LONDON, ENGLAND — Global wheat flour trade is projected to reach its highest level in five years, according to the International Grains Council (IGC), which revised its forecast 600,000 tonnes higher for the 2023-24 marketing year in its latest Grain Market Report.

The report, released on April 18, pegs this year’s trade total at 15.1 million tonnes, a 4% increase over the previous year and the highest mark since 15.7 million tonnes were shipped in 2018-19.

“The upward revision from January primarily reflects sustained strong imports by sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for the bulk of the annual increase in 2023-24 trade,” the IGC said. “Deliveries to that region are forecast to rebound strongly this season on brisk demand for supplies from Turkey.”

Led by increased shipments to Ethiopia and Sudan, imports by sub-Saharan Africa are projected to reach a six-year high of 2.8 million tonnes, the IGC said.

“Notably, challenging conditions for the domestic wheat milling industry could see Sudan boost the share of flour imports in its all-wheat purchases to around one-quarter in 2023-24, compared to 13% in the year before and just 1% in 2020-21,” the IGC said.

South America also is forecast to increase its year-on-year import total, to 1.1 million tonnes, which would be its highest intake since 2020-21.

The IGC also projects a year-on-year increase in flour imports for North and Central America, linked to “strong purchases to date by Cuba, chiefly from Egypt, the EU and Turkey, while Mexico is also expected to source more than last year, almost entirely from the US.”

The increased shipments to sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas will be countered partially by smaller intake in other regions, including the Commonwealth of Independent States and parts of Asia, the report said.

Iraq, the world’s second largest importer, is likely to reduce purchases of wheat and flour in 2023-24, with the latter projected at 1.7 million tonnes, down 400,000 tonnes from the previous year, which the IGC estimates would be “potentially the lowest in nine years.” It noted that while Turkey remains the primary supplier to Iraq, shipments from Russia have surged this year.

Afghanistan remains the top wheat flour importer in 2023-24, with the IGC estimating the war-torn country’s intake at 2.35 million tonnes, slightly lower than the previous year.

Turkey remains the top exporter by a wide margin, with the IGC projecting record shipments of 5.9 million tonnes this year, a 1-million tonne increase over 2022-23.

“Turkey’s accumulated global deliveries through January were estimated at 3.4 million tonnes, up by (25%) year-on-year and the highest in at least 15 years,” the IGC said. “The figure included 1.4 million tonnes delivered to sub-Saharan Africa, up more than threefold year-on-year. This more than offsets lagging dispatches to some other destinations, notably Syria, Yemen and Sri Lanka.”

Kazakhstan is pegged as the world’s No. 2 flour exporter in 2023-24, at 2.6 million tonnes, slightly lower than the previous year.

The IGC’s first projection for the 2024-25 season sees global wheat flour trade retreating to 14.5 million tonnes, slightly below the five-year average.