AGADIR, Morocco — Shunned by most Muslim countries where pork consumption is a religious taboo, pig farming is blooming in Morocco thanks to a growing tourist industry and pragmatic breeders like 39-year-old Said Samouk.
“If there’s tourism, it would be better to have pigs,” said Samouk, who raises 250 pigs at his farm 28 kilometres (17 miles) from the seaside town of Agadir.
After being battered by a wave of bird flu, the Moroccan farmer launched a pig operation 20 years ago in partnership with an elderly French man.
Today, Samouk spins dreams of doubling his production within three years to help meet the demands of some 10 million tourists expected to visit Morocco in 2010 — up from 7.5 million who flocked to the north African country in 2007.
“I’m a practising Muslim. I don’t eat pork and I don’t drink alcohol but it’s just a breeding operation like any other and no Imam has ever reprimanded me for it,” he said of raising pigs — whose consumption is prohibited in both Islam and Judaism.
Outlawed in Algeria, Mauritania and Libya, pig farming is nonetheless authorised in Tunisia as in Morocco, to cater to the flocks of European and other non-Muslim tourists who head to north Africa’s spectacular beaches and deserts.
“Our clientele is 98 percent European. They want bacon for breakfast, ham for lunch and pork chops for dinner,” said Ahmad Bartoul, a buyer for a large Agadir hotel. Signs are posted on buffet tables to avoid any confusion about the meat’s origin.
Morocco’s swine industry comprises some 5,000 pigs raised on seven farms located near Agadir, Casablanca and the north-central city of Taza. The breeders include a Christian, two Jews and four Muslims.
Annual production is currently estimated at 270 tonnes of meat, bringing in some 12 million dirhams (1 million euros, 1.6 million dollars) in revenue.
The breeders include Jean Yves Yoel Chriquia, a 32-year-old Jew who owns the country’s main pork processing factory along with a farm of 1,000 pigs. Chriquia also buys pigs from Samouk and another local farmer at 22 dirhams a kilo.
Four times a month, he goes to the slaughter house in Agadir — but must enter from a door other than that used for deliveries of meat that is Halal, or authorised under Islam.
“We have a special place for this sort of slaughter. After cutting up the meat and getting the veterinarian’s stamp, we transport it to the factory and put it in cold storage,” Yoel said.
Almost 80 percent of his products are earmarked for hotels in Agadir and Marrakech. The rest heads to supermarkets and butcher shops — and to feed some 220 Chinese workers building a nearby motorway.
“My wife was certain we would never find pork because we were in a Muslim country,” said French retiree Bernard Samoyeau, as he ordered pork at from a butcher in Agadir. “We have been pleasantly surprised.”
Yoel is also pleased.
“We have more than doubled our sales in three years and it’s starting to snowball. But since we rely on tourism, we must be careful,” he said.
The Moroccan farmer speaks from experience: the 1990 Gulf war, the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and the 2003 invasion of Iraq ultimately forced him to shutter his last business burdened by 2.8 million dirhams of unpaid bills.
Three years ago, he opened up a new company that employs 31 people.
“Hotels all over Morocco are calling me up for deliveries, but for the time being I can’t respond to all the demands. We’re getting there, little by little,” Yoel said.
Nor does he see a conflict between his job and his Jewish faith.
“Religion is a private matter. What I do is just another way to earn a living and my Rabbi has never said anything about it,” he said.