The Soft Wheat Chain in Morocco: between State Regulation and Liberalization

Whereas bread was always government-protected from the rule of the market, thus ensuring its modest price, the party in power today and the economic elites are negotiating for the suppression of the regulatory system. The merchandising terms of certain commodities are constantly being debated. In Morocco, bread, a staple in the home, is one of them. The history of social mobilizations reveals its symbolic nature, often accompanying the expression of social discontent. Since independence and in different forms, Moroccan authorities have regulated the price of bread and subsidized the soft wheat flour it is made of, thus co-producing the politization of bread and making a unique commodity of it. Besides maintaining the prices of a specific quantity for final consumption, the subsidy of soft wheat ensures an income to the country’s farmers. Responsible for their production, for distribution and sales, part of the private operators in this chain contribute directly to the functioning of this mechanism.

The inquiry aims to describe and analyze the concrete dynamics within this chain, where the State also has a place. This means:

 

  • Thinking at one and the same time the genesis of three objects the social sciences often analyze separately: production spaces, commercial spaces, and consumption practices (as well as their connections with the State);
  • Analyzing how economic operators contribute to the shaping of an interventionist policy and how they assimilate that social function. Particular attention is given to the content of negotiations of the business world, which tries to substitute the idea of giving social responsibility to enterprises for state regulation.

To complete this analysis of the processes of co-formation of the State, the market and the Moroccan economic elite, the inquiry uses the tools of economic and political sociology – interviews, observations, analysis of official documents and archival research.

Chakib Alj, industrial captain and major negotiator of liberalization

 

In 1987 Chakib Alj took over his late father’s flourmill, a company among many others owned by this eminent businessman. Chakib Alj rapidly developed his activities and investments and is today at the head of a powerful holding, as well as several professional federations in the cereals industry.

In 1993, he was asked by the Agriculture Minister to be one of the directors of the Professional Association of Millers (PAM) responsible for managing the subsidy. A few years later, the PAM and his colleague Ghali Sebti were victims of a politico-financial scandal and Chakib Alj worked on a project to reform the status of the association, aiming to rid it of the financial management of the state subsidy; it was a way for mill owners to assert themselves as businessmen whose interests tended in the direction of the free market.

In 2000, he left what had become the Professional Federation of Millers, then resumed the presidency in 2010 at the request of its members, and also became president of the Professional Association of Industrial Millers of the “centre” Region.

In 2013 he was elected head of the Interprofessional Federation of Cereal-related Activities (FIAC), which groups together the entire value-chain “from the pitchfork to the table fork”. It is by means of the latter that he continues to negotiate the total liberalization of the sector.

In the latest reform under discussion, millers were ready to commit to the purchase of 7 million quintals of the national production of soft wheat and to produce an “economical” flour. But state regulatory administrations are not included in this proposal: through the FIAC, the sector will be its own arbiter.