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North Africa Wheat Imports Could Jump as Region Battles Drought

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North Africa, already the largest wheat-importing region, could see grain imports rise sharply this season as drought threatens cereal crops in several countries. An increased reliance on imports could potentially strain national budgets and further fuel food price inflation.  

Gro’s Drought Index shows “severe” drought levels in much of Algeria, while “extreme” drought readings are widespread in Morocco and Tunisia. Should dry conditions continue for the remainder of the growing season through May, grain shipments to the region could begin to ramp up. Based on crop planting/harvesting dates, wheat and barley crops are most at risk, as seen in Gro’s Global Crop Calendar

North African countries, which also include Egypt and Libya, are collectively the largest importers of wheat worldwide, with shipments coming mainly from Russia, the EU, Ukraine, and the United States. An increase in North Africa’s import demand would come at a time when global wheat supplies are at their lowest levels in many years, and wheat prices have risen 25% over the past year. In addition, several countries, including top exporter Russia, have enacted protectionist measures capping wheat exports to counter domestic inflation.

Gro’s Drought Index shows ‘severe’ drought levels in much of Algeria, while ‘extreme’ drought readings are widespread in Morocco and Tunisia.

The rainy season in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia typically runs from August to December. But this year, accumulated precipitation for these months was 36% below the 10-year average in Algeria, 46% below normal in Morocco, and 48% below normal in Tunisia. 

Morocco, one of the top wheat producing countries in Africa and a large wheat importer, is currently in the middle of its winter wheat growing season, and already signs of crop stress are present. Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator, weighted to highlight Morocco’s wheat growing areas, shows NDVI, an important measure of vegetative health, is at the lower end of readings since 2000. Comparable growing conditions for this time of year were seen in 2001, when Morocco’s wheat harvest was 56% below its five-year average, while imports rose 46% above average. 

Unlike its neighbors, Egypt, the most populous country in the region, grows most of its wheat under irrigation. This has spared the country from the wide fluctuations in cereal production caused by recurrent droughts in the region over the past 10 years.

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