Following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, the Ministry of Economy called on largescale grain farmers, mill owners and general food importers to accumulate a three-month stock of food. This was followed by the setting up of a Grain Bureau by the Economy Ministry.
In January this year, during a meeting of the Supreme Committee to Develop a Food Security Strategy held at the headquarters of the National Council for Economic and Social Development in Tripoli, Minister of Economy and Trade Mohamed Hwej said developing a strategic plan for national food security is a primary goal for his ministry in 2023.
While earlier this month at a meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Libyan Grain Bureau, Hwej stressed the importance of paying attention to grains and working to preserve their strategic stock.
He said policy direction should be to encourage grain cultivation locally and increase the percentage of dependence on local production, by solving the problems of marketing and purchasing production directly from farmers at encouraging (subsidised) prices.
Producing grains locally and preserving the strategic stock of them is a matter of national security, he added.
Speaking on the topic exclusively to Libya Herald, Libyan specialist in the Physiology of the Crop Environment, Dr. Saleh Bugharsa, said that 90 percent of Libya is desert, and wheat is grown in areas that receive large amounts of rain. In Libya these conditions are available in the Al-Jabal Al-Khader region, with a rainfall rate of 400 mm and the Western Mountain region, adding that wheat needs more water than barley.
Single pivot irrigation system in the south produced large yields
Pointing out that wheat needs large amounts of irrigation, so its cultivation in Libya has succeeded in the south-eastern regions, including Kufra, al-Sirir, south of Sebha, and near Ubari in the southwest due to the abundance of groundwater. In these areas its cultivation yielded large quantities, reaching thousands of tons, with the single pivot irrigation system.
Libya was self-sufficient in durum wheat in 2010
Bugharsa said from the economic point of view, production is studied or calculated in terms of consumption, and the gap between consumption and production is bridged by imports. This, he noted, does not happen in Libya, where imports are done without studies of continuous grain types, especially since it enables part of Libya’s wheat needs at home. This is especially the case for durum wheat, which is cultivated intensively in the Libyan south to the extent that in 2010 Libya was self-sufficient in this variety not needing to import to cover its deficit.
Libya can become self-sufficient in several produce
He said that in Libya, when comparing the large areas of arable land with the population, with the availability of material and human capabilities, we can reach self-sufficiency and even export the surplus. The is not the case only in wheat and barley, but in all crops, fruits, vegetables, aromatic and medicinal plants.
Agriculture in decline since the discovery of oil
Bugharsa stressed that the reality of agriculture in Libya is in clear decline since the discovery of oil, which led to the migration of people from the countryside and villages to the cities and their abandonment of agriculture and grazing.
Sub-Saharan demand for grain will triple by 2050
Also speaking to Libya Herald, Dr. Ahmed Boulsien, Professor of Economics and former Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Tripoli, said the level of global trade in wheat annually is approximately $40 billion and demand for grains in sub-Saharan Africa will almost triple by 2050.
Libya needs 1 million tons of wheat
He said unless there is significant local agricultural intensification and massive expansion of cropland, the region will become much more dependent on grain imports than today, this, he stressed, was especially the case for Libya, whose annual needs amount to nearly one million tons of wheat – divided between 700,000 tons of soft wheat and 300,000 tons of durum wheat. Most of this is currently imported from abroad, despite the possibility of cultivating the entire amount of durum wheat in Libya, he bemoaned.
Political and security instability adversely affecting wheat production in south
Boulsien noted that the reason for the historic decline in the cultivation of durum wheat in Libya, despite the availability of capabilities, is the state of instability, especially in the south. In the south, power outages have been widespread during the past years adversely affecting electric driven irrigation, and the high cost of transportation from farms in the south to mills in the north had also disincentivised production.
Production likely to increase in 2023
However, recent geopolitical factors and the global increase in grain prices, the relatively stable security situation in Libya and the absence of power cuts during this season are likely to increase Libya’s production of durum wheat in the south.
Wheat import bill will rise sharply – needs strategic rethink
Boulsien stressed that Libya will face a significant increase in its wheat import bill, and this is due to two main factors. First, is the large dependence on wheat as a basic food component in Libyans’ diet. Second, is the decrease in its wheat production relative to its domestic consumption. This, he noted, calls for a deep rethinking of the future direction to address the problem.
There needs to be a focus on two goals, he explained. The first is how to increase wheat production in the region through collective investment measures and benefit from cheap energy sources and fertilizers in this strategic field. The second goal is making a regular change in the diet and trying to reduce waste in wheat consumption.