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Algeria close to breaking grain import record

Government moves to boost supply, wary that any food unrest could escalate into nationwide revolt along the lines of Egypt or Tunisia

Reuters, Sunday 20 Nov 2011

Algeria is this year close to breaking its all-time record for wheat imports, customs data showed on Sunday, after the government, worried about unrest in the wake of the "Arab Spring" uprisings, embarked on a grain buying spree.

The data seen by Reuters showed total wheat imports were 6.35 million tonnes in the January-October period of this year, up 40.5 per cent on the same period in 2010.

Imports for the year to date are already the biggest for any full year since 2008, when Algeria was forced to buy more foreign wheat because of an unusually low harvest.

If by the end of the year imports exceed the 6.9 million tonnes purchased in 2008, they will be the biggest since Algeria won independence from France in 1962, according to figures from the United Nations food agency.

The customs data showed that soft wheat imports rose 51.3 per cent to 4.95 million tonnes in the same period, from 3.27 million tonnes in the first 10 months of 2010.

Durum wheat purchases were up 12 per cent to 1.39 million tonnes from 1.24 million tonnes in the January-October period of last year, according to the figures.

France led soft wheat suppliers with 3.93 million tonnes, followed by Brazil with 675,000 tonnes. France was also the top supplier of durum wheat with 861,337 tonnes, followed by Mexico with 358,421 tonnes.

The total value of imports more than doubled to $2.420 billion during the first 10 months of this year, from $1.026 billion last year.

Algeria at the start of this year decided to speed up wheat imports to boost stocks in the wake of rioting in January, sparked by food prices rises.

The government is wary that any food unrest could escalate into the kind of nationwide revolt which ousted entrenched leaders of its neighbours Tunisia and Libya.

Algeria's domestic cereal harvest last year was 4.56 million tonnes. That was down from the previous year's record of 6.1 million tonnes but still in line with the average over the past few years.

This year's harvest was 4.2 million tonnes, with agriculture ministry officials blaming poor weather conditions.

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