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1 Long considered the “forgotten people” of rural studies, foreign seasonal workers have undergone a revival in the social sciences since the 1990s (Hubscher and Farcy, 1996; Diry, 2008; Morice and Potot, 2010). Most of this research offers a perspective on the wage labour of a category of migrant workers who move between the shores of the Mediterranean and whose mobility is limited in time and space (Morice and Michalon, 2008; Mésini, 2013; Zeneidi-Henry, 2013; Arab, 2018). As workspaces for “birds of passage” (Piore, 1979), as refuges for asylum seekers whose applications are pending (Bonerandi, 2008), rural spaces are seen as migratory vestibules through which people pass without staying. Those who settle and establish themselves there are the proponents of a “neo-rural utopia” (Rouvière, 2015), or entrepreneurs from the middle and upper classes who have strong European social networks (Saleilles, 2006). As for the settlement of the most vulnerable populations, it is often approached from the perspective of precariousness and the risk of their “captivity” (Rougé, 2009; Hochedez and Mialocq, 2015). Recent observations have revealed agricultural settlements emerging in contexts of crisis (Dolci and Perrin, 2017). The new farmers in declining French rural spaces include former foreign workers who describe themselves as “rural workers from the hess” [1] (Durbiano, 1980; Lascaux, 2019; Darly et al., 2021).

2 In order to escape wage labour, these workers turn to entrepreneurial careers, following a generic logic of action in which a company is the vector of a capitalist-type market economy (Chauvin et al., 2014). For migrant populations, entrepreneurship is a means of action to renegotiate their place in the host societies. By developing know-how and capabilities, migrant entrepreneurs become aware of their position, which they can shape by acting deliberately (De Certeau, 1990; Ma Mung, 2009). These entrepreneurial initiatives are often considered in terms of groups whose cohesion is based on community complicity (Raulin, 2000). However, more than an ethnic economic niche, for individuals from a background of wage labour and migration, becoming an entrepreneur reflects an ethic of performance that relies on solidarity generated by circumstances. Being an “adventurer in market capitalism” is a way for these individuals, who have been disaffiliated by their wage-earning and migratory conditions, to find productive utility and social recognition (Castel, 1994; Peraldi, 1999). To achieve this, these entrepreneurs with limited investment capacity rely on informal practices. The term “informality” refers to all activities that produce resources that are not recorded by the state (Portes et al., 1989). Among Moroccan farmers, these take several forms: interpersonal negotiations for access to land resources, concealed buying and reselling activities, resourcefulness in acquiring and managing equipment, undeclared recruitment of labour force, etc. In this sense, these new agricultural entrepreneurs slot into the folds of urban and rural economies.

3 In this article, I discuss the specificity of the entrepreneurial forms adopted by workers with a migration background who become farmers in French rural spaces. Does the decline of agricultural activity in France represent an opportunity for migrant workers to settle? Do the entrepreneurial strategies used by these new farmers — particularly informal practices — make them a distinct category of producers? For several decades, certain French rural spaces, such as the Mediterranean huerta, have been experiencing a movement of agricultural abandonment. This neglect creates interstitial spaces that are taken up by workers of foreign origin in search of career progression. They see becoming agricultural entrepreneurs as a way of economically and socially enhancing their position in the local area. However, the context of farmland abandonment encourages the use of informal practices by these farmers of the crisis. The originality of the migratory and entrepreneurial pathways of Moroccan farmers makes them a new category of producers in the Provençal huerta.

4 This article is based on doctoral research. Given the limited information available on this topic, a qualitative approach was adopted. It took the form of several periods of participant observation (one year in total) with Moroccan farmers in the Comtat, the Lower Durance Valley and the Berre and Crau plains. Given my family’s background in arboriculture in the Lower Durance Valley, I relied on an informal local social network to make contact with Moroccan farmers. This immersion was supplemented by some sixty interviews — conducted between 2016 and 2019 — with Moroccan farmers, farmers from local families, institutional actors and traders in the vegetable growing sector. This article focuses on the profiles of Moroccan farmers. It is therefore mainly based on the corpus of interviews conducted with these actors. In order to protect the respondents, the names of the actors and the municipalities have been changed.

5 Firstly, I will describe the context that allows migrant workers to set up in farming in the Mediterranean rural space. Then, I will discuss the unity and diversity of the phenomenon of Moroccan farmers through the prism of three different entrepreneurial profiles: pioneer, convert and sponsored. Finally, I will analyse the modes of setting up this agricultural activity, based on common strategies: imitation of the huerta production system model and use of informal practices.

Foreign Workers who Settle in a Provençal Huerta in Decline

6 Foreign seasonal workers are the main labour force on which the Mediterranean huerta relies today. They have been present in French rural areas for several decades and have witnessed the decline of the production system that employed them. The uncultivated interstices of the Provençal countryside offer them the opportunity to set up their own businesses.

Moroccans in the Fields of Provence

7 Since the 2000s, the literature has focused on the flow of foreign seasonal workers into the European countryside. In the second half of the twentieth century, urbanisation and the tertiarisation of work attracted rural workers to neighbouring towns. Having been abandoned, the French countryside has since been plagued by a local “labour force crisis” (Morice and Michalon, 2008). To compensate for these departures, farmers call on workers from the Maghreb, Eastern and Southern Europe. This recourse to seasonal and interannual transnational migratory circuits makes it possible to ensure the functioning of French farms with a foreign workforce. The recruitment of this workforce is largely based on seasonal contracts (cf. Box 1).

