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Tastes for bread cause headaches for Algeria, Iraq officials

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Wheat can cause headaches – and that is nothing to do with gluten intolerance, with bread-eating patterns prompting trade challenges, as officials in Algeria and Iraq will attest to.

Algeria is seeking to raise its grain production to 6.7m tonnes a year over 2015-19, from an average of 5.1m tonnes in 2009-12 – a feat which could help make it "self-sufficient" in durum wheat, Mohammed Belabdi, the general director of North African country's Oaic grains office said.

"We can reach that objective," he told the International Grains Council conference in London.

The government is attempting to boost output through measures such as improving irrigation and encouraging use of certified seed, besides a programme of building an extra 800,000 tonnes of silo space to better keep what grain is in storage.

'Complete pattern change'

However, demand pressure is also playing a role in Algeria's ability to aspire to producing all its own durum – with faster lifestyles prompting consumers to turn away from bread produced from the grain.

"Previously we had a consumption pattern based on durum-based flat bread," Mr Belabdi told the International Grains Council conference in London.

However, there has been a "complete pattern change" towards breads associated with fast meals.

Now Algerians "eat soft wheat-based baguettes".

Too hot

And soft wheat is something that Algeria finds hard to grow.

"We have very high temperatures which do not make it easy for us to produce enough soft white wheat to meet the requirements of Algerian consumers," Mr Belabdi said.

Currently, the yields on what the country does produce, at 1.6 tonnes per hectare, are below the 1.8 tonnes per hectare it achieves for durum – in contrast to the relative performances in European countries further north.

Italy's durum yield is forecast this year at 3.05 tonnes per hectare, compared with 5.40 tonnes per hectare expected for soft wheat, in line with the gap in 2014, on forecasts by industry group Coceral.

The equation is stoking Algeria's soft wheat imports, which have soared from some 2.5m tonnes in 2009 to more than 6m tonnes last year, albeit with latter figure expanded by a poor 2014 harvest.

"Algeria depends too much on grains. We now depend on a lot of soft wheat," Mr Belabdi said, noting that grain provides 60% of calorific intake for the average Algerian, and 80% of protein in the diet.

Exports vs imports

Iraq, meanwhile, grows the wrong type of grain too, with the wheat it produces not suitable for bread baked in the vertical ovens popular in the country, Saad al Hamdinee, general manager at the Grain Board of Iraq, told the conference.

"The vertical oven needs a particular type of wheat, with the right gluten and protein, etcetera," he said.

This meant that Iraq's own harvest, which he estimated at 3.5m tonnes this year, would be open for exports, even as the country, renowned as an importer, buys grain with the right specifications for the domestic market.

Indeed, the country will be "able to export, even to a similar" level to imports, he said.

"Domestic production will exceed domestic needs. We do have a balance between imports and exports."


The turn of Iraq to exports on any great level would be a first, with the country's record shipments since 1960 at 553,000 tonnes, in 2003-14, and only three times exceeding 100,000 tonnes, on US Department of Agriculture data.

Imports, meanwhile, hit 3m tonnes last season, and are expected to remain so in 2014-15 and next season too.

Mr al Hamdinee said that his estimates included only areas of the country controlled by the government.

Still, there was some scepticism among delegates at the conference that spoke too.

"There is no way on the country logistically could get the grain out, even if it had it," one said.

Another, tongue in cheek, said that "maybe that is why Iraq has been cancelling wheat tenders", with the country ditching its last two tenders, in February and April, and on Monday delaying its latest one, boding ill for that too.


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