood. These local forms
of joint action, solidarity and alliance building are crucial: they help further integrate ago-
ecological systems through knowledge dissemination and the extension of practical help
in the form of training courses in soil maintenance and renewal, the provision of organic
fertilizers, and the propagation of native seeds. These mutually beneficial partnerships
are necessary to widen and popularize agroecological experiences. Raising issues
around workers’ health and the use of chemical fertilizers, agricultural workers’ unions
push for organic methods of pest control, while associations facilitate the building of
participatory relationships through direct selling, unionization, and mutual aid in a way
that transcends the narrow confines of the market and private, individual interests.
Table 3: Examples of initiatives supporting eco-regenerative agriculture in North
Geographical area of
The North African Network for Food Sovereignty North Africa
Alexandria Research Centre for Adaptation to Climate
Change (ARCA)
A government
institution in Egypt
Organic Agriculture Association Egypt
Fayoum Agro Organic Development Association (FAODA) Fayoum, Egypt
The Integral Development Action of Minia Province of Minia,
south of Egypt
Egyptian Association for Sustainable Agriculture Province of Asyut,
south of Egypt
Arid Regions Institute A government
institution in Tunisia
Geographical area of
Observatory of Food Sovereignty and the Environment
Shapes and Oasis Colours Association (AFCO) Chenini Oasis, south of
Torba Association Algeria
Pedagogical Ecological Farm Zéralda region, Algeria
Network of Agro-ecological Initiatives in Morocco (RIAM) Morocco
Worm-breeding groups – producing worm-based organic
Egypt, Tunisia,
Morocco, Algeria
Agricultural cooperatives Egypt, Tunisia,
Morocco, Algeria
Peasant/agricultural trade unions Egypt, Tunisia,
Morocco, Algeria
Food baskets linking consumers and producers (linking
farmers to consumers in cities)
Egypt, Tunisia,
Morocco, Algeria
Local agricultural markets Egypt, Tunisia,
Morocco, Algeria
Agricultural women workers’ trade unions Tunisia, Morocco
As previously argued, despite the growing emphasis placed on the importance of local
forms of regenerative agriculture and agroecology in confronting climate change, these
practices remain largely marginalized in North Africa, at the level of both agricultural
development policies and climate change mitigation policies. Indeed, these practices are
primarily implemented on an individual level (farms) or at a local scale (community) with
the support of civil society organizations and some research institutions. These dynamics
do not allow for major changes to take place in agricultural policies, and they do not help
rebuild food sovereignty on the basis of regenerative ecological agriculture. This problem
is compounded by the dominance of industrial agricultural science and technology in the
curriculums of agricultural colleges. For instance, in Egypt, pesticide, fertilizer and seed
companies fund academic conferences in colleges of agriculture, while the curriculum
promotes genetic engineering and the biotechnological revolution as solutions to the
global food crisis.
Despite these limitations, observations from the field demonstrate growing bottom-up
pressure to build food sovereignty while supporting regenerative ecological agriculture in
the region. It is on this basis that it is possible to set in motion a just transition of the
agricultural sector in North Africa.
Source: Compiled by the author based on interviews with research participants conducted in 2021.
4. Conclusion
This article has shed light on the opportunities for, and challenges to, a just agricultural
transformation in North Africa. Mainly export-led and intensive in its use of energy and
capital, industrial agriculture remains the dominant framework for agricultural policies in
the region. These policies are incapable of confronting climate change and the
environmental crisis in the region. In fact, they add to it. Further, they are unable to
achieve food sovereignty in North Africa, and actively contribute to the marginalization
and impoverishment of agricultural workers and rural populations. This article has
highlighted some of the dynamics within rural communities and their efforts to innovate
and regenerate through local knowledge, with the aim of counteracting the degradation of
natural resources and peasants’ livelihoods. Additionally, the article has shown the
pluriverses of agroecology and regenerative farming practices. However, these practices
remain interwoven with capitalist farming methods. This can be mainly attributed to the
absence of organized and sustained public policy support for an agroecological
North Africa needs to rewrite its agricultural, environmental, food and energy policies. At
the heart of any serious just transition programme should be the goal of achieving
autonomy, ending dependency, reducing poverty, and mitigating the effects of climate
change and environmental degradation. Building such a programme requires a more
radical and local participatory approach, in order to regenerate and preserve local natural
resources. This move offers a road to liberation from dependency; it requires building
novel and locally-rooted knowledge systems and skills that support ecological and
regenerative agriculture. The green revolution of the post-independence state would not
have been possible without state intervention and support. State support consisted not
only of providing production inputs, irrigation projects and mechanization, but also of
providing agricultural extension services and establishing extension farms and research
centres and institutes. Therefore, ecological and regenerative agriculture in North Africa is
in need of a locally-oriented just transition plan. However, this will not be achieved without
pressure from below, informed by the needs and aspirations of small-scale farmers,
peasants and farm workers, who remain indispensable in a just transition in the region
and beyond.
