Desert spread will lift Africa food costs: minister

