David Balgley: Land, Labor, and Youth Aspirations in the Gharb, Morocco (Podcast)

This episode was recorded on August 23rd 2019, at the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. In this podcast, we welcome David Balgley, Masters candidate in Arab Studies at Georgetown University, discussing his research project entitled: Land, Labor, and Youth Aspirations in the Gharb, Morocco.

In 2015, the Government of Morocco and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. aid agency, signed the Morocco Land and Employability Compact. This Compact includes a project to title 51,000 hectares of collective land in the Gharb region, thereby turning it into private property. The project’s discourse emphasizes that integrating land into market systems leads to greater productivity, enhanced access to credit, and increased land values, all of which benefit rural populations. However, government reports largely fail to account for how agrarian transformations resulting from privatization have differentiated impacts on different rural population groups, particularly young people. 


The Gharb plain, which is located along the north-western Atlantic coast, has long been one of the most agriculturally productive regions of Morocco. Since the 1970s, demographic growth, land fragmentation, and the rise of foreign investment in agro-business have all contributed to shifts in rural livelihoods and income-generating activities. Many households no longer rely solely on agriculture as their primary source of income. As a result, young people living in collective land in the Gharb are pursuing diverse livelihood strategies, even as their future aspirations diverge significantly from those of previous generations.


In this podcast episode, David discusses some of the factors impacting the labor decisions of young people in the Gharb, including the ways in which gender, class, and access to productive capital create and constrain the opportunities for youth in the Moroccan countryside. In addition, he breaks down how young rural people negotiate the tension between maintaining social ties to their ancestral land with economic pressures to migrate. In this context, David explores how the privatization of collective land in the Gharb could stimulate new labor possibilities, livelihood shifts, and youth aspirations.


Further reading

Akesbi, Najib. 2012. “A new strategy for agriculture in Morocco: The Green Morocco Plan”. New Medit 11 (2): 12-23.

Balgley, David. 2019. “Assembling Land Access and Legibility.” In The Politics of Land, edited by Tim Bartley (117-142). Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.

Bidwell, R. 1973. Morocco Under Colonial Rule: French Administration of Tribal Areas 1912-1956. London: Frank Cass and Co.

Bossenbroek, Lisa, Jan D. van der Ploeg, and Margreet Zwarteveen. 2015. “Broken dreams? Youth experiences of agrarian change in Morocco’s Saiss region”. Cah Agric 24(6): 342-348

Bouzidi, Zhour, Nicolas Faysse, Marcel Kuper, and Jean-Paul Billaud. 2015. “Les Projets Des Jeunes Ruraux : Des Stratégies Diversifiées Pour Accéder Au Foncier et Obtenir l’appui de l’État.” Alternatives Rurales, Hors Série Jeunes Ruraux: 13–24.

Faysse, Nicolas, Zhour Bouzidi, Zakaria Zadiri, Elhassane Abdellaoui, and Zoubir Chattou. 2015. “Les Jeunes Ruraux Aujourd’hui.” Alternatives Rurales, Hors Série Jeunes Ruraux: 4–12.

Giuliani, Alessandra, Sebastian Mengel, Courtney Paisley, Nicole Perkins, Ingrid Flink, Oliver Oliveros, and Mariana Wongtschowski. 2017. “Realities, Perceptions, Challenges and Aspirations of Rural Youth in Dryland Agriculture in the Midelt Province, Morocco”.  Sustainability 9: 871-894.

Ghanem, Hafez. 2016. “Targeting Excluded Groups: Youth, Smallholder Farmers, and Women”. In The Arab Spring Five Years Later: Toward Greater Inclusiveness (107-135). Washington: Brookings Institution Press.

Mahdi, M. 2014. “The Future of Land Tenure in Morocco: A Land Grabbing Case.” New Medit 13 (4): 2-10.

Petit, Olivier, Marcel Kuper, and Fatah Ameur. 2018. “From worker to peasant and then to entrepreneur? Land reform and agrarian change in the Saiss (Morocco)”. World Development 105: 119-131.

Swearingen, Will D. 1987. Moroccan Mirages: Agrarian Dreams and Deceptions, 1912-1986. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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