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ALGIERS: Grain importer Algeria expects its cereal production for 2020 to fall 35-40% from last year’s 5 million tonnes because of drought, the head of its farmers’ union told Reuters.

Algeria has in recent years harvested the bulk of its needs for durum wheat and barley while depending on imports of soft wheat, in large part from France.

“Output will drop by 35-40% due to drought,” the farmers’ union chief Mohamed Alioui said. “Drought has hit all provinces in the east and west, mainly those known for high production.”

Movement restrictions linked to the global pandemic contributed to production falling across the country, forcing farmers to revise down expectations, he said.

Lower output means the government will continue to turn to international markets to supply its 45 million people, he said.

Algeria spends around $1.3 billion annually on cereal imports, and wheat, considered a strategic crop, is subsidised.

The harvest is coming to an end in the southern provinces and will start in the north in the next few days, continuing until the end of August.

“We are disappointed. But we hope there will be abundant rain next season,” said farmer Ali Bakali as he visited his two-hectare wheat farm.

Drought hit most crops with farmers waiting for the government to make good on promises to improve irrigation systems.

“We have no other solutions but to find the solutions that allow us to cope with the drought and its impact on agriculture,” Agriculture Minister Abdelhamid Hamdani said last month as reported by state media. Only about 600,000 hectares of the 1.4 million that are irrigated are planted with cereals.

The government said it will offer incentives, including removing some administrative procedures, for farmers to grow cereals.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Sunday called for a “revolution” in the production of grains and seeds, urging his government to increase durum wheat output and cut soft wheat imports by adopting modern methods and involving more agronomic engineers.

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