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Towards food self-sufficiency

 Agriculture, one of the main sectors of the Algerian economy, contributes to nearly 12% of GDP and employs some 1.500.000 people, that is roughly 25% of the labour force. The growth rate is about 19%. However, despite significant resources and very fertile grounds, Algeria cannot ensure its food safety. The agricultural production is insufficient to meet the food needs for the country. Thus Algeria has to import about 2.5 billion USD per year of agricultural products (cereals, dairy products, oil, sugar, coffee...). On the other hand, Algeria only exports the equivalent of 150 to 200 million USD in that sector, that is mainly wine and dried fruits. In fact, the population growth since the Independence was not followed by a widening of the useful agricultural surface which currently represents, according to the official figures, 8,6 million hectares, that is to say 18,5% of the 47 million cultivable. Regarding all these elements, the agricultural sector offers today great investment opportunities as well as high output prospects. Some companies, in particular private ones, having invested the crenel, are thus experiencing dazzling rises. They are often looking for partners in order to optimize their techniques of production.

The PNDA, for a sustainable development

Following the failures of the preceding policies, and in order to solve the problems encountered by the agricultural sector, the government has set up a revival program, the National Plan of Agricultural Development (PNDA). The fundamental role of this initiative is the development of the agricultural production, while developing the potentialities of the country. The main concern consists in reaching food safety, in other words access to agricultural products, so much in quality than in quantity for the population as a whole. In addition, the PNDA has a double mission: to encourage and support the farmers. The main operation aims at land exploitation, by the system of concession of insufficiently exploited lands. It is thus a reconversion of the lands; the areas of the south represent within this framework a significant potential. A second priority relates to the development of the dies (cereals, milk, potato, arboriculture, etc), in order to multiply outputs. Finally, a national program of reafforestation was also initiated within the PNDA framework for 1,2 million hectares, the aim is to increase the afforestation rate from 11% to 14%. In the same way, the reafforestation program is accompanied by an intense activity to make the residents aware of the positive impacts of forests. The PNDA is financied by the National Fund of Regulation and Agricultural Development, which invested about 40 billion DA in 2001. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the first results are very encouraging. Thus, some 171,000 jobs were created in the sector in 2001. Otherwise, some promising figures were registered in terms of increase of production and output improvement. A renovation and modernization process of the agricultural infrastructures was also put into place.
Developping the agri-food industry

Despite some good results, some essential problems remain to be solved, to ensure the future of the agricultural sector. Thus, 80% of the exploitations cover less than 10 hectares. This incontestably raises the question of the diversification of agricultural activities, but also the problem of the diffusion of technical progress within small-scale farmings, in order to increase their productivity. From a legal point of view, there are still some hesitations regarding land matters during land acquisition. It is also advisable to note an insufficiency concerning financial means allocated to research, for a sustainable development of agriculture. For exemple, there are now few techniques intended for the increase of land productivity, such as fertilizers.Because of this institutional deficit, the private companies make sometimes some attempts to invest the sector, in order to become a fully-committed actor of the agricultural development. Thus, M. Boudiaf, CEO of El Bousten Group, a significant tomato canning facility covering 35% of the Algerian market, explains : "We have launched a company, AGRITEC, in partnership with AGIR, an international Canadian group. This project consists in taking up the agricultural challenge. We have an analysis laboratory of seed fertilizers, water and lands (...). We also have two factories producing liquid and solid fertilizers. (...) It is our first project of great scale while waiting to make an engineering on the agricultural level ; we are trying to give an economic notion of the product to our farmers." And amongst other projects, M. Boudiaf also hopes to reinstate the culture of sunflower. In another register, M. Hasnaoui, CEO of Hasnaoui Group, notes that "agriculture will not be able to develop if one does not set up the necessary agricultural processing industry." And he adds " it is useless to produce if the farmer does not find outlets. There are often peaks of production which get lost because there are no means of transformation." The agri-food industry is therefore not developped enough yet. Nevertheless, some companies of the sector are thriving, such as Group El Bousten. M. Boudiaf raises however the problem of exportation. According to him, the State should care more about it. He explains "The State should seriously be committed in order to help those who want to export, for the levelling of all the companies."

The sinews of war

M.Brahim Hasnaoui highlights a crucial point : "Water is the genuine barrier to development because it is a missing resource and very badly managed. For the agriculture sector to develop, the first step would be to rationalize the water and, therefore, to develop an intensive agriculture with a control of production techniques." The Hydraulics Ministry has put into place an ambitious policy to update the hydraulic infrastructures. The Agriculture Ministry is also encouraging the farmers to adopt irrigation systems with water-saving devices. In this respect, the drop by drop system has developped significatively during the last few years. This system consists in irrigating sparingly the plantation, and more particularly palm plantations.

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