Box 1: Employment Contracts for Foreign Seasonal Workers in France [2]

The Office national d’immigration (French National Immigration Office-ONI) was created in 1945 to bring foreign workers to France under labour contracts. In 1974 the suspension of permanent labour immigration led to its renaming as the Office des migrations internationales (French Office of International Migration-OMI). Migrant workers were then seasonal workers from countries that had signed labour agreements with France. They came to France under “OMI contracts”, whose duration varied between four and six months. In practice, the contracts were almost systematically extended to eight months. Once the contract expires, the worker is required to leave French territory.
The integration of Spain and Portugal into the European Union in 1992 led to a refocusing of transnational labour flows from the Maghreb to the vegetable and tree-growing areas of south-eastern France, particularly the Bouches-du-Rhône department. In 2005, the OMI was renamed the Agence nationale de l’accueil des étrangers et des migrations (French National Agency for the Reception of Foreigners and Migration-ANAEM). Two years later, in 2007, after a long legal battle led by the Collectif de défense des travailleur·euse·s étranger·ère·s dans l’agriculture (CODETRAS), some of the workers who had worked more than eight months a year in France for several years obtained permanent residence permits in France. ANAEM contracts were thereafter strictly limited to six months. In 2009, ANAEM became the Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration (French Office for Immigration and Integration-OFII).
At the same time, the 2000s saw the emergence of a new type of foreign worker, the posted worker. Employed by companies based in EU countries, these workers are posted to other European countries where they provide a service on a temporary basis. In Provence, many Spanish service providers hire out the services of Latin American agricultural workers based in Spain.

8 Finally, a minority of farm workers are asylum seekers waiting for their application to be processed. Initiatives are limited to the actions of local associations and remain rare in the rural environment of Provence.

9 The limits in terms of time and space that these contracts impose on workers are the subject of strong criticism. They are denounced as tools of a restrictive migratory system, regulated by states (Décosse, 2011). Seasonal workers are employed in flexible and reversible conditions, according to the context, and are subject to the prevailing situation in the territories where they work. Similarly, their working and living conditions depend on the farms where they end up (Mésini, 2013).

10 Despite these constraints, vast numbers of Moroccans apply for these work contracts, which allow them to obtain a residence permit and long-term access to French territory. [3] Just over 8,000 seasonal workers were involved in this procedure in 2018, a quarter of whom worked on farms in the Bouches-du-Rhône (cf. Graph 1).

Graph 1: Evolution of the Number of Seasonal Work Contracts between France and Morocco in France and in the Bouches-du-Rhône between 2006 and 2018

Figure 0

Graph 1: Evolution of the Number of Seasonal Work Contracts between France and Morocco in France and in the Bouches-du-Rhône between 2006 and 2018

Source: Author’s personal documents from the OFII (2019) [4].

11 This graph shows a drop in OFII contracts between 2006 and 2014, when they were reduced by two thirds. Although the number of contracts decreased, the proportion of Moroccan workers remained significant, particularly in the Bouches-du-Rhône, where they represented almost all foreign workers on seasonal contracts. There were more than 2,000 of them working in the department in 2018.

12 This decline in seasonal work contracts is linked to several factors. On the one hand, in recent years other populations have been competing in the seasonal labour market in the French countryside, including workers from Eastern Europe, as well as workers from Latin America posted in farming through Spanish agencies (cf. Box 1) (Castracani et al., 2021a). On the other hand, the abandonment of agricultural land in the Provençal huerta, the main employer of this migrant labour, reduces the possibilities of recruitment of these workers, whose contracts have to be renewed every year. Foreign agricultural workers — mainly Moroccans since the 1980s — have moved into French rural spaces, particularly the Provençal huerta. Moroccan workers who have remained on French territory — most often through matrimonial strategies that give rise to “migration through marriage” [5] (Le Bail et al., 2018) or by benefitting from the waves of regularisation at the turn of the 1970s — have been evolving in a rural space that has been neglected since the 1990s. They see an opportunity to set up their own business.

The Uncultivated “Garden of France”, an Opportunity to Set Up Farms

13 Between 1970 and 2010, the number of active farmers was divided by three and a half in the Bouches-du-Rhône. [6] This reduction was accompanied by a reduction in the surface area cultivated. Taking all crops together, the decrease in surface area amount to approximately 20%. However, on the fine scale of vegetable and tree production, the cultivated area fell by more than 50% over two decades (cf. Table 1).

