Modscapes team member Michele Tenzon from the Université libre de Bruxelles will be presenting a paper titled

“Moroccan villages: rural dreams of an irrigation perimeters from yesterday to today”

at the international conference “Through local eyes: place-based approaches to emerging architectural, urban design and planning challenges in Africa and the Global South”.

The conference will be held at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 29-31 Octobre 2018. The event is a joint initiative of research groups working in the Université libre de Bruxelles, the University of Addis Ababa and the Université de Liège.


Since the 1950s, the Gharb valley in Morocco was the subject of the particular attention of the French colonial administration as well as of transnational institutions such as the the World Food Program (e.g. Programme d’habitat rurale: 1969) and the World Bank (e.g. Project Sebou I & II: 1974;1984) that promoted infrastructural projects and housing schemes aimed at sustaining the development of what was regarded as one of the most highly productive rural areas of the country.

In a later stage, these schemes overlapped with the rural reforms that had been promoted at the national level since the early years of Moroccan independence (1956). The post-independence réforme agraire entailed the redistribution of confiscated land from colonists to rural cooperatives and, for many aspects, it became operational only two decades after its initial formulation.

In the Gharb, rural development schemes pursued aims that largely overlapped with the colonial ambition of employing technology – irrigation and agricultural mechanization – to replace traditional forms of land exploitation and social organisation.

The contribution aims at providing a picture of the evolving pattern of settlements in the Gharb valley and their forms in relationship with the infrastructural networks that were in various phases implemented as drivers for the modernisation and development of the rural landscape. Whereas local, traditional human-environment interactions such as semi-nomadism and tribal collectivism gradually disappeared, different spatial arrangements were introduced to incentivize alternative forms of organisation of the social life while others emerged as adaptive or resistance practices.

Despite rural exodus, the Gharb experienced a steady population growth in the past 60 years as the consequence of internal rural migration and natural population growth sustained by agricultural intensification and by the creation of medium-size agro-industrial centres across the region. Village planning and the acknowledgement of adaptive, local practices in the latecolonial and the postcolonial period allows to put in perspective the transformations of the region and its actual transition toward dispersed urbanisation.