Saker El Nour is a visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the International Research Group on
Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies of the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation and the
Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics, Freie Universität Berlin. His
scholarly interests include political ecology, rural sociology, rural social movements, and
agri-environmental politics, with a focus on Arab countries. He is co-founder of the North
Africa and Middle East Network for a Just Transition (RÉSEAU TANMO). Email:
I would like to thank Hamza Hamouchene, Mohsen Kalboussi, Ali Aznague and Sylvia
Kay for their helpful comments and feedback on drafts of this paper.
Translated from Arabic by Meriam Mabrouk
Copy-edited by Ashley Ingles
The publication of this article was supported by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).
FES is not responsible for the content, for which the individual authors are solely
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Full-text available
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La réforme de 1987 du secteur agricole public en Algérie a donné naissance à des exploitations agricoles collectives et individuelles, de tailles plus modestes et plus autonomes que les domaines étatiques dont elles étaient issues. Par la suite, les exploitations collectives ont été divisées de manière informelle suite à des différends entre attributaires. Cet article propose une analyse de la crise actuelle du modèle algérien d’agriculture collective dans le périmètre irrigué du Bas-Chéliff. L’objectif est d’analyser l’émergence de nouvelles formes d’exploitations agricoles, de comprendre leur différenciation actuelle et de déterminer les principaux facteurs qui influencent les trajectoires d’évolution. Nous mettons en évidence une grande diversité de formes d’exploitations agricoles et une hétérogénéité de leurs performances économiques, qui dépendent de la structure antérieure des exploitations et de la capacité des agriculteurs à mettre en place des arrangements pour l’accès à l’eau. La reconnaissance des nouvelles formes d’exploitations agricoles apparaît nécessaire à la relance des productions, affichée comme l’objectif d’une politique agricole renouvelée. Mots clés : Algérie ; exploitation agricole ; périmètre irrigue ́ ; politique agricole ; réforme foncière.
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The knowledge of rural communities related to the adjustment of agricultural and pastoral practices to climate difficulties and contingencies, have improved their resilience in vulnerable natural environment and ensured continuous food production as well as the provision of goods and services for the community’s reproduction. In this perspective, the International Joint Laboratory (LMI) Mediter analyzes the potential of knowledge developed by rural communities in managing climatic risk, with the aim to propose solutions for their inventory, their protection and their dissemination.
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Sous l’effet conjugué de politiques publiques généreuses, notamment en matière de réalisation d’infrastructures, et de dynamiques locales novatrices, le paysage des oasis a, dans certaines régions, profondément été modifié. C’est le cas de la wilaya de Biskra en Algérie où, depuis une vingtaine d’années, des palmiers en monoculture et des serres tunnels s’étendent à perte de vue en marge des oasis traditionnelles. Dans cet article, nous analysons les facteurs qui favorisent et ceux qui menacent cette dynamique d’expansion. Quatre déterminants clés de ce développement sont étudiés à savoir: les politiques publiques, le développement du marché local, la diffusion de l’innovation et le système de gouvernance de l’eau. Nous montrons que la capacité d’adaptation de cette agriculture est principalement permise par un complexe jeu d’acteurs, au niveau bilatéral et collectif, qui arrivent à reconfigurer et à adapter le cadre institutionnel régissant l’usage de la ressource eau. Nous montrons enfin que ce jeu d’acteurs, sur le long terme, peut être aussi sources de fragilités et d’iniquités.
