The agricultural sector in rural Morocco is generally seen as stuck with traditional means of production as well as traditional approaches to agriculture. ElAgri challenges this view and stands out through innovation in management techniques, technology integration, and ecological positive action. ElAgri adapts humanistic approaches to management that are focused on engaging and involving workers. The business also Integrates software and machinery that are especially designed and updated to fit their operations and circumstances. Moreover, the business has a clear focus on sustainability and ecological action. These innovations intersect with many UN Sustainability and Development Goals, especially with zero hunger, climate action, economic development, and good health and well-being.
Al Akhawayn University
Mary Grace Neville
ElAgri is a business located in Biougra, a small town in the agricultural Souss region of Morocco. ElAgri is a family farm business focused on dairy milk production. It is owned by Mhammed Elhjouji and managed by his son Brahim Elhjouji. Brahim is a 41 year old enthusiastic man who grew up in the farm and joined the business soon after his graduation as an agricultural engineer. Brahim is happy to discuss with us the innovative direction that the business takes. He presents the innovation as having three main dimensions: managerial, technological, and ecological.
Earlier this year, Brahim organized a meeting with all the employees of the business to articulate a vision and mission for the business. The employees were equal in the meeting which is reflected in the draft that came out of the meeting. The draft, translated from Arabic, reads as follows:
We adopt a behavior governed by our values and principles which makes us feel a sense of belonging. Our goal is to become a model for a the responsible and successful enterprise that achieves quality both in its product and in the conditions of production.
Brahim insists that the draft is not yet complete and looks forward to more meetings to both strengthen the engagement of the workers within the business as well as as to better articulate the mission of ElAgri. The draft, however, already reflects the focus on a sense of belonging and on raising the standards both of the products made and of the production environment. This is far from the stereotypical image of management in rural Morocco which is often depicted as approaching a feudal system.
According to Brahim Elhjouji, innovative management goes hand in hand with technological management. While many dairy farming businesses in Morocco are adopting cutting-edge technology coming from all over the world, ElAgri innovates by selectively adopting existing technologies and designing new solutions when those aren’t readily available. Brahim provides as an example of this the software used to run the business. The software includes many state-of-the-art dairy farm management programs, but since those are generally made for tech-savvy European employees, Brahim developed a management system for the farm which uses those softwares and simplifies them for the average ElAgri employee. In addition to simplifying the procedures, the management system also uses Arabic rather than the standard French. This makes it more accessible for the employees who have to use it on a daily basis.
Both the owner and manager of ElAgri agree that sustainability is essential to the survival of any business as well as to the general survival of our planet. The Souss region is suffering from dwindling water supplies. The situation is estimated to turn dire on the next twenty years and ElAgri is currently innovating solutions to the problem. In 2016, ElAgri conducted a experiment with a Hong Kong startup testing new irrigation alternatives that consume less water. The experiment’s results were not as promising as everyone hoped but Brahim insists that investing in innovation brings great benefits despite setbacks along the way.
Brahim’s passion for effective and humanistic management started at an early age. He grew up with and around the workers of the farm, which led him to grow deep connections to their interests and their concerns. As an agricultural engineering student, he chose to do his capstone project on the behavior of farm workers and the results of different management approaches. He already stood out from the average engineering students who were focused on more technical subjects. This passion developed and flourished into innovative management approaches as the business grew.
Technological innovations have been inspired by the manager’s passion for science as well as by the good results that technological innovations have brought the business. As for the ecological innovations, they are inspired by a deep belief that the business must respect the nature and environment that allows it to conduct its operations. This respect is based on the culture of the Souss region as well as in the influence of the global ecological movement which is seen by Mhammed Elhjouji and his son as a justified and necessary cause.
The short-term effects include better working conditions, resulting in the attraction of enthusiastic employees. This is evidenced by the continuing improvements to the workers’ living quarters during their stay in the farm as well as the adoption of uniforms designed to increase both employee safety and the feeling of belonging.
The long-term effects include the fast growth of the business. For the past 10 years, the farm went from a dairy farm of 70 cows to having 260 cows, without counting the calves, meaning it almost quadrupled in size. This growth is project not only to continue, but also to grow, thanks to improvement to the barns and the introduction of cooling systems that lower the temperatures during summer to be closer to that of the cows natural environment. The cooling system uses sprays to lightly spray tiny water molecules. This was adopted rather than electrical cooling because it doesn’t require the barns to be closed off and therefore allows the cows to live in a relatively open space and under natural light.
Over the last ten years, as the number of cows rose from 70 to 260, the average productivity of each cow rose as well. This meant that the quantity of milk produced rose even more sharply than the number of cows. The business produced an average of two tons of milk a day ten years ago, compared with 8 tons a day today. Brahim attributes these improvements to the following factors: “Selective breeding, management, feed, health conditions, the barn, machinery and infrastructure. Most importantly management as it brings everything together. Good management is what allows you to improve; it allows you to determine where the error is so you can then fix it”.
Since the conducting the interview with Mr. Brahim Ehjouji, ElAgri has recently received the first prize in the Meknes Agricultural Festival for best dairy cow of the holstein variety. This prize joins many prizes previously won by ElAgri including best dairy farmers in Morocco which they previously won at the same festival.
Currently, ElAgri is in the experimental step of new product development, they are considering the possibility of moving into the cheese factory. In the current step, ElAgri is making small samples of cheese and testing them in the market to see how they fare. The next planned step is to build a cheese manufacturing plant within the farm to control the full process of production. Brahim refers to this as the business expanding vertically as well as horizontally to reduce its dependence on often unstable markets and to diversify its income sources.
ElAgri’s social and environmental commitments are leaving a large impact in their surroundings. Socially, the company is committed to taking care of its own. When one of the employees had cancer, the manager personally took care of the bureaucratic processes he had to go through to receive treatment as well as his transport for treatment and for his operations. During the time the employee was struggling with cancer, he was paid and his family was housed in the farm and provided for. Thankfully, the worker recovered and shows no more signs of cancer. Perhaps the part of the interview that was most reflective of Brahim’s approach to management was when Younes pointed out to him that acting socially responsible also brings financial benefits for the company. Brahim’s response was that “We do these things regardless of their financial outcomes. Being socially responsible is an end in itself.”
Brahim El Hjouji, CEO
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Business Website: None
Year Founded: 1995
Number of Employees: 11 to 50