Interview: Abdelwahab Ziani
What are the main challenges ahead in Algeria’s drive towards food self-sufficiency?
ABDELWAHAB ZIANI: The way to full self-sufficiency is challenging, but some key steps can be taken to be self-sufficient in certain products quickly. We need to have better exchange of trade know-how between producers in the north and south of Africa, and create logistics clusters to increase profitability and boost the emerging agri-business ecosystem.
Regarding regulatory factors, we need the government to maintain long-term stability, starting with a solid legal framework. We should not accept situations such as the one experienced with the price of bananas, which doubled from one day to the next because of a sudden change in Customs taxes. Lack of stability prevents the success of numerous companies in the food-processing sector, and damages the actual capacity of producers and importers to fulfil local demand. Building trust between companies and the government is a long-term task, and it needs economic stability to happen properly.
How can Algerian agricultural companies gain more export market share?
ZIANI: Algerian producers should not only look to Europe, but also think about exporting within Africa. Our continent sees $1.5trn of exports every year, and Algeria does not even hold 1% of this large cake. Ours is a strong country, with developed infrastructure and educated people, and this should translate into gaining greater access to African markets.
The president has intensified diplomatic work since 2013 by inviting every single African president to Algeria. We have seen some evolution already: the delay for currency repatriation has been extended to 360 days, which is the standard timeframe in the Maghreb. Now, what exporters urgently need is to be represented by a bank within the Economic Community of West African States to perform operations abroad. Overall, we need a shift of mindset about exports. Algerians are used to importing only.
Today, exporters should be trained on the model that we developed at CIPA, which includes a one-stop shop that deals with every aspect of exporting, from visa matters to entering trade shows abroad. The government should go with exporters and encourage them. This could be done through a more active presence of Algerian economic diplomats in Africa. As exporters, we at least expect that the ambassador would come and visit Algerian stalls when a trade-show is organised in Mali, Senegal or Côte d’Ivoire. In 2016 training was performed among commercial attachés to improve expertise and the selling of Algerian products. Ambassadors should also monitor commercial opportunities in their assigned countries. Algeria’s production exceeds requirements for many agro-products: beverages, juice, confectionery, jam, salt – we could easily enter African markets with these products with the right strategy. Finally, we also need more aerial connections between Algeria and the rest of Africa, for both passengers and cargo.
What are Algeria’s primary agri-business assets?
ZIANI: Algeria’s main asset is its competitive energy costs. Producing something as simple as a plastic bottle in Algeria costs less than AD10 (€0.08) versus five to 10 times more in other African countries. Another strength of our country is that it enjoys full rights to economic self-determination, with only a few large international groups leading their respective markets. If you look at the beverages segment for example, Coca-Cola and Pepsi share the market with another 600 companies, the top 50 of which have a larger market share than the two US giants.
Furthermore, the model of successful Algerian family businesses can be reproduced elsewhere in Africa. Algeria offers European quality at African costs, largely due to its low energy and labour prices.
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