By Aziz El Yaakoubi
Morocco expects its cereal harvest to hit a record 11 million tonnes after good rains this year, up from 6.7 million in 2014, the agriculture minister said on Monday.
Agriculture accounts for more than 15 percent of the North African country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
In 2013, the harvest hit 9.7 million tonnes, including 5.2 million tonnes of soft wheat.
“This campaign is exceptional on all levels,” Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch said at the opening of an annual agriculture fair in Meknes.
The minister did not specify how much of the crop is made up by soft wheat, which remains the main imported grain in the country.
But state news agency MAP, citing Agriculture Ministry data, reported that the harvest includes 5.5 million tonnes of soft wheat, 3.2 million of barley and 2.2 million tonnes of durum wheat.
Morocco grinds more than 7 million tonnes of soft wheat annually, which puts its import needs in the next season at around 2 million tonnes.
Wheat imports in Morocco are free but the government takes many measures to control prices in the local market, including changing customs duties as it still subsidises the flour used by Moroccan households.
The import season usually runs from November to April.
Morocco will raise the customs duty on soft wheat imports to 75 percent from 17.5 percent, from May 1 to Oct. 31, to protect the local harvest, the government announced this month.
Morocco has agreements with the United States and the European Union to import certain grains on preferential customs tariffs, with volumes sought for import depending on the size of the local harvest.
Morocco’s GDP is seen growing by 5 percent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.4 percent and against 2.5 percent in 2014, as the government expects farm output to expand.
Agricultural output rose by 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2015, including growth of 8.8 percent in cereal production, according to Morocco’s Planning Agency.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)