Green technologies a focus of innovation in Morocco
From 7 to 18 November 2016, the Moroccan capital is hosting the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Morocco is one of 109 countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement(1), which entered into force on 4 November.
Green technologies have become a focus of innovation in Morocco, according to the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, which was released a year ago today. Morocco is determined to compensate for its lack of hydrocarbons by becoming the leader in Africa for renewable energy by 2020. Some 19 million dirhams (circa US$ 2 million) have been earmarked for six projects in the field of solar thermal energy, under agreements signed by the Institute for Research in Solar and New Energy (IRESEN) with scientific and industrial partners. IRESEN is currently financing research in the field of renewable energy that is being conducted by more than 200 engineers and PhD students and some 47 university researchers.
In 2014, the government inaugurated the continent’s biggest wind farm at Tarfaya in the southwest of the country. Its latest project is to create the world’s biggest solar farm at Ouarzazate, with a capacity of 560 MW. A consortium led by the Saudi Arabian company Acwa Power and its Spanish partner Sener won the call for tenders for the first phase (Noor I) and Acwa Power won the same for the second phase. The project also counts other donors.
Orienting the economy towards goods with more added value
The Moroccan economy is diversifying but remains focused on low value-added goods. These still represent about 70% of manufactured goods and 80% of exports. There are signs of waning competitiveness in some areas: Morocco has conceded market shares for clothing and shoes in the face of tough international competition from Asia, in particular, even as it has expanded its market share for such value-added goods as fertilizers, passenger vehicles and equipment for the distribution of electricity.
Despite average annual growth of over 4% between 2008 and 2013, the economy has been affected by the slowdown in the European economy since 2008, as Europe is the main destination for Moroccan exports. More than 9% of the population is unemployed and about 41% of the labour force lacks any qualification. The National Strategy for the Development of Scientific Research to 2025 (2009) has recommended raising the secondary enrolment rate from 44% to at least 80% and the tertiary enrolment rate for 19–23 year-olds from 12% to over 50%.
A greater focus on innovation
Between 2006 and 2010, Morocco boosted its research effort from 0.64% to 0.73% of GDP, one of the highest ratios in the Arab world. The Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research has recommended doubling this ratio to 1.5% of GDP by 2025, in its Vision for Education in Morocco 2015–2030. The global average for research spending is 1.7% of GDP.
The business enterprise sector contributes 30% of Moroccan expediture on research and development. This was not always the case, however. In 2001, domestic enterprises funded just 22%. Through the National Fund for Scientific Research and Technological Development (2001), the government has encouraged companies to support research in their sector through the fund. Moroccan telecom operators, for instance, have been persuaded to cede 0.25% of their turnover. Today, they finance about 80% of all public research projects in telecommunications supported through this fund.
The Moroccan Innovation Strategy was launched at the country’s first National Innovation Summit in June 2009 by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Investment and the Digital Economy. It has three main thrusts: to develop domestic demand for innovation; foster public–private linkages; and introduce innovative funding mechanisms. The latter include Intilak for innovative start-ups and Tatwir for industrial enterprises or consortia. The ministry is supporting research in advanced technologies and the development of innovative cities in Fez, Rabat and Marrakesh.
Three technoparks have sprung up in Tangers, Casablanca and Rabat. They host start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises specializing in information and communication technologies (ICTs), green technologies and cultural industries.
The Moroccan Innovation Strategy fixed the target of producing 1 000 Moroccan patents and creating 200 innovative start-ups by 2014. In parallel, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and New Technologies created a Moroccan Club of Innovation in 2011, in partnership with the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property. The idea is to create a network of players in innovation, including researchers, entrepreneurs, students and academics, to help them develop innovative projects.
The government is also encouraging citizen engagement in innovation on the part of public institutions. For instance, the Moroccan Phosphate Office (Office chérifien des phosphates) is investing in a project to develop a smart city, King Mohammed VI Green City, around Mohammed VI University located between Casablanca and Marrakesh, at a cost of 4.7 billion dirhams (circa US$ 479 million).
Competitive funds to foster technology transfer
A number of competitive funds are fostering university–business partnerships, as these remain limited in Morocco. The Moroccan Spin-off and Incubation Network (Réseau Maroc incubation et essaimage), for instance, supports business incubation, in general, and technology transfer through university spin-offs, in particular. It provides start-ups with pre-seed capital to help them develop a solid business plan. The network is co-ordinated by the National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research and currently groups 14 incubators at some of the top Moroccan universities.
Calls for research proposals issued by the Hassan II Academy of Science and Technology (est. 2006) encourage private–public collaboration and take into consideration the project’s potential socio-economic impact or spillovers.
For its part, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research places 11 poles of competence under contract for four years to bring public and private research establishments together on a joint project through its accredited laboratories. The poles include one on medicinal and aromatic plants, another on higher energy physics, a third on condensed matter and systems modelling and a fourth on neurogenetics.
The Moroccan Research Association’s third InnovAct programme (2011) provides companies with logistical support and the financial means to recruit university graduates to work on their research project. SMEs pay 50–60% of project costs and consortia of enterprises 80%. The programme aims to support up to 30 enterprises each year operating mainly in the following industries: metallurgical, mechanical, electronic and electrical; chemical and parachemical; agro-food; textiles; technologies for water and environment; aeronautics; biotechnology; nanotechnology; off-shoring; and, last but not least, automotive.
(1) Paris Agreement
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