Organic potential: A budding organic segment parallels sector expansion and growth

Organic farming in Algeria is still in its infancy although the segment has started to attract more and more interest considering the numerous advantages the country presents for this type of activity. “The delay in developing local production has actually become an advantage for Algeria today,” Djamel Barchiche, communication adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture, told OBG. One of Algeria’s main assets is the natural quality of its soil due to the long absence of mechanisation and the limited use of chemical inputs. Algeria uses fewer fertilisers than any other North African country in proportion to its cultivated land. Only an estimated 7% of agricultural land is fertilised, equivalent to 17 kg per ha, as opposed to 25 kg and 30 kg per ha used in Morocco and Tunisia, respectively.

GOING ORGANIC: As part of the government’s plans to diversify the economy and shift growth from relying on hydrocarbon revenues, and also considering rising demand for organically produced goods in close export markets such as Europe, the segment could contribute to foreign currency reserves. Organic consumption has grown considerably in Europe in the past decade, and although most countries produce organic crops, they still depend on imports to meet demand. France, for example, imports 30% of its organic food.

With rising awareness of environmental issues, changing consumption habits and the emergence of diseases associated with unhealthy diets, the market for organic products is expected to continue growing. This is one area Algeria could potentially tap into – particularly considering its proximity to the European market – to help boost non-hydrocarbon exports, which in 2012 accounted for just 3% of total exports and generated $2.06bn. By comparison, the value of hydrocarbon exports amounted to $69.8bn. This would require efforts to expand existing farms and develop more organically produced goods. Currently, organic produce contributing to export revenues are limited to dates, olives and grapes (used mainly for wine), and remain minimal. Organic farming of these products are mostly carried out in the provinces of Mascara, Relizane, Mila and Biskra over around 1118 ha. This is low when compared to Tunisia and Morocco, where organic farming occupies 33,000 ha and 20,000 ha, respectively.

STRATEGY: Nevertheless, a recent seminar to promote Algerian rural agricultural produce held in December 2012 between the EU and the Algerian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and during which experts insisted on the need to draw a clear strategy for organic farming, marks a step forward for the segment’s expansion. The conference aimed at defining an action plan in cooperation with the EU to enhance Algerian agricultural produce.

As Algeria looks to capitalise on its workforce and at the same time attract more young people into the sector, organic farming can present an opportunity and another segment to absorb unemployed youth. The development of the segment should also be easier thanks to better organisation of the sector as a whole since the implementation of the Agricultural and Rural Renewal Policy (Politique du Renouveau Agricole et Rural, PRAR) in 2008, which focused on delivering quality products and attracting more investors due to better access to land and credit.

OBSTACLES AHEAD: While the segment presents important potential for growth, it also has a number of challenges to face up to. Since organic farming is particularly new to Algeria, there has been no real strategy or specific objectives and incentives put forward so far to guide and encourage producers. This is partly due to the fact that the country is focusing more on developing local production. “The country’s main preoccupation at the moment is to secure its own food needs by producing more and importing less,” Barchiche told OBG. Climate change and emerging diseases and pests, which are difficult to fight without chemicals, also challenge organic production. “Organic produce alone would not suffice in terms of quantity. There is a need to invest in research to develop plant varieties and seeds that can resist such conditions,” Barchiche added.

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The Report: Algeria 2013

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