As the next season of Moroccan soft fruit unfolds, it turns out that the landscape of red berry production is undergoing significant shifts, influenced by both environmental and market-driven factors. With Nabil Babache, of the Larache-based exporter Rika, we dive into the current dynamics of red berry production in Morocco, spotlighting the major trends, challenges, and the roles of exporters in steering the industry.
Nabil says, "The Moroccan berry season is a dance of nature and nurture, with each year presenting its unique rhythm. The rhythm is different this season as well. As the first raspberry harvest approaches, anticipation fills the air. However, this year's expectations are tempered with caution, given the challenges of the previous season. Last year, the industry grappled with low prices and relatively modest volumes. This led to significant strategic shifts in the supply chain. For instance, certain seed companies reduced the number of growers they supplied with berry seeds. This decision, driven by the previous year's challenges, means that fewer growers will be involved in berry cultivation this season, reflecting a cautious approach to managing production volumes."
"The aftermath of these challenges is evident in the current season's landscape," Nabil continues. "Overall, the cultivated area for strawberries and raspberries in Morocco is expected to be smaller than last year. This reduction is particularly pronounced in the Agadir region, which recently faced the wrath of strong winds damaging several greenhouses and scorching heat that affected part of the harvest. Consequently, a dip in production from this region is anticipated. On the brighter side, the northern region remains unaffected, with its output likely to mirror last year's."
Weather patterns, "the unsung heroes or culprits in agriculture," - as Nabil describes - are determinants. "While the southern regions faced their set of challenges, the recent rains from Kenitra to Larache have been a boon for red fruit growth, leading to noticeable improvements in plant growth," reassures the exporter.
The reduction in acreage is likely to be offset by higher prices, or so hopes Nabil. "The reduction in cultivated area coincides with a surge in demand, hinting at a potential upward pressure on prices. As the industry gears up for the first strawberry harvest around mid-September, all eyes are on market dynamics and how they'll shape the season's trajectory. Zooming out to a broader canvas, Morocco's berry production doesn't exist in isolation. Spain, another significant player in the berry market, is also anticipating a reduction in its cultivated area. This parallel trend in two major producing countries could have ripple effects on the global supply chain and pricing dynamics."
The exporter uses as an example a variety of raspberries, which we will not name, widely produced in Morocco: "A glance at the export price trends, at the point of harvest, not including packaging, conditioning, or transportation costs, reveals a tapestry of fluctuations. Prices went from $4.42 per kg in 2016, to a peak at $6.93 per kg in 2018 and fell to $6.60 per kg in the previous season. Current projections place the 2023-2024 price at $6.76 per kg, hinting at a stable market scenario."
The season will also experience a shift in the berries produced, according to Nabil. "There is a tilt towards blueberries, which are keeping a stable acreage. This indicates a potential change in market preferences. Blueberries, with their longer plant cycle and consistent demand, seem to be emerging as a preferred choice for many growers, on the red berries expense."
Other factors such as geopolitical tensions, trade restrictions, and global economic downturns continue to pose hurdles to Moroccan exporters. "For instance, the political situation led to a significant drop in demand from Russia, a key market for Moroccan berries," says the exporter.
In the face of the climate hazards and commercial turbulence, intensified the previous season, exporters are hoping to preserve their achievements and demonstrate resilience. Nabil says, "Morocco's position in the global berry market has been nothing short of remarkable. Recent data indicates that the nation has climbed to the third spot in the global ranking of fresh raspberry exporters, surpassing even the USA. This ascent is not just a testament to the quality of Moroccan berries but also the strategic efforts of exporters, including Rika, in tapping into lucrative markets and establishing a reputation for consistency and excellence."
Nabil concludes: "Regardless of the industry's configuration and the season's parameters, our ethos remains unchanged: delivering quality. As Rika and other major exporters gear up for the unfolding season, our goal is to embody the spirit of innovation and adaptability that defines the Moroccan berry sector. While the challenges of the past year have been manifold, they've also been instrumental in shaping strategies for the future. The lessons learned, be it in terms of diversifying markets, optimizing production techniques, or enhancing supply chain efficiencies, are invaluable."