Drought hits major wheat-importing region

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Drought threatens cereal crops in several North African countries, according to Gro Intelligence, a climate analysis platform.

Much of Algeria is experiencing “severe” drought while “extreme” drought is widespread in Morocco and Tunisia.

The analytics firm predicts an increase in grain imports in what is already the world’s largest wheat importing region if dry conditions persist for the remainder of the growing season, which ends in May.

“Increased reliance on imports could potentially strain national budgets and further fuel food price inflation,” the forecaster said in a January 18 article posted on its website.

Accumulated precipitation during the rainy season from August to December was 36% below the ten-year average in Algeria, 46% below normal in Morocco and 48% below normal in Tunisia.

The three North African countries bought 2.63 million tonnes of Canadian durum wheat in 2020-21, which represents 43% of exports that year, according to statistics from the Canadian Grain Commission.

Daniel Ramage, director of market access and trade policy at Cereals Canada, said there was already pent-up demand from North Africa and other parts of the world.

The global durum wheat supply is extremely tight, with major exporter stocks down nearly 45% year-on-year.

If North Africa has another short harvest, it could lead to increased imports in 2022-23, he said.

Morocco’s Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) has been at the lower end of its readings since 2000.

“Comparable growing conditions for this time of year were seen in 2001, when Morocco’s wheat crop was 56% below its five-year average, while imports rose 46% above average,” Gro Intelligence said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service said the late onset of rains has delayed planting of Morocco’s wheat and barley, with planting in some areas not completed until late. December 2021.

The total area seeded to wheat, durum and barley is 9.9 million acres, down 11% from the 10-year average.

Ramage noted that the harvest mainly takes place in May in Morocco and June in Algeria.

“There are still a few months before the production outlook changes,” he said.

The FAS confirmed that Morocco’s vegetation index is below average, but also mentioned that the harvest may still recover.

“Rainfall in March and April is essential for crop development and will determine the success of the 2022 production campaign,” FAS said in a Jan. 28 report.

Morocco suspended import duties on durum wheat and wheat on November 1, 2021 to build up stocks, so the country is already short of supplies and cannot afford another drought.

FAS said the NDVI map of Algeria shows that vegetation appears to be sparse in the western region and highlands of that country.

“Again this year, the wheat and barley growing areas seem to be lacking in rain,” he said in a Jan. 31 report.

FAS does not have an up-to-date report for Tunisia.

Agriculture Canada projects that Canadian farmers will plant 6.05 million acres of durum wheat, a 9% increase from last year.

Production is estimated at 5.52 million tonnes, more than double last year’s production, but below the 2016-20 average of six million tonnes.

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