Background Info Morocco

Morocco is still very much an agricultural country, with almost half of the population depending on agriculture and livestock husbandry for a living. In the western coastal plain and along the Souss River, there is some modern large-scale agriculture producing for exports, but the larger part of production is still derived from peasant farmers. They produce predominantly for their own family, selling the rest at the local market. Among the activities on the farms is agriculture, animal husbandry, spinning yarn and processing it into clothing, blankets and carpets. Among the main agricultural products are wheat, millet/sorghum, oats, potatoes, citrus fruits, olives, melons, tomatoes and vegetables. In the mountains, small quantities of nuts, plums, apples and pears are grown, and the oases offer a great number of dates. Livestock numbers include 20 million sheep, roughly 5 million goats and 3 million cows. Also, poultry is held everywhere, in particular chickens and turkeys. Up to this day, hundreds of thousands of donkeys, mules and to a lesser extent horses and camels provide the means of transport. Officially, the agricultural sector contributes a mere 15% of the national product, but this includes only the traded part of the harvest.

Along the coast, fishing is an important livelihood base, and Moroccan fishermen bring home the biggest catch of sardines in the world. The main fishing ports are Tangier, Casablanca, El Jadida and Agadir. Thanks to the large sediments of phosphates, the mining of this ore makes Morocco the largest producer in the world. Phosphates are used to make artificial fertilizer. Small amounts of natural gas, coal and oil exist as well, although the amounts produced are nowhere near the country’s needs. Even with water, the country has severe shortages at most times of the year. The past decade was the wettest ever in recorded history, and for the first time in ages the groundwater level has gone up instead of down. Approximately one sixth of the population earn a livelihood in industry and crafts. The industrial sector is simple and processes mainly raw materials from agriculture, fisheries and phosphates mining. Building products for residential construction, such as bricks, cement and concrete iron, are important in a country where the population keeps growing. For tourists, handicrafts are interesting. Morocco has one of the most varied craft product ranges on offer in the world, a sector that has almost disappeared in the more developed economies.

Carved leather, painted china, silver and golden jewellery, processed wood and tiles are among the most important products in this sector. By now, a considerable banking sector has come about and other services are beginning to develop. The tourism sector in particular provides a good number of jobs and hard currencies, but it is not the stable and reliable motor of the economy the country would hope for. As a result of the Gulf War, tourism came to a nearly complete halt, although strong growth has occurred since. Likewise, the Islamic attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 caused a major blow. The population is incredibly friendly and does not bear a grudge against foreigners, as we can attest from our travelling experiences recently. Apart from tourism, the money transferred by hundreds of thousands of relatives living abroad is of great importance to the country’s economy.

The central place for prayers in an Islamic country is the mosque, where believers come together to pray and listen to preaching, particularly on Fridays. In Morocco these holy places are rarely open to non-believers. The structure and layout of a mosque is based on a common pattern, that of the prophet’s house in Mekka. From the outside, the minaret is the most conspicuous element of the mosque. From this tower, a call for prayer is issued. In Morocco, the square minaret of the 800 years old Koutoubia Mosque has served as the model for many minarets, including those of the modern Hassan II Mosque. The most important religious buildings that allow access to non-believers are the Quran schools or Medersa (medressas). In these often richly decorated buildings, theology and Islamic law have been taught from the early days of Islam. The most beautiful examples of these medressas originate from the Merinidian Period. Marrakech, Meknes and in particular Fès are home to the most important of these. Highly characteristic for all buildings in Morocco are the tiny windows and doors - the consequence of the extreme heat and cold and the need to defend. In large parts of the country, the agadir played a central role in the village. The agadir is a mostly square fortress with thick walls and turret holes, which served as a fortified warehouse for grain, weapons and valuables, as stables for the animals and in times of siege, as a refuge for the villagers. More often than not, the agadir is also a marabout, a grave of a saint. The spiritual protection is convenient. The most conspicuous building in the mountains and Southern Morocco is the ksar (plural: ksour), a rectangular, loam fortress with battlements and defence towers at each corner. Some of the ksour are known to have held up to a hundred families, the equivalent of more than 1000 people. Often the word ‘kasbah’ comes up in this context. ‘Kasbah’ is the generic name for all forms of fortified residence that exist in Morocco.

Art and crafts
Islam rendered visual art in a western sense, paintings, drawings and sculptures, virtually impossible, through the ban on depicting people and animals. Only literature manifests more freedom. Creativity has found its outlet in the decoration of buildings and domestic objects. When it comes to the embellishment of everyday utensils such as pots and pans, jewellery, furniture and carpets, Morocco ranks among the most remarkable countries. In the whole of Africa there is no country that has such a vivid tradition in arts and crafts! When you visit this country you will be delighted to stroll around the workshops and admire the carpets, jewellery, china and worked leather objects made there.