For many years Algeria has been one of the world’s top wheat importers, but new measures are being taken by the country to boost grain production in the near term.

Speaking at the International Grains Council (IGC) Conference June 9 in London, England, Mohamed Belabdi, general director of the Office of Algerien Interprofessional des Cereales (OAIC), said Algeria is aiming to boost grain production to an average of 6.7 million tonnes in the 2015-2019 period.

He said production between 2009 and 2012 averaged 5.1 million tonnes.

The North African country has implemented several measures including boosting storage, providing incentives for farmers to apply more fertilizers, rebates on crop insurance and encouraging the use of more certified seeds, he said.

“Grains are the weak point of agriculture in Algeria,” Belabdi said. “Since we started to apply this new organization in order to boost grain production, there has been a constant change in grain output apart from last year where conditions were very difficult. This year we have similar conditions, but production has been better than the previous year.”

According to the IGC, in 2014-15 the country’s grain output fell to 3.3 million tonnes due to drought, but it is expected to rebound to 4.6 million tonnes this year, which is still below average. The IGC projects Algeria will import 6.9 million tonnes of wheat in 2015-16, down slightly from 7 million tonnes a year ago.

To achieve greater self-sufficiency, Belabdi said the country plans to raise total irrigated area to 2 million hectares from the current 900,000 hectares. The share of irrigation for cereals is expected to reach 600,000 hectares, up from 60,000 currently. He said much of the irrigation equipment is being supplied by the OAIC.

He said OAIC programs are also making a difference in other important ways. In line with the farming renewal policy initiated in 2008, the OAIC’s work is focused on promoting grain farming through technical supervision of grain crops (field work, seed drilling and combine harvesting) through the supply of inputs and the mechanization of farming operations, grain collection planning and seed production.

“The OAIC’s new fleet of combine harvesters is already showing its value as they enable harvesting to take place in a more timely manner, thus reducing crop losses,” he said.

Increasing storage capacity is also on the OAIC’s agenda, as its new storage infrastructure program aims to increase storage capacity by 8.2 million quintals with the addition of nine new concrete silos with capacity of 3.5 million quintals and 30 steel silos with 4.7 million quintals of storage capacity.
Grain plays a huge role in the Algerian diet. He said grain provided 60% of the caloric intake with demand shifting toward soft wheat baguettes from durum wheat flatbread. He said the country’s grain consumption level is a relatively high 222 kg per person per year.

“Algeria depends too much on grains,” he said. “We depend on a lot of soft wheat. Given the fact this consumption pattern is now prevalent, the cost of wheat has a direct impact on the minimum nutritional threshold of the poorest population segment.”

The country’s irrigation program has centered on durum wheat production as it is difficult to produce soft wheat in such areas where temperatures can be around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees F) during harvest, Belabdi added.

“We can reach self-sufficiency in durum wheat,” he said.

Since 2008-09, Algeria has seen a 3.6% increase in the total area sown to grain. He said 59% of the planted area consists of wheat, 38% is barley and 3% is oats. In the past seven years, the amount of planted area for durum has jumped 12%, soft wheat has increased 4.7% and oats have risen 10%. Barley planted area has declined 4.7%.

Also during that period, there has been a huge increase in the amount of regulatory seeds used in planting. In 2008-09, only 784,000 hectares were sown with regulatory seed, while in 2013-14, 2.15 million hectares were sown to grains using that type of seed. The biggest increase has occurred in hard wheat, which went from 36% plantings with regulatory seed in 2008-09 to 75% in 2012-13.

Agriculture plays a significant role in Algeria’s economy, he said, and its impact is growing. Agriculture contributes 9.8% to the country’s GDP, is responsible for 2.5 million jobs, and the average growth rate of agriculture between 2009 and 2014 was 11%.

In addition to feeding a growing population that recently reached 40 million and is increasing by an estimated 1 million per year, Algeria is motivated to decrease grain imports because the price of oil, by far its leading export product, has declined sharply over the last year, putting a significant pinch on its revenues.

Africa the next breadbasket?

Another speaker at the IGC Conference, Bruce Campbell, director of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Program, examined Africa’s potential in the coming decades to become the world’s next “breadbasket.”

Campbell said some of the factors needed for this to occur are trending in a positive direction. Signs of technological progress, such as cell phone penetration, are taking place across the continent, GDP is rising at a significant rate as is grain yield per hectare. With a massive population increase anticipated – Africa currently comprises 15% of the world population but that figure is expected to jump to 40% by the end of 21st century – maximizing Africa’s grain production will be critical going forward, he said.

But while the potential is there for a significant increase in grain production, it can only occur, he said, if global warming is curbed. He said if average temperatures in Africa rise only 2 degrees C by the end of the century, agriculture could thrive on the continent as long as other current trends toward more democratic governments and millions of hectares being transformed into production continue.

But many climate prediction models are calling for average temperatures in Africa by 2090 to rise by 5 degrees C, which would dramatically shrink yields and the length of growing seasons for some crops, and make it virtually impossible to grow other crops.

He noted that experts estimate that global corn production has fallen 4% during the last 15 years due to climate change and wheat production has fallen 5% as temperatures in key production regions have risen.

And while some are advocating that agriculture be excused from the global effort of reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Campbell said the goals of mitigating climate change cannot be achieved without the agricultural sector doing its part.

“Agriculture cannot be excused from meeting its emission targets,” he said, noting that agriculture-related activities by 2030 will comprise 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Alliance (GACSA) is working to help the agriculture sector to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide per year with the aim of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius in remainder of the century.

“Using climate-smart technology can reduce water consumption by 30% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% to 30% without compromising yields,” he said.

With rising global temperatures appearing to be an inevitability according to many climatologists, even if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are undertaken, Campbell said it will be important for Africa to utilize drought-tolerant seed varieties, particularly in the planting of maize.

He said drought in the coming years threatens to make 40% of Africa’s maize growing areas unsuitable for commonly grown varieties, but recent plantings of 100 new drought-resistant varieties in 13 African countries has yielded promising results. Those new varieties have increased yields by up to 35% and would potentially reduce the amount of land needed for maize production.

“These examples illustrate that Africa is on the move and has great potential,” he said.

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