Identifying locally adapted and adopted efficient practices can be a step towards the agroecological transition of irrigated plains of the Southern Mediterranean region. However, these types of practices - often little known - are drowned within a wide range of practices. The objective of this study was, first, to elaborate a method to describe this diversity in a semi-arid irrigated landscape, at both the plot and farm scales; second, to show the main characteristics of these types of crop management; and third, to question their sustainability according to agroecological principles. To do so, this paper focused on Southern Mediterranean irrigated cropping systems as i) studies on management routes are scarce with regard to this region; ii) irrigated landscapes are known for their high level of natural, technical and financial constraints, often favoring more intensive farming practices regarding chemical inputs. A series of semi-directive interviews were conducted in order to assess farmers’ management of chili-pepper-based (Capsicum annuum) cropping systems, a widespread crop in the Merguellil plain, Central Tunisia. The "Typ-iti” method, combining multivariate analysis, clustering and association rules, was used to characterize the diversity of technical management routes (TMR) of these systems. The environmental sustainability was qualitatively accessed by classifying the clusters of TMRs obtained according to their potential impact on natural resources. Then, these management routes were qualitatively associated to some farm structural characteristics, to analyze their diversity at the farm level. These enabled to distinguish a gradient of farming practices and characteristics, respectively at both plot and farm scales relative to environmental impacts. The study showed that some agroecology-compatible TMRs coexisted with conventional TMRs for chili-pepper-based cropping systems. Our method characterized three main groups: i) a group of intensive TMRs regarding chemical input powered especially by tenant farmers, ii) an intermediary group iii) a moderate group powered by land owners. Throughout these main groups, seven types of TMRs were described. These were always comprised of both agroecology and non-agroecology-compatible technical operations. This coexistence of diversely impacting practices challenges agroecology in multiple ways. Fertilization management appeared as a major issue in the study zone, often resulting in high applied doses. These findings could allow actors in charge of agriculture to better focus their action. However, the study did not take into account the outputs of the studied systems, so that their productivity and environmental impacts have not yet been assessed in a quantitative manner. For future studies, the paragons obtained from our analysis are typical cases that could be studied for such a purpose.
As a global community, we need to understand better how a just transition can shift development paths to achieve net zero emissions and eliminate poverty. Our past development trajectories have led to high emissions, persistent inequality and a world that is fragmented across multiple contradictions. How can countries shift to development pathways that deliver zero poverty and zero carbon? In developing a theory of just transition, the article begins by reviewing a range of theoretical approaches from different traditions, building in particular on neo-Gramscian approaches. It applies and modifies core components of Gramsci’s approach, building a neo-Gramscian theory of just transitions around concepts of ideology, hegemony, change agents and fundamental conditions. The theory suggests how coalitions of change agents can come together behind a just transition. The coalition needs to gain broader support, establish a new cultural hegemony in support of just transitions and be able to transform the fundamental conditions of the 21st century. The article briefly considers how this better understanding can be applied to the practice of shifting development pathways. The penultimate section reflects on limitations, including that a fuller development of a theory of just transition will require application for detailed concrete examples and a community effort. Together, we might address the multiple challenges of our present conditions to transition to development that enables human flourishing and a healthy planet.
The role of trade in global environmental change is receiving increasing attention and there is a lively debate about Ecologically Unequal Exchange (EUE). Little is known, however, about the role of colonial legacy for the evolution of physical trade patterns. This study provides empirical evidence on the basis of a systematic evaluation of global trade data. We quantify, in physical and monetary terms, the development of trade relations between France, its former colonies and the rest the world from the immediate post-colonial period until 2015. We use a set of physical trade indicators including physical trade balance and terms of trade to analyse differences in trade patterns and EUE. The results indicate that colonial ties were very strong in the 1960s, but thereafter quickly diminished. We find strong evidence for EUE between France and its former colonies in the post-colonial period and that the colonial factor explains EUE between centre and peripheries better than income differences until the 1970s. In recent decades colonial legacy increasingly vanished. Our findings corroborate that socio-political factors, and in particular colonial legacy, play an important role for EUE relations and that they deserve more attention in quantitative empirical research on trade.
Despite the economic recovery of 2017 and 2018, the weak growth potential is weighing heavily on the global economy's capacity to reduce decent work deficits in the medium term. This Chapter assesses the estimates and projections of these deficits in terms of (i) unemployment, (ii) vulnerable employment, and (iii) working poverty, for the world and for country groups by level of development.