Manafid Al Houboub is working with the government on a strategy to streamline the agricultural sector and redeploy resources, with the end goal of benefiting low-income families.

Moulay Abdelkader Alaoui

Moulay Abdelkader Alaoui is the Managing Director of Manafid Al Houboub. He is also director general of the National Union of Moroccan Agricultural Cooperatives (UNCAM), president of FNM, and vice-president of the Interprofessional Federation of Cereal Activities (FIAC). He graduated as an engineer in food industries from Agronomic and Veterinary Institute Hassan II and acquired a master's degree in entrepreneurship and SME development from Nancy II University. Alaoui also holds a diploma in quality management from ENSA Agadir Ibn Zohr University.

Could you give us an overview of FNM and Manafid Al Houboub?
I have an industrial unit that makes flours from tender wheat. I also chair the FNM, which comprises about 160 units of soft wheat, hard wheat, and barley. The flour milling sector has been suffering from production overcapacity for more than a decade. This leads to unfair and blind competition between the different operators. Each follows their own strategy, and this has repercussions on prices and margins. Within the federation, we are working with the government on a strategy to restructure the sector and redeploy resources. In 1988, there were about 60 millers, whereas today there are more than 138 soft wheat millers. Today, we are calling for the subsidy system to be redeployed by means of direct aid to the marginalized, so that transparency and competitiveness can thrive. We are working hard to restructure the entire sector, from seed production to processing and secondary processing. We are currently in the process of putting in place a strategic plan for global supply. With COVID-19, the weaknesses in the system became clear. With two consecutive years of drought in 2019 and 2020, we were dependent on imports of common wheat, hard wheat, barley, and corn from Europe, Russia, the US, and others. Then, there was a problem with congestion at some ports, and all this caused problems and created a sense of frustration and panic. Fortunately, we made all the arrangements given our geographical location and were able to catch up quickly. We must now work on a global approach with an agreement on when we will suspend imports and work on national production. This will help us use our port facilities more intelligently, optimize the cost of transport between ports and the various units, buy when world prices are at their lowest, and no longer be subject to the hazards of the world market and the vagaries of the climate. We are now on the cusp of a major change in the entire sector in Morocco that would integrate all the components of this value chain. All this sums up what is happening in our sector and gives an idea of how we see the future in 2021 and 2022.

In December 2019, the government announced it would spend MAD14 billion on subsidies for wheat, cooking gas, and sugar. How will this plan change with COVID-19?
A COVID-19 fund was created and financed by the state with the participation of all social components, so the subsidies on products that are typically subsidized will continue. In terms of gas subsidies, everyone benefits, from farmers who use gas bottles to industrialists who use butane. The state cannot continue to subsidize populations who are in comfortable situations to the detriment of poorer ones. We want this aid to be direct and the market price to reflect the real price. Today, a 13-kg gas canister is MAD40 while the actual price is MAD120, so the difference could very well go to the people in difficult situations. The same applies to sugar, as it is used by those who produce soft drinks, bakeries, and restaurants. The state cannot continue to subsidize everyone.

What are your priorities for 2021?
The priority is to restart activity, as COVID-19 has put a large number of industrialists to the test. The state has taken many measures, like loans with interest rates less than 3.5%. 2021 will be a difficult year, so we should expect a restart in 2022. The priorities will be to ensure social peace, employment, and restarting activity in a flexible, smooth, and trouble-free manner.