MENA the Largest Food Importing Region in the World

Per the World Bank, more than fifty percent of the food consumed in all its areas is imported, thus making the MENA the largest food importing region in the world. Also, high rates of population growth combined with severely constrained water and land resources suggest that this dependence on imports will increase or remain at current levels for the foreseeable future.

All countries have therefore opted to go for a new agricultural policy with specifically in Algeria something that is based on the creation of mega-projects of more than 10,000 ha each but in the Southern half that is the Saharan desert. Operations between national and foreign partners companies have been created and this is already underway with a surface of 600,000 ha mainly oriented towards grain, vegetables and dairy production.

Reuters back in January 2017 informed that an Algerian company has signed a deal with a U.S. group to set up agricultural projects worth $300 million in the North African country as it seeks to reduce dependence on imports.

Algeria imports most of its agriculture-related products because of weak domestic output, but has promised to develop the farming sector as part of efforts to diversify its economy away from oil and gas after a drop-in oil prices hit state finances.

It has also approved a new investment law offering incentives to foreign and local private firms willing to invest in the non-oil sector.

The North African state’s economy is slowly emerging from years of socialist-inspired state centralization and protectionism that following independence from France in 1962. A decade of war with armed Islamists in the 1990s also left Algeria’s economy underdeveloped.

Agricultural mega-projects?

Recently however, experts, businesses and governments alike are having second thoughts.  They are asking themselves questions as per Aïssa Manseur, agricultural expert’s writing in February 27, 2017 in Maghreb Emergent

Why the idea of launching agricultural mega-projects in the South of Algeria is harmful and without future?

The new agricultural policy in Algeria is based on the creation of mega-projects of more than 10,000 ha in the Saharan south, between national and foreign partners companies have been created and the project are already underway, a surface of 600 000 ha was reserved for these projects, which will be mainly oriented towards grain, vegetables and dairy production.

The model that was adopted first in Latin America, is a model that wants to be “capitalist and commercial” par excellence, whose gain is the only goal without skimping on the means to implement and regardless of the impacts that can be generated.

What would the fate of small farmers be and where would peasant agriculture turn into?  What will be the effects on underground water resources and the environment? Our agriculture is based on small farmers, small farmers, small and medium-sized farms, despite a failed agricultural policy and difficulties encountered on land, the agriculture has been able to ensure a certain self-sufficiency in many products including market gardeners.

Underground water and environmental concerns

These mega farms in the South despite constraints of climate and soil, require large quantities of water, which weighs heavily on underground water reserves. Moreover, concerns about profits and costs of production control resulted into the inevitable use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are however some environmental problems with these on top of their now recognised impacts on human consumption.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia has opted for this model in a plan to launch production of grain farming. Three decades of production that have been satisfactory, made it reach self-sufficiency in wheat and production surpluses have been exported for many years to neighbouring countries.  But this performance could not last because of the surprising and disturbing levels of groundwater declines have been identified; the cereal crops have severely depleted underground reserves of water.

Extensive cereal production is dependent on rainfall, and if conducted in a traditional way, these cultures can nevertheless bring results. In Algeria, 3.5 million ha are annually farmed with only 200 to 240,000 ha that are irrigated. No effort is so far made to increase the irrigated areas and despite projections announced at the beginning of each season, it would make more sense to think of a mega-project to supply water to these grain areas that are “missing”, irrigate those 3.5 million ha.