Table 1: Evolution of Fresh Vegetable and Pome Fruit Production by Surface Area between 1988 and 2010

Figure 1

Table 1: Evolution of Fresh Vegetable and Pome Fruit Production by Surface Area between 1988 and 2010

14 There has been a decrease in the number of agricultural assets and in the area cultivated for tree and vegetable production, which are the most labour-intensive. This decline in the number of farms affects farm workers and is indicative of a shrinking labour market. For those who have obtained residence permits on the territory, starting up a business appears to be a way to overcome these difficulties and to secure their income, as Kamel explains:


France is not like it used to be. Now it’s harder for foreigners to find a job than to start up on their own [...]. And it’s better to be self-employed. I do the same things as before, the same hard work, except that I earn a better living.” (Interview with Kamel, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 3 July 2019)

16 In order to set up their own businesses, former Moroccan workers move into areas abandoned by local farmers. The decline of farming is expressed on a local scale in an abandoned landscape. This is the product of a two-pronged trend of cessation of agricultural activity and putting on hold of land resources (Elloumi and Jouve, 2003; Jarrige et al., 2003), as Ghyslaine, a farmer from a local family, explains:


Little by little the village, which was entirely a farming village in the 1960s, has been emptied of its farmers. Today there is hardly anyone left. There are not many fruit farms anymore, there are still a few vegetable farms. And now most of the land has become wilderness. It’s been twenty years now.” (Interview with Ghyslaine, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 1 May 2020)

18 The abandoned agricultural lands take various forms depending on the type of agriculture that used to be practised: abandoned trees in the Lower Durance Valley, which was essentially a tree-growing area; dilapidated greenhouses and gaits [7] in the Berre and Crau plains, where vegetable growing was more technical (Lascaux, 2022). These abandoned plots form interstices in which Moroccan farmers starting out set up business. By interstices we refer to spaces that were at the centre of business and that have undergone a process of marginalisation, causing a blockage in their use and access to them. In this case, they are spaces where farming, which used to be central, has been suspended, but where no other activity has been established. This neglect also has a social aspect, as workers are out of work.

19 Moroccan farm workers live in a once vibrant area where farming activity has declined considerably. They have witnessed the crumbling of local farming communities. Some have seen this as an opportunity to access areas that were previously inaccessible to them. Oussama explains how his father gradually took over the business of his former boss:


It was my father who found all the plots when he set up. He started with not even one hectare I think, and then little by little he looked for and found other plots like that, here and there. I think it was quite easy to get land at that time. As he was a farm worker, he knew farmers. So he asked those who were retiring to rent him their land. He’s been in business for twenty-one years now, and he really started from scratch.” (Interview with Oussama, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 11 March 2016)

21 The decline of the Provençal huerta is an opportunity for Moroccan migrant workers to break out of the situation of salaried worker. To gain access to this abandoned land resource, they negotiate their settlement with the owners using informal practices (Lascaux, 2019). In this way, they participate in the entrepreneurial movement observed since the end of the twentieth century among migrant populations who convert occupations carried out as workers into businesses (Peraldi, 1999). Moroccan farmers renew a migratory cycle in which they follow the Italians, who set up their own businesses in the region two decades previously (Durbiano, 1980). The specificity of Moroccan farmers relates to their numbers. They seize the opportunity of setting up a farm to develop their business and thus renegotiate their place in the local space. This group, which seems uniform in the Mediterranean rural landscape, is nonetheless made up of several profiles with different backgrounds.

Pioneer, Convert or Sponsored: Three Profiles of Moroccan Farmers

22 At first glance, the phenomenon of Moroccan farmers seems to correspond to a particular social group: seasonal farm workers with a migrant background, who have embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure. However, the trajectories of the various Moroccan farmers interviewed revealed three different profiles, which I have termed: pioneers, converts and sponsored.

Pioneers, the Farm Workers

23 Setting up as a farmer was not part of the initial migration project of the first generation of Moroccan seasonal workers who came to work in France. The term “migration project” is used here to mean an intentional departure from the country of origin with a view to economic and social success that would enable the migrant to obtain social recognition from his or her group (Timera, 2001). This approach emphasises the evolving nature of the migration project based on the individual’s interactions with his or her environment. It also invites consideration of the interdependent relationships between the country of origin and the country of arrival (Boyer and Mounkaila, 2010; De Gourcy, 2013). The deterioration of working conditions in rural Provence, combined with the opportunity to settle on abandoned agricultural lands, contributed to changing the trajectories of these workers. Some of them arrived in Provence in the 1980s and started to set up their own business in the 2000s. The portrait of Driss, below, provides an example of the pathway taken by those I describe as pioneers (cf. Box 2).

Box 2: Driss, a Pioneer

Driss was born in rural Casablanca and came to Europe at the age of 28 in the mid-1980s to “earn more money”, as he puts it. At first, he stayed in Italy, where he had a series of seasonal contracts, before coming to France to be recruited. In 1985, he worked in a shipping company in the Lower Durance Valley. In 2003, he obtained permanent resident status through his marriage to a Moroccan woman with French nationality. His employer then lent him 2,000 m² of land to grow herbs, which he sold on Saturdays at the market in a nearby village. He invested the profits in seeds and started to grow vegetables. The following year, the company he worked for went bankrupt. He then started growing crops without declaring them. In 2005 he decided to regularise his situation. He was not officially recognised as a farmer by the state until five years later. He now farms more than a dozen hectares.
(Interview with Driss, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 20 April 2019)

24 The pioneers thus correspond to the typical profile of the seasonal worker recruited by the OFII: single men who migrated in their prime — between the ages of thirty and forty-five — to secure a better income. Most of them were already rural farmers in Morocco and come from the ailing countryside of the Fès-Meknès region. [8] These pioneers, now retired, are part of the first generation of Moroccans to have migrated to France in the 1970s under seasonal work contracts. Initially managed by the OMI and then the ANAEM, these contracts are now regulated by the OFII (cf. Box 1) (Morice, 2008). After several decades of work as farm workers, they saw local farmers suffer economic collapse in the 1990s. They seized this opportunity to move onto land that was no longer being farmed. While some of these pioneers went bankrupt and reverted to wage labour, others developed viable farms that their children took over.

