The COVID-19 crisis in Morocco disrupts value chains for women’s cooperatives

Following the declaration of a state of emergency in Morocco due to COVID-19, rural women are struggling to maintain their cooperatives.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, members of the women-led Cooperative Tudert continue harvesting aromatic and medicinal herbs while respecting physical distancing and other prevention measures to stop the spread of the virus. The cooperative, established in 2006 and located in the Imi N’Tlit rural municipality in the Essaouira province of Morocco, works along the entire agroecological chain, from cultivation and production to transformation, packaging and commercialisation.

The 17 women that comprise the cooperative grow thyme, lavender, rosemary and sage, among other herbs that are well known for their health benefits. These herbs are then bought by health food, grocery and cosmetic stores as well as herbalists, delicatessens and mass merchandisers. However, preventive lockdown measures led to the closure of drying and packaging units, thus interrupting the value chain and, with it, the sustainability of the cooperative’s income-generating activities. If the women stop harvesting, an entire season’s worth of labour and yield goes to waste.

The Ariaf Cooperative in Ghafsai, a municipality in the Tawnat Province, faces similar challenges. “Climatic constraints encourage women in cooperatives in Ghafsai not to depend solely on their agricultural activity,” explains Souad Azennoud, President of the Ariaf Cooperative, where women are particularly concerned about their olive harvest. “To be able to meet their financial needs, women were already diversifying their activities to include animal husbandry, trade, crafts and even tourism.”

Mrs. Yamna Tazerbil (left) and Mrs. Rkia Boubker (right), members of Tudert Cooperative, cutting aromatic and medicinal plants to dry and to plant new ones in the nursery. Photo: UN Women/Tudert Cooperative.

Two women farmers, members of Ariaf Cooperative, practicing manual weeding. Photo : UN Women / Coopérative Ariaf.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing government-mandated national quarantine have disrupted these industries as well, leaving women and their families without reliable sources of income. Moreover, due to restricted physical mobility, the regional markets have been closed, making access to commercial platforms impossible. “These women should be supported so that they can directly sell their products through online platforms to minimise financial losses,” recommends Azennoud.

In response to this situation, in May 2020 the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality and Family, in partnership with the Social Development Agency, developed an online marketplace, called ADS Coopsclub, to sell the cooperatives’ products during the COVID-19 crisis. This platform is intended to include all women’s cooperatives in Morocco.

UN Women supported cooperatives like Tudert and Ariaf to join the online marketplace by helping with administrative processes such as online registration. An online awareness and information session on hygiene protocols and physical distancing measures was also led by UN Women as part of this initiative.

“At the beginning of the crisis, with the weekly regional markets closed in Imi N’Tlit, it was very difficult for us to find a solution to sell our products,” says Aicha Ennaih, a member of the Tudert Cooperative. “When UN Women informed us about this platform, it was great news for our cooperative. We were able to register and to negotiate product delivery fees with service providers, allowing us to take advantage of this unique opportunity at a good cost,” she concludes.

“While the pandemic exposes and exacerbates different forms of inequalities and vulnerabilities, it also makes clear that women are actors of change and are capable of responding to a crisis of such magnitude. UN Women is committed to supporting cooperatives such as Tudert and Ariaf by providing technical assistance to help them adapt to this context, thereby mitigating the impact of the crisis on their economic situation,” states Leila Rhiwi, Representative of the UN Women Morocco office.

The Tudert and Ariaf cooperatives received support from UN Women as part of an economic empowerment project funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation. The project aims to strengthen rural women’s leadership while preserving biodiversity.

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