Algeria: Reforms take root in agriculture
With food security remaining a concern in Algeria due to poor harvests and fluctuating prices, the government is increasing the tempo of its plans to modernise the agricultural sector.
Algeria began drawing up a strategy to overhaul the country’s agriculture industry in 2009 as part of a bid to boost production and reduce imports, but last year’s four-day riots, triggered by hikes in food prices, highlighted the pressing need for reforms and investment in the sector.
Outlining the Agricultural and Rural Renewal Policy (La Politique du Renouveau Agricole et Rural, PRAR) in May, the head of the Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development (Le Ministere de L’Agriculture et du Developpement Rural), Rachid Benaissa, said the key priority would be to strengthen food security by improving current regulations and management of the sector.
The government also hopes that the introduction of more modern techniques and practices through the setting up of public-private partnerships (PPPs) will enable Algeria to become more self-reliant in food production.
Though it is the second-largest country in Africa, Algeria is home to only about 8.2m ha of arable land, or about 3.4% of its total land area. As a result, agricultural imports are among the highest in Africa, with$3.3bn worth of foodstuffs currently entering the country annually, making up 15% of total imports.
The PRAR hopes to change that via a wide range of measures, including the reorganisation and modernisation of cereal production, dairies, olive and potato cultivation and cattle rearing. It will also explore how the local banking and insurance sectors could be tailored to better meet the requirements of the agricultural sector and producers.
Training and technical support for local farmers and cooperatives is also to be given priority, as the government looks to introduce new methods and technologies in fields such as research, administration and animal husbandry.
Benaissa’s plans have their origins in the official agricultural policy outlined as part of Algeria’s Plan Quinquennal 2010-14, a five-year strategy drawn up in response to the rapid rise in staple food prices in 2008.
The more recent price increases last year, which saw a kilo of sugar double from AD70 (€0.73) to AD150 (€1.56), not only prompted riots in the capital and several towns around the country but also served as a reminder that the country remained vulnerable to food price fluctuations.
As a result of the unrest, the government announced it would cut the cost of staples such as sugar, cooking oil and flour, and also increased wheat imports. Figures show imports of wheat reached 7.42m tonnes in 2011, the highest since Algeria’s independence, according to Reuters, and up 41.5% on volumes imported in 2010.
The government’s drive to introduce more modern techniques and practices into its agricultural industries forms part of a wider bid to boost agricultural production from the 6% per year recorded between 2000 and 2008 to 8.3% annually. Production of staple commodities is forecast to rise by 21.3% to 3.54m tonnes by 2015/16, while the government hopes wider development will also create up to 750,000 permanent jobs.
Another key component of the PRAR strategy was the introduction of a price regulator (système de régulation des produits agricoles à large consommation) that is expected to help reduce price speculation by market traders on the price of agricultural products, something of a hallmark of the local sector.
With a commitment to increasing production and lowering imports, Algeria’s government is working hard to give local farmers and producers the wherewithal to boost their productivity. However, it will also be aware that increasing demand could easily lead to further shortfalls in food supplies and that price hikes pose both a political and economic concern.