From Father to Son: The Converts

25 When they come to work in France, foreign agricultural workers sometimes leave their wives and children behind. Those who managed to settle in France were able to bring their families with them under family reunification policies. The second profile of Moroccan farmers — whom I have described as “converts” — consists of the children of these agricultural workers. Mostly born in Morocco, these co-migrants came to France as children or teenagers (before the age of fifteen). They grew up and went to school in France, switching to vocational training very early on. Many of them entered the labour market at an early age and suffered long years of wage labour in low-skilled jobs. The low wages and the repetitive nature of the work led to their desire to become professionally independent and to increase their income, as Mohammed explains:


I came to France when I was fourteen. My brother stayed in Morocco with my mother, and I stayed with my father, who was a farm worker here [...]. To be honest, I did farming for the money. And to be free. Before I was a truck driver, until I was thirty-three, and I didn’t earn enough [...]. And besides, I didn’t want to have a boss. I didn’t want to obey anyone, I wanted to be free.” (Interview with Mohammed, farmer, Comtat, 7 August 2019)

27 Another section of these co-migrants who grew up in France found themselves in a labour market where selection made it more difficult for these low-skilled young people to get employment (Silberman and Fournier, 1999). The social capital they have — and which they can use to find a job — is oriented towards the agricultural world in which their fathers evolved. Akram’s story — outlined in Box 3 — illustrates the difficulties encountered in the world of work by these low-skilled workers.

Box 3: Akram, the Pathway of a Convert

Akram was born in France in 1990, just after his father arrived from Morocco. After secondary school, he enrolled for an electrical engineering diploma and then did a series of odd jobs: electrician, forklift operator, order picker, delivery driver. Following a dispute with his former boss, who refused to pay him for his training period, he took his case to the industrial tribunal and found himself out of work. So he took over from his father, as a crop manager, in a neighbouring farm where he had worked in the summer during his adolescence. He resigned when his boss refused to increase his salary. He then embarked on a career as a farmer.
(Interview with Akram, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 3 July 2019)

28 Most of the convert farmers fit this profile. They are between twenty-five and thirty-five years old and change jobs after several years of working as a salaried employee in order to improve their living and working conditions. They have no agricultural training, and the start of their business is often their first contact with the farming world, as Radouan admits: “My first encounter with farming was when I set up my business”. This profile began to emerge in the early 2010s, but since 2015 the number of converts has steadily increased. In 2016, when I carried out my initial fieldwork, there were no more than a dozen in the municipality where I started my study. When I returned in 2019, there were more than thirty. Many of them had just started up that year. Some took over a business passed on by their father, if the latter was a pioneer, while others set up on their own.

The Newcomers: The Sponsored

29 A final type of Moroccan farmer profile was identified: the sponsored. They come to France on seasonal contracts managed by other Moroccan farmers, pioneers or converts. They are linked to the extended family group of the producer who hires them and come to France with the aim of developing their own farm. As soon as they arrive as seasonal workers, they engage in a dual activity, both formal and informal. On the one hand, they work with their families as labourers. On the other hand, the farmer who takes them on teaches them the trade, helps them to acquire land and to set up their own business once they have obtained their residence permit. This settlement movement is very recent. The first of these profiles were only identified in the summer of 2019. Box 4 describes my first encounter with this type of profile.

Box 4: Ismaïl, a Sponsored Farmer

On the market last night, I met two farmers who are business partners, Ismaïl and Mouloud. Ismaïl is the more discreet of the two. He’s the one who farms. He came to France via Italy, where Driss went to get him and brought him across the border. It’s his wife’s cousin. Ismaïl got married and obtained his papers, then Driss hired him as a seasonal worker. He worked with him for nine years, before Driss helped him to set up his own business two years ago. He found him a piece of land where there are peach trees.
(Fieldwork notes, 31 July 2019)

30 We thus observe an evolution in the careers and migratory projects of Moroccans who have come to work in France and of their descendants. The success of the social group is achieved over several generations, through collective trajectories. These are built around entrepreneurial careers that develop through local social networks taking the form of enclaves, i.e. learning spaces (Portes and Manning, 1986). The role played by others of the same foreign origin has long been discussed in the literature (Waldinger and Aldrich, 1990; Ma Mung, 1994). The networks mobilised are based less on ethnic than on family characteristics. Indeed, the new Moroccan farmers put themselves in situations of family sponsorship, in relation to pioneers or converts. The entrepreneurial project is deployed in a niche system, i.e. at the intersection of an opportunity (land interstices to be farmed) and a migration project (the search for economic and social success) (Waldinger, 1994).

