* Snowfall saves grain Algerian crop from weeks of drought
* Tunisian officials say no damage to its grain crop
* Morocco misses out on rain, farmers worry about frost
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Feb 8 Cold weather spreading from
Europe into North Africa has helped the grain crops in Algeria
and Tunisia by dumping snow and rain, breaking a drought so
severe that mosques had offered up prayers for rain.
Neighbouring Morocco though, missed out on the precipitation
and a farmers' representative said the combination of cold and
lack of rain could hurt crops there, with sugar beet and cane
European wheat futures rose this week on anxieties that the
freezing conditions on the continent could damage crops. The
northern tip of Africa was affected by the same weather systems,
with the Algerian capital seeing the heaviest snowfall in living
memory at the weekend.
But in Algeria and Tunisia, farming officials welcomed the
rain and snow.
In those two countries, the risk of cold damaging grain
crops is lower than elsewhere because there is no winter crop.
The plants are therefore still under the soil and better
protected from frost.
"We are very fortunate because the snow and rain will save
the grain season, which was at high risk from drought," said
Djamel Barchiche, director of communication at Algeria's
"Remember, we got almost nothing (in terms of precipitation)
during the past two months, we were very concerned, but now we
are relieved and we look forward to another good grain season,"
he told Reuters.
At Friday prayers on Feb. 3, Muslim clerics at mosques all
over the Algerian capital led prayers for rain in the hope of
helping rain-starved farmers. Rain started falling about 24
hours later, followed by snow.
Algeria last year imported over 7 million tonnes of grain
while Morocco's imports were about 6 million tonnes, putting
both among the world's 10 biggest importers. Imports are largely
dictated by the size of domestic harvests.
An official at Tunisia's Agriculture Ministry said his
colleagues had been to grain-growing areas to inspect for damage
from the weather but found none.
"It's the opposite; the recent rains will have a positive
impact. The reservoirs (used for irrigation) are full," the
official said. "There will be no bad consequences for the
Mosques in Morocco also offered prayers for rain last month,
but they have not been answered, at least in the main
grain-growing areas.. Rainfall so far this
growing season is substantially down on normal levels.
"We are set for an average harvest this year," Ahmed
Ouayach, who chairs the Moroccan Confederation of Agriculture,
"The rain we had last month was not plentiful enough and
this cold spell is not helping farmers' case at all," he said.
Morocco has a spring grain crop as well as an autumn
harvest. The plants are therefore more advanced than in Algeria
or Tunisia and so more exposed to the cold.
Ouayach said the cold would also take a toll on sugar cane
and sugar beet crops. "Cane for instance dreads the frost," he
said. "I think we will be forced to import more raw sugar this
(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat and Tarek Amara
in Tunis; writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Keiron