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Algeria's wheat imports to hit eight-year low, as domestic harvest grows


Algeria’s wheat imports will fall in 2020-21 to their lowest in eight years, thanks to the country’s efforts to boost its own harvests, US officials said, foreseeing weak barley purchases too.


The US Department of Agriculture’s Algiers bureau, in an initial forecast for the 2020-21 marketing year – which does not begin until July next year – estimated Algeria’s wheat imports at 6.50m tonnes.


While still enough to rank Algeria among the world’s top wheat importers, that would represent a fourth successive season of decline, from the record purchases of 8.41m tonnes in 2016-17.


It would also reduce imports to their weakest since 2012-13.


‘Increase in sowings’

Algeria’s wheat demand continues to grow, swollen by population expansion, and was forecast by the bureau at 10.65m tonnes next season, which would represent an increase of 75% in two decades.


However, the country has been having some success boosting domestic output too, proclaiming two weeks ago that its 2019 harvest of grains - essentially barley and wheat – had exceeded last year’s record high of 6m tonnes.


And it is attempting to continue the improvement, to reduce its reliance on imports.


Agriculture minister Cherif Omari has “indicated that additional measures should be taken early in the season to increase production” of soft wheat in 2020, the bureau said.


“For the next planting season, the ministry of agriculture will encourage [an] increase of bread wheat plantings to reduce [Algeria’s] imports.”


“In response to…the new emphasis on improving domestic production to control grain imports… wheat imports will fall to 6.5m tonnes in 2020-21.”


‘Sensitive to dry conditions’

The drive to increase self sufficiency in grains will see Algerian barley imports in 2020-21 at a modest 100,000 tonnes, in line with imports expected this season, but well down from a record high of 876,000 tonnes reached in 2014-15.


However, there remain too some challenges to Algeria’s drive to boost domestic production, with many previous crops having fallen foul of dryness in the north African country.


“Algeria’s climate does not favour bread (soft) wheat production. This variety of wheat is very sensitive to dry conditions,” the bureau said


“Previously, the ministry of agriculture has always allocated durum plantings the largest areas in the planting programmes, followed by barley.”


Soft milling wheat “has always had smaller areas for planting because of the climatic conditions”.


In 2014, for instance, severe drought in the key eastern Algerian growing region saw all-wheat output fall by more than 40% year on year.


Key origins

The curtailment of wheat imports could represent a particular setback for France, the default origin for Algeria’s soft wheat purchases.


France in 2015-16 provided 4.8m tonnes alone of total Algerian imports of 6.51m tonnes of bread wheat.


Other frequent origins including Germany, Latvia and the Ukraine, as well as the US, which in June and July exported 408,300 tonnes of wheat, including durum, to Algeria, according to the USDA.


Barley has also been largely imported historically from France, but also Russia. Ukraine and Finland.

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