31 These changes cause a bifurcation of migrants’ careers. A career is understood as a process of changing status by learning new skills, as well as adopting a new social identity (Martiniello and Rea, 2011). Indeed, some of the Moroccans who migrate — or have co-migrated — to France no longer see wage labour as the only possible perspective. As soon as they arrive in France, they turn to agricultural entrepreneurship. The success of some of them causes a knock-on and imitation effect, as Driss summarises when he talks about former farm workers and their children:


A lot of people have started to do rural work to be self-employed, to do better than their boss. I started first and it worked well, so others want to do the same as me. [...] They all want to farm because they earn more.” (Interview with Driss, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 20 April 2019)

33 The Moroccan farmers thus form a heterogeneous group, with varied trajectories and profiles, which succeed one another over several generations. However, despite this diversity, the three profiles identified reflect a similar logic and entrepreneurial strategies making it possible to identify them as a new category of producers in the Provençal huerta.

Moroccans in the Huerta: A New Category of Producers in Provence

34 The Moroccan farmers who embark on entrepreneurship have a common strategy: they imitate the intensive production system of the huerta. They thus renew Provençal agriculture according to the model whose decline they have witnessed. However, they evolve in the ruins of this agriculture, now abandoned by local farming families. Hidden in the interstices of this ailing agricultural space, they incorporate informal practices into their business strategy. In this way, they reactivate and accentuate the excesses of the Provençal production system.

The Courgette Rush: An Imitation of the Local Production System

35 When they move into the interstices of the Provençal huerta, Moroccan farmers reinterpret the production system of the huerta according to their means and strategies. They therefore opt for seasonal vegetable monocultures for mass consumption such as courgettes in summer and lettuces and turnips in winter. In contrast to contemporary neo-rural farming settlements which, despite a range of social backgrounds, generally favour seasonal organic polycultures on small plots, marketed through local distribution channels (Lanciano and Saleilles, 2010), Moroccan neo-producers consider the intensive Mediterranean agricultural system to be a desirable business model. They reactivate the agricultural vocation of the Provençal huerta before it was abandoned by local producers, but they also change the agricultural trajectories in two ways. On the one hand, they reactivate the production and nourishment vocation of this emblematic space of intensive agriculture. On the other hand, this renewal takes place according to a reorganisation reflecting their means and strategies. They focus on intensive vegetable production, which offers the highest return for minimum investment, as well as guaranteed profitability for farmers who have few initial resources (Gauthier, 2001). For example, while in the Berre plain the core product is soilless tomatoes, [9] Moroccan farmers prefer field crops, which require less labour, investment, equipment and technical know-how. Figure 1 compares the structure of the same farm ten years apart. In 2009, Lucien, a farmer from an old farming family in Berre, ceased farming. He grew his core products for the last time: melon in a greenhouse and soilless tomatoes. Ten years later, he began renting part of his farm to his neighbour — and the other to Driss, the son of his former Moroccan farm worker. While Lucien’s neighbour continues to grow the same melons, Driss has changed crops: he now grows courgettes and beans in the ground, which are less labour-intensive and less technical.

Figure 1: Evolution of Lucien’s Farm in the Berre Plain between 2009 and 2019

Figure 2

Figure 1: Evolution of Lucien’s Farm in the Berre Plain between 2009 and 2019

Sources: Google Earth, 2018; fieldwork, 2019.

36 Moroccan farmers bring back farming to the abandoned areas of the Mediterranean huerta, but in their own way. They redesign this area of production according to a logic of smaller-scale crops. In a sense, they demonstrate the end of the productivist model based on the ideal of the farmer-technocrat (Hervieu and Mayer, 2010). Nevertheless, they imitate part of this system by following a logic of intensive and profitable production. They renew production logics and Mediterranean landscapes in an ambiguous way. They reproduce the old model of the Provençal huerta in its own ruins, thereby reinventing an agriculture of crisis. These producers of foreign origin thus form part of a local agricultural model.

Selling and Producing in the Region

37 By moving into the local space, Moroccan farmers raise the entrepreneurial issue from a rural and local perspective. The implementation of entrepreneurial activities along migratory pathways has mainly been considered in terms of transnational commercial and economic modalities in urban settings (Portes et al., 2002). However, these entrepreneurial practices also exist in rural spaces, although they are more difficult to grasp (Tarrius, 1989). Agricultural activities present numerous space-time constraints that result in a specific relationship between farmers and the territories they occupy. Is the specificity of fresh fruit and vegetable growing at the origin of a restructuring of the relationship between migrant persons and territories? This question can be examined through the territorialities deployed by Moroccan farmers around the marketplaces they frequent. Territoriality is understood here as the adoption of a mode of behaviour within an entity by a social group that contributes to its management and attributes to it a sense of belonging, but also of exclusion (Aldhuy, 2008).

38 As Moroccan farmers focus on intensive seasonal production, they also rely on local marketplaces to sell the goods produced. Indeed, agricultural products are perishable, especially during the summer period when the products harvested have to be moved within a day (Le Gouis, 1964), as Abdel, a former farm worker who has been self-employed for six years, explains:


I sell almost everything through shipping agents. And I make cash at the markets in the summer. I don’t have anywhere to store the goods, so everything has to go before the end of the day.” (Interview with Abdel, farmer, Lower Durance Valley, 6 April 2019)

40 This specificity requires rapid, daily regional distribution by the new Moroccan producers and merchants of their vegetables. The marketplaces are made up of two types of marketing structures: the wholesale markets, which are marchés d’intérêt nationaux (national wholesale markets-MIN) and shipping companies. The latter are managed by traders who buy goods in bulk from producers to repackage and resell them to supermarkets. The importance of the local marketplaces can be illustrated by a typical day for Akram, in the summer season, on market days (cf. Box 5).

