Since 2016, Enabel works with date growers in Morocco’s Mezguita and Ferkla oases to sustainably improve their incomes.
Enabel facilitated collaboration between the Mezguita Economic Interest Group (EIG) and Belgium’s Colruyt Group. An agreement ensures affiliated date producers a stable annual 60 tonnes market in Belgium for three years.
The Mezguita Group comprises 10 cooperatives of a total of 152 farmers in the province of Zagora, in south-east Morocco. This is the first palm grove on the Draâ River, which meanders through the Moroccan desert and irrigates some ten traditional palm groves. Farmers in this region have decided to join forces to increase their financial capacity and professionalise their small businesses together.
Equal pay for equal work
The Colruyt Group pays the Economic Interest Group a 15% markup compared to the Morrocan dates market price. This markup ensures a stable income for farmers and can be reinvested by cooperatives to purchase equipment, for example.
Abdelaziz Lajwad, a date producer and member of Mezguita Group, said: “By selling a large part of our crop at a fair price and in a sustainable way, we can improve our income. This enables us to offer our children a good education, but also to guarantee them access to better social protection.”
Around 1/8th of the total volume produced by the Mezguita Group, i.e. 400 tonnes a year, is purchased by Colruyt Group. It is a healthy relationship, both for the farmers – who do not become too dependent on one big buyer – and for the Colruyt Group.
“By working with farmers, the Moroccan Agency for Agricultural Development and Enabel, we have set up a sustainable production chain for dates that guarantees farmers a stable outlet. In our international supply chain projects, all the partners work closely together. Long-term thinking and win-win solutions for all partners in the chain are essential. We are putting sustainable sourcing into practice in a way that goes much further than what you can achieve through certification or audits,” says Karen Janssens, member of the Product Sustainability Team at the Colruyt Group.
Since the start of the partnership, the Economic Interest Groups has generated 2000 days of employment per year for young farmers.
Small producers often have a tough time meeting requirements to export goods to the European market. The European Union imposes many technical, health and hygiene standards. Enabel supports its partners in Morocco in untangling the administrative complexity and assists them in obtaining the certificates they need to export to the EU.
This also opens up new opportunities for date growers. Once they meet the export conditions, they can seek market opportunities in all EU countries. This is an important commercial advantage, which potential buyers take into account.
Exporting a product is one thing; marketing it is another. To ensure the success and sustainability of the project, the Colruyt Group and Enabel are supporting the Economic Interest Group in several ways:
- professionalising the looks and value of the dates (packaging, conditioning, quality standards),
- professionalising the export chain (transport, logistics, customs clearance, planning, dispute management),
- marketing (negotiation techniques and date promotion in Europe, sales contracts)
- setting up and managing the social project (managing profits and social initiatives).
No to pesticides and yes to solar energy
The Mezguita Group is also committed to environmental-friendly farming. Enabel supported the farmers by financing the installation of solar panels and the planting of 300 additional date palms.
With the solar panels, the Economic Interest Group succeeded in reducing its electricity bill in its production unit by 70% while avoiding the emission of an equivalent of 70 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Also, no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals are used in the date orchards. The modernised irrigation system is based on traditional practices that respect the environment.
A social approach
The Economic Interest Group is sensitive to gender equality and involves more and more women in its governance bodies, organises awareness-raising campaigns on environmental practices and contributes to the rejuvenation of the palm grove by planting palm trees.
The Colruyt Group’s Collibri Foundation, which supports disadvantaged youths also contributes to this social approach. “As part of this partnership, a training programme will be developed for young people,” says Abdelaziz Lajwad. Young people from the Mezguita region will be able to take part. The aim is also to raise young people’s awareness of various agricultural trades, as well as digital trades and those linked to adapting to climate change.
In Belgium, you can now buy the Group’s dates in over 400 Colruyt, Okay and 30 Bio-Planet shops.
The project at a glance
- The Mezguita Group is just one of 25 Economic Interest Groups in Morocco’s oases region with which Enabel works. We support the development of their organisation and the professional growth of farmers through training and coaching.
- The 25 Economic Interest Groups represent a total of 7,939 affiliated farmers, including 1,774 women and 2,678 young people.
- Through the Belgian Development Cooperation, we have been working for 10 years with partners in the date palm sector in several oases in Morocco.
- Since 2021, we have also been focusing on rural entrepreneurship, with an emphasis on the (digital) marketing of date-based products by women and young people.