During the spring of 2022, the surge in grain prices spread like wildfire across the entire African continent. In the Maghreb, the cereal crisis compounded with a prolonged scorching drought. In Sub-Saharan Africa, some countries opted not to import expensive wheat, though cereal is not the only staple food.
Responding to the Price Surge
According to Yann Lebeau, Morocco relied on its exports (cars, phosphates, tourism, etc.) to subsidize significant sectors of its economy, such as electricity, oil, and gas, in order to shield the population from the ravages of inflation. Nonetheless, it did not escape a general increase in consumer prices.
The Kingdom of Morocco does not import wheat from Russia; it is not part of its commercial practices, and becoming a new Russian client is complicated and logistically risky. The imported wheat is also not from Ukraine, with a few exceptions. Two-thirds of wheat imports come from Europe.
Algeria now has the financial means to import cereals, even if they come at a high cost, as revenues from oil and gas exports have soared. The price of a barrel of oil reached $140 last winter. Algeria has entered into commercial agreements with Russia and is taking the financial risk of having wheat delivered from Russian ports, paying exorbitant insurance premiums to protect its shipments.
In fact, the OIAC (International Olive Oil Council) has adapted its specifications to diversify its sources of supply, also purchasing Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and French wheat. Since Ukraine and Russia are at war, Algeria has made a strong comeback in the European market. Despite political tensions between the two countries, France has consistently responded to Algeria’s demands.
Tunisia’s financial situation is more complicated. The country relies on international aid. Its public cereal office directly purchases the grains it needs from major international merchants. By opting for a strategy of choosing the lowest-priced offers, the origin of imported wheat fluctuates depending on the seized commercial opportunities.
The country imports nearly all of the soft wheat (1.2 million tons) it consumes, as the government has always favored the cultivation of durum wheat, which is easier to market. However, this year, durum wheat production will not exceed 300,000 tons. Therefore, Tunisia will likely purchase more than 800,000 tons during the 2023-2024 campaign.
Egypt, with over 103 million inhabitants, is highly organized. Gasc, the public body responsible for issuing wheat import tenders, initially sourced European wheat at the start of the campaign. But since the beginning of the year, Russia has been delivering the majority of the imported wheat to the land of the pharaohs.
Before the crisis, wheat imports were steadily increasing, driven by population growth and a 5% annual per capita consumption rise. However, Sub-Saharan Africa is not like the Maghreb. Sub-Saharan countries do not produce wheat or barley.
During the peak of cereal prices, wheat purchases had decreased by 25% over the past year. And unable to afford them at high prices, some countries withdrew from the international scene, waiting for better price opportunities. “In fact, governments of Sub-Saharan African countries each pursue their own supply policy,” explains Yann Lebeau. This includes subsidizing grain prices in the market, fixing the price and/or weight of bread, or relying on market forces.
Furthermore, the populations are more left to fend for themselves. And feeding oneself is expensive. Skipping a meal is common. But above all, wheat is not a staple food. Locally grown agricultural products are more commonly consumed. This includes rice (21 million tons), with Nigeria (5.8 million tons), Madagascar (2.2 million tons), and Egypt (3.7 million tons) being the top three rice-producing countries. However, as the Sub-Saharan rice production is only half of its consumption, 20.5 million tons are imported during the current campaign.
Senegal and Ivory Coast together purchase about 4 million tons of rice each year as they do not produce enough. Sorghum (29 million tons), millet, cassava, and sweet potatoes are also essential products consumed in large quantities.