Box 5: A typical Day for Akram, a Moroccan Farmer in the Lower Durance Valley

Midnight: Get up and go to the MIN in Les Arnavaux (Marseille)
2 am: Market starts
8 am: Delivery to supermarkets after the market
9 am: Return to the farm: management of workers (check on harvesting), ploughing, administration
11 am: Sleep
1 pm: Deliver the goods to the shipping agent (Comtat and Lower Durance Valley)
2 pm: Farm and crop management
3 pm: Go to the market in Saint-Étienne-du-Grès to buy goods (Comtat)
6 pm: Return from the market, management of the farm (checking harvesting and packaging of goods)
8 pm: End of working day
9 pm: Sleep
(Fieldwork, 2019)

41 Akram’s day is divided between his farm, in the Lower Durance Valley, and the various spaces of agricultural trade in the region: the wholesale and semi-wholesale markets and the shipping companies. All of these places are within a one-hundred-kilometre radius of Akram’s farm. Thus, Moroccan vegetable growers become part of and resupply marketplaces that are losing ground — due to an ever-decreasing number of Provençal vegetable growers. The producers’ wholesale markets are structured in the region in a dense, tight network of marketplaces (Durbiano, 1996). As both producers and traders, Moroccan farmers see their areas of movement circumscribed on a regional scale. These particularities, linked to the specificity of agricultural work, allow us to consider the entrepreneurial practices of Moroccan farmers from a local perspective. Their territoriality, as the deployment of their daily work and living spaces, is not transnational but regional.

42 These considerations provide a basis for reclassifying the commercial practices of entrepreneurs of foreign origin. The informal market associations that exist between Moroccan farmers, retailers and shipping companies, and their integration into commercial channels that are mostly controlled by traditional local actors in the Mediterranean fruit and vegetable system, point to the existence of “opportunity structures”. These are linked to the conditions that favour the sale of products and services on the markets, and more broadly to the deployment of the entrepreneurial project (Waldinger and Aldrich, 1990). They are manifested here by the mobilisation of local commercial resources already present on the territory. The relationships that develop between the Moroccan farmers as new actors, and the local commercial elites demonstrate solidarity based on circumstance, not on a shared cultural identity, but on “weak ties” (Granovetter, 1995) driven by a shared commitment to a “performance ethic” (Peraldi, 1999). In addition, Moroccan farmers mainly sell products for mass consumption. Their products are indistinct on market and supermarket stands. They do not structure a symbolic, identity-based exchange in relation to the market transaction, as may be the case with products intended for a specific clientele on the basis of cultural, ethnic or religious criteria, for example. These economic practices cannot be described as “ethnic trade” (Ma Mung, 1994). Finally, Moroccan farmers develop entrepreneurial strategies that rely on integrating local networks. These merchant-producers are mobile, but within a restricted regional perimeter. However, their entrepreneurial strategies draw on similar resources to those observed among transnational entrepreneurs, particularly with regard to informal practices.

Informal Practices as a Business Strategy

43 In the same way that the access to land of Moroccan farmers involves informal arrangements (Lascaux, 2021), the construction of their farming business relies on informal practices. More precisely, informality refers here to practices of deliberate concealment, which are part of the operation of the businesses and are visible in their landscape (cf. Figure 2). These practices take place in many aspects of the business and in several forms: negotiations for access to land and plant protection products, resourcefulness in finding equipment, concealed purchasing and reselling of products, use of undocumented labour, non-compliance with hygiene and labour law standards, etc. They can be identified through signs often found among Moroccan farmers. They are highlighted through analysis of Figure 2, which tells the story, in the form of a comic strip, of my meeting with Mokhtar.

Figure 2: Meeting with Mokhtar, a Moroccan Farmer Using Many Informal Practices

Figure 3

Figure 2: Meeting with Mokhtar, a Moroccan Farmer Using Many Informal Practices

Credit: A. Lascaux (design); A. Rigaud (production), Comtat, 2019.

44 Certain aspects of Mokhtar’s farm reveal concealment practices in its operation (cf. Figure 2). The comic strip starts with a chance encounter, which highlights the refusal of some Moroccan farmers to enter into contact with external actors, in this case a young researcher whose academic activity may be associated with that of institutional actors considered undesirable (labour inspectorate, inspectors from the Mutualité Sociale Agricole — French mutual agricultural fund, etc.). The visit to the farm was made possible by a service provided to Mokhtar. The third square shows a farm that is difficult to locate because it is hidden by abandoned land. The subsequent squares highlight situations that breach safety, hygiene and labour law standards. In the fourth square, the windows of the gait [10] where the labourers are working are damaged. They present a risk of injury. This state of disrepair is explained by the informal and cheap rental of the greenhouse from a retired farmer. The aggressive hunting dogs suggest the Moroccan farmer’s desire to dissuade strangers from approaching his farm (square 10). The dilapidated but furnished mobile homes point to poor housing conditions for some of the workers (square 12). Finally, the discovery of the legal status of Mokhtar’s workers as asylum seekers indicates concealed work practices. Although in theory asylum seekers can obtain the right to work temporarily on French territory, this procedure is very rarely applied. In the last square, we see that Mokhtar drops his workers off at the corner of the CADA, [11] away from the main entrance, so as not to be seen.

45 Informal practices are not specific to Moroccan producers. They are common in the agricultural sector, both with regard to production and marketing and to relations with wage labour (Vounouki, 2003; Mésini, 2013). However, the case of Mokthar shows a specific way in which Moroccan farmers manage their farms. While he describes himself as a “rural worker from the hess”, underlining the hardship he faces, the dilapidated appearance of his farm reveals an entrepreneurial strategy based on concealment practices. Indeed, these practices are present at every stage of the entrepreneurial process: access to land resources is based on interpersonal negotiation skills, workspaces are concealed, and finally, the recruitment and management of labour are based on networks of inter-knowledge.

46 In order to understand the complexity of the situations, it is important to consider the various degrees of concealment used by Moroccan farmers. The development of the farming business is linked to strategic orientations, which take the form of a range of informalities, “from varying degrees of irregularity to radical illegality” (Fontaine and Weber, 2011). Thus, certain practices that breach health and safety rules, such as washing vegetables in public canals, are strategies demonstrating resourcefulness. Those who start out as “entrepreneurs without enterprises” (Granovetter, 1995) demonstrate “everyday invention” (De Certeau, 1990) to make their project work. They use strategies to circumvent the constraints of the environment in which they operate. On the other hand, from a legal perspective, other practices infringe the law and can be described as illegal. One example is the interpersonal arrangements that exist between Moroccan farmers and many of their workers. [12] The workers negotiate their stay in France through contracts that the Moroccan farmers request from OFII on their behalf. In exchange for their recruitment, the workers informally pay the Moroccan farmers. These negotiations sometimes result in debts that the workers repay by working for their employer for several months without pay. There may be several workers on the same farm each year who use this system. Karim, a worker who escaped from his former boss’s farm to take refuge with another Moroccan farmer, explains:


Basically, I had made a deal with Mouloud. I would give him money and he would get me into France. I paid €10,000 to come here. I was working and he didn’t pay me. I just had enough to eat. I worked like that for seven months the first year, then two months the next year. I paid my debt by working.” (Interview with Karim, seasonal farm worker, Lower Durance Valley, 14 September 2019)

48 The choice of the term “concealment” to describe very diverse entrepreneurial practices calls for consideration of the intentionality of the actors who set up these processes, in order to fully appreciate them as strategies. Unlike “circumvention flows”, which describe businesses “in which actors strive to circumvent norms, taxes and laws” (Bennafla, 2002), concealment practices relate to processes of learning, integration and re-appropriation of the rules and norms of the capitalist economy to the advantage of the actors who make use of them. It is by entering the legal frameworks and norms — and by coming up against them — that they can carry out and conceal certain practices.

49 The use of multiple forms of concealment within Moroccan farmers’ businesses demonstrates their ability to make use of the tools of modern capitalist agriculture. They subvert the codes to become competitive in a context of competition. The example of the informal arrangements that arise around OFII contracts and asylum seekers demonstrates the command of migratory tools by populations that have been able to grasp them and reappropriate them for their own benefit. By entering the Provençal agricultural labour market and mastering its mechanisms, Moroccan farmers become actors in these territories. They make up for their lack of capital by relying on strategies of concealment that they use to varying degrees, depending on their strategies and the individual limits that they legitimise as a means of earning a living that is lawful or otherwise (Botte, 2004). The crisis experienced by rural spaces makes them spaces of informality, in the sense that practices of concealment deployed through farming businesses are favoured there. Moroccan farmers reactivate the excesses of a Provençal agricultural system in difficulty, particularly with regard to the management of foreign labour (Durbiano, 1980; Mésini, 2013; Castracani et al., 2021b). These migrants who are anchored locally through farming activity grasp the tools offered by agricultural entrepreneurship and themselves become migrant smugglers. Their local implantation as farmers allows them to generate transnational circulation.


50 The decline affecting the French agricultural countryside offers an opportunity for social advancement to employees of foreign origin already present on the territory, through the creation of micro-businesses. Having come to France as workers, they set up businesses in the interstices of the Provençal huerta in crisis. The entrepreneurial adventure is a way for these workers to restructure their working and living conditions. Whether they are pioneers, converts or sponsored, Moroccan farmers rely on similar business strategies. On the one hand, they imitate the intensive production methods of the Provençal huerta. In this way, they contribute to the revitalisation and rearrangement of French Mediterranean production areas, with a trend of vegetable production and incremental investments. On the other hand, they rely on informal practices to develop their business and maximise their income (access to land, labour management, purchase and resale, resourcefulness in relation to equipment, etc.). The agricultural enterprise appears to be a tool mastered to serve the profit logic of market capitalism.

51 By engaging in farming activities, Moroccan producers initiate a relationship of proximity with the local territory. Embedded in production and marketing spaces, their entrepreneurial strategy is based on circular mobility on a regional scale. However, their entrepreneurial activity also allows them to generate transnational mobilities through flows of seasonal workers. They make use of the tools offered by the mechanisms for recruiting foreign labour, in connection with farming activity.

52 The development of the farm is accompanied by a process of settlement in the territories, which makes it possible to reconsider the links between migration and entrepreneurial activities. The new forms of work brought about by the professional evolution of former foreign seasonal workers into producers are at the origin of new forms of rural social organisation. Those who refer to themselves as “rural workers from the hess”, “self-taught farmers” or “farmers from the Global South” form a new category of producers in the Provençal countryside. While their cropping systems imitate those of the traditional huerta, their management and use of the farming business reveal strategies of informal enrichment integrated into the entrepreneurial project. Thus, the study of the production of rural and agricultural space by Moroccan farmers means offering a different perspective on migration and rural spaces, looking at them “from below” and “from the bottom up” (Portes, 1999; Collectif Rosa Bonheur, 2019).

53 Finally, this article calls for a reconsideration of migratory pathways from the perspective of entrepreneurship, rurality and implantation. Entrepreneurial activity is the expression of a desire for economic and social success that is at the origin of the impetus of migratory movement. In this sense, its deployment in the spaces of arrival can be considered as the continuity of the migration project, through the grasp and command of the rules of market capitalism. In the agricultural sector, migratory pathways are closed as these populations settle into new activities that no longer require their presence “between here and there” (Michalon, 2006), but rather a permanent presence “here”.


  • [1]
    The hess is a term derived from the distortion of an Arabic word. In French slang, the hess refers to a situation of hardship. It can be translated as “a place of sheer hardship” or “an absolute hell”.
  • [2]
    Source: Author’s personal documents from the Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration (French Office for Immigration and Integration-OFII) (2019).
  • [3]
    An initial OFII contract entitles the holder to a multi-annual seasonal worker residence permit. This is only valid when accompanied by the work permit issued by the OFII (maximum of six months per year). This residence permit is valid for one year in the first year and two years in the second. It was introduced to try to prevent seasonal workers from settling on French territory (the address of residence indicated on the card must be in Morocco).
  • [4]
    Graph 1, Table 1 and Figure 1 were produced by Anne-Adelaïde Lascaux.
  • [5]
    Marriage to a French Moroccan woman is the strategy used by most Moroccan seasonal workers to settle in France. A civil union with a French national entitles the foreign spouse to a residence permit.
  • [6]
    Source: Agreste, 1970 and 2010 agricultural censuses (cf.
  • [7]
    In farming, a gait is the basic unit of the greenhouse.
  • [8]
    Source: Author’s personal documents from the OFII (2018).
  • [9]
    Soilless cultivation is a means of growing plants in greenhouses in which the roots of the plants grow on a solid base, such as coconut fibre. The nutrients necessary for the development of the plant are provided by fertiliser-rich water. This is the principle of hydroponics.
  • [10]
    Basic unit of the greenhouse.
  • [11]
    The centres d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile (reception centres for asylum seekers – CADA) provide accommodation as well as administrative and social support while an asylum seeker’s case is being examined.
  • [12]
    These informal practices have been observed among Provençal farmers, who have made extensive use of them for several decades (Décosse, 2019). They are not exclusive to Moroccan farmers.

The conjunction of a restrictive migratory regime which applies to seasonal Moroccan agricultural workers in France, and the abandonment of French farming areas, is behind the phenomenon of these workers setting up as farmers. By establishing their own businesses, these migrant workers and their children revive the agricultural vocation of the Mediterranean huerta. However, they renew this system of cultivation using strategies that are specific to this new group of Provençal producers of migrant origin. The farming business is seen by them as a means for enrichment through informal practices.

  • migration
  • informal
  • farming
  • entrepreneuship
  • Provence
  • rural space

Paysans de la hess ? Les agriculteurs marocains, un nouveau groupe de producteurs dans la huerta provençale

La conjonction d’un système migratoire sous contrainte dans lequel sont insérés les ouvriers saisonniers agricoles marocains en France et le délaissement des espaces productifs agricoles français dans lesquels ils travaillent est à l’origine de leur reconversion en tant qu’exploitants agricoles. En s’installant à leur compte, ces travailleurs migrants et leurs enfants réactivent la vocation agricole de la huerta méditerranéenne. Ils renouvellent cependant ce système de culture selon des stratégies propres à ce nouveau groupe de producteurs provençaux issus de la migration. L’entreprise agricole leur apparaît comme un outil d’enrichissement par le biais de pratiques informelles.

  • agriculture
  • espace rural
  • migration
  • informel
  • entrepreneuriat

¿Campesinos de desgracias? Agricultores marroquís, un nuevo grupo de productores de la huerta provenzal

El encuentro entre por un lado el sistema migratorio bajo coacción a donde se integran los trabajadores agrícolas de temporada originarios de Marruecos en Francia y por otro lado el abandono de los espacios productivos franceses lleva a una reconversión de los marroquís como productores agrícolas. Al instalarse en cuenta propia esos trabajadores migrantes y sus hijos reactivan la vocación agrícola de la huerta mediterránea. Sin embargo, reactivan este sistema de cultivo según estrategias propias a ese nuevo grupo de productores provenzales provenientes de la migración. La empresa agrícola se vuelve en un instrumento de enriquecimiento a través prácticas informales.

  • migración
  • informal
  • emprendimiento
  • agricultura
  • rural
  • Provenza
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Anne-Adelaïde Lascaux
Assistant lecturer in Geography, University of Poitiers, CNRS, MIGRINTER, MSHS, Bât. A5, 5 rue Théodore Lefebvre, TSA 21103, 86073 Poitiers cedex 9; anne.adelaide.lascaux[at]
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Translated by
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