Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Land Use Negotiation in Eastern Morocco

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Land Use Negotiation in Eastern Morocco

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this article, 1 analyse a steppe region in contemporary Morocco, outlining the political environment in which land use is currently negotiated. I ask what place different actors such as the state, the tribe, or local individuals occupy in the relevant power structures. Relying on recent fieldwork, I then discuss land appropriation by tribal households. Conflict-resolution mechanisms are presented in the third section. My contribution shows that access to land is often related to other types of resources (such as livestock, access to institutions and social prestige), and points out that a detailed, actor-centred analysis is essential to understanding the making of politics in the Moroccan high plateaus.

Keywords: pastoral communities, eastern Morocco, land appropriation, collective rangeland, socio-economics

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The steppic high plateaus of eastern Morocco (2) are often represented by locals as well as outsiders as one of the country's archetypal nomadic regions. For centuries, Arab pastoralists have roamed the steppes with their herds of sheep, goats and camels, moving their tents whenever climate and vegetation conditions promised to be better elsewhere. This form of extensive mobile pastoralism started to recede in the 1960s (Rachik 2000) and has all but disappeared in the early twenty-first century. Among the factors that have deeply transformed this society are prolonged droughts, technical innovations such as motorised transport and new kinds of animal feed, the increasing integration into global markets, and also gradual changes in how the collective rangelands are used. It is this latter issue that forms the main concern of this article. Specifically, I will outline the political environment in which land use is currently negotiated, and ask what place different actors such as the state, the tribe, or local individuals occupy in the relevant power structures.

My observations are based on empirical fieldwork carried out in 2009-10 in the northern part of the eastern Moroccan high plateaus, mainly in the rural municipalities of Awlad Sidi 'Abd al-Hakim, (3) Bani Mat.hat, Murayja and Awlad Ghuzayyil (see Figure 1). They roughly coincide with the habitual territories of eponymous tribes, except for the last two, which are home to the tribe of Awlad Sidi 'Ali. The administrative and economic centre of this region is the fast-growing town of 'Ayn Bani Mat.har, which constitutes a municipality in itself. In 2004, 13,526 inhabitants were counted here (Al-Mandubiyya al-Samiya li-l-Takhtit 2007). The town's large weekly market, held on Mondays, is where most of the surrounding steppe dwellers sell their livestock and supply themselves with household items and groceries.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In accordance with this volume's overarching theme, I will try to portray the specific political field that pertains to the negotiation of land use in this region. My approach to applying the concept of the political field (see Editorial, this volume) is straightforward. Three dimensions are of interest: the actors present in the field; the resources at stake; and the rules according to which the 'game' of land use negotiation is played. Each of these aspects will be dealt with in the sections that follow.

What's in a Tribe? Actors in the Field

Even though the Moroccan steppe may seem barren and mostly empty at first sight, it is possible to identify many sets of actors who have a stake in it. These may be individuals, informal groupings of individuals, or formal institutions; local, national or international actors; nomads, former nomads or non-nomads; families who earn their living by raising livestock or families who do not rely on pastoral activities.

The most obvious stakeholder of them all is the local population. In the four municipalities mentioned above, a total of 19,413 inhabitants form 2,825 households (Al-Mandubiyya al-Samiya li-l-Takhtit. …

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