Comprendre les enjeux de l'agriculture

During the spring of 2022, the surge in cereal prices spread like wildfire across the entire African continent. In the Maghreb, the cereal crisis compounded with a prolonged and scorching drought. In Sub-Saharan Africa, some countries have decided against importing expensive wheat, but cereals are not the only staple food.

During the 2023-2024 campaign, North African countries are expected to import more soft wheat (30.3 million tonnes, source: International Grains Council) and durum wheat (3.7 million tonnes) than during the just-ended campaign. Together, they will buy twice as much grain as they will harvest (17.2 million tonnes of soft wheat and 3.5 million tonnes of durum wheat), and they are willing to pay the price for it.

In the Maghreb, bread is an essential staple food. Over 200 kg of bread is consumed per person per year. No government can afford to impose any form of rationing.

Egypt will be the world’s largest wheat importer (11.7 million tonnes), and Algeria, the third-largest (8.4 million tonnes). The land of the pharaohs owes the regularity of its wheat production (9.9 million tonnes) to the irrigation of its crops by the Nile. However, this year, Algeria (2.6 million tonnes) and Tunisia (0.6 million tonnes) are facing a severe drought. As for Morocco (4 million tonnes), the priority is to replenish stocks (see box). Last year, the Chérifian Kingdom experienced a series of disasters. After the Covid health crisis, it was hit by the most scorching drought in its history, resulting in three times less wheat being harvested (2.5 million tonnes) compared to 2021.


The Ukrainian conflict: countries in a state of emergency

“When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the European Union played the transparency card by putting all its available cereals for export on the market without diplomatic restrictions,” says Yann Lebeau, Head of the Africa Office at Intercéréales.

France played the appeasement card by supplying wheat to all countries that requested it. But in the eastern part of the European Union, Romania and Hungary delayed selling their grains, hoping that cereal prices would surpass the records observed the previous autumn.

However, today, these prices have returned to their 2021 levels as the global cereal markets are in balance. The world’s cereal supply is abundant, and the USDA even announced a record global wheat production of 800 million tonnes during the 2023-2024 campaign.

Throughout the past campaign, the European Union exported 36 million tonnes of wheat and 10 million tonnes of barley in 2022-2023. Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt alone purchased nearly 10.2 million tonnes during the first eleven months of the past campaign.

Now, Morocco is the largest importer of European wheat (4.5 million tonnes) and French wheat (3 million tonnes), followed by Algeria and Egypt. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria received 2.6 million tonnes of European wheat out of the 5.9 million tonnes unloaded in its ports during the 2022-2023 campaign.

Other Sub-Saharan African countries individually import only a few hundred thousand tonnes of European wheat each year. Regardless of the origin, they each buy only one or two million tonnes.

Au total, le continent africain concentre un tiers des 194 Mt échangées dans le monde.

Quant à l’orge, seuls les pays maghrébins en importent (3 Mt). Ils ne se fournissent quasiment pas sur le marché européen. Ils privilégient d’autres origines : la Russie, l’Ukraine, le Canada.

La Tunisie (370 000 t) est le troisième pays destinataire de la céréale exportée depuis les ports européens loin derrière la Chine (2 Mt) et l’Arabie saoudite (1,2 Mt).


Public and Private Procurement Strategies

The armed conflict in Ukraine and the surge in grain prices have highlighted the cost of food insecurity in the countries along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, caused by their structural dependence on cereal imports.

However, their capacity to increase grain production is very limited.

“In the near future, Algeria plans to produce 5 million tonnes of wheat in the desert, drawing the necessary water from groundwater to irrigate these crops,” says Yann Lebeau. “Other countries are held hostage by recurrent drought episodes, over which they have no control over their frequency or intensity.”

In Egypt and Tunisia, cereal imports are exclusively managed by public agencies. As soon as the cereal crisis began, the Algerian Interprofessional Cereal Office decided to take charge of the entire supply of cereals and legumes and resell them to private and public mills at subsidized prices.

“In Morocco, private operators buy cereals at global prices,” reports Yann Lebeau. “But the government ensures that the price of imported wheat aligns with that of the domestic market (260 €/t) by subsidizing it up to €200 per tonne.” Moroccan consumers cannot afford to buy bread two or three times more expensive than in 2021.

“Regardless of the chosen approach, the countries of North Africa have spared no effort to ensure that the imported wheat, despite being paid at a high price, remains an affordable commodity for consumers while protecting their domestic market from soaring global prices,” says the Intercéréales office representative.

When the war in Ukraine broke out, all Maghreb countries had one hope: that the crisis would not last! Their stocks were limited or, in some countries, non-existent.

They were not all financially equipped to face the crisis.


The Beginnings of the Moroccan Commercial Campaign

“Morocco is already very active at the beginning of this campaign as the country aims to replenish its stocks in addition to supplying its domestic market,” explains Yann Lebeau, Head of the Africa Office at Intercéréales. The kingdom could purchase up to 4 million tonnes of soft wheat over the next twelve months, according to the International Grains Council (CIC). “But since prices have returned to their pre-Ukrainian conflict levels, even 5 million tonnes could be imported,” adds the market expert. Import taxes are null, and the country can rely on the strength of its economy, its exports of industrial goods, and tourism to have the necessary foreign currency to finance its purchases.

Morocco will prioritize purchases from the European Union, which has been able to supply it at any time, even at the peak of the crisis.