The Political Economy of Sugar Packets in Morocco

Every time I return to DC from a trip to Morocco, I am usually asked, “So, what has changed in Morocco?” Beyond the boom of Gulf-funded commercial real estate, the ongoing gentrification of the popular neighborhoods outside major cities, the shifting consumption habits stepping away from the open-air souks and more towards the glossy-floored supermarkets, there was nothing I found that exemplified the political economic landscape in Morocco more than sugar packets.

The late afternoon and early evening café sittings in Morocco are common practice and there is, without a doubt, a prevalent café culture. With every caffeinated beverage ordered, there is a hefty dose of sugar packets on the side of the saucer. I had suspicions that these sugar packets were far bigger than in the past. To confirm my suspicions, I brought a couple back with me to DC and asked family members who reacted with surprise at the size.

Morocco’s sugar industry is entirely monopolized under the country’s only sugar refining company, Cosumar. Its majority shareholders are the royal family, through the recently merged holding company, National Investment Company (SNI). Since it was created as the country’s first sugar refinery, Cosumar has maintained its dominance in the realm of sugar production.

Back in the first half of 2011, when the February 20 Movement was taking off in Morocco, aside from the Mohammed VI’s political response via his 9 March speech announcing a “reformed” constitution, there was also an economic response. Less than a month later, the regime increased public wages and nearly doubled food subsidies, some of which went towards the increase in subsidies for sugar production.

It was also recently reported that the royal family’s holding company was going to be putting up its shares in Cosumar. The timing coincidently parallels the approval of an IMF loan to Morocco, which will undoubtedly come with the stipulations of cutting down subsidies and some form of “privatization.” (I’m ironizing “privatization” because the privatization process in Morocco has some curious cycles of entrapping capital within the same hands of those who rule, surprise surprise!)

I’ll conclude this with a few pictures showing a side by side comparison of sugar packets in Morocco and the standard sugar packets in the US. I might adapt this post into something more extensive that takes into consideration the rising rates of diabetes and the general increase of sugar in the average Moroccan’s diet (not just coffee and tea, but soda, candy, cookies, etc.)

The two packets on far right are from Morocco

The two packets on far right are from Morocco

The two packets on far right are from Morocco

The two packets on far right are from Morocco

The two packets on far right are from Morocco

The two packets on far right are from Morocco

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2 thoughts on “The Political Economy of Sugar Packets in Morocco

  1. Samia,

    You now better than that. That’s not a fair comparison. This is like comparing apples to oranges.

    The blue packet, labeled Equal or NutraSweet, is 180 times sweeter than sugar, a little goes a long way.
    The yellow packet, Splenda, is Sucralose which is a no-calorie, high quality sweetener. It is approximately 600 times sweeter than sugar. Hence, the difference in the amount you’d find in a sugar packet versus a packet that contains a sweetener.

    Granted, Moroccans do consume a lot of sugar in their daily lives. I agree with that.

    Keep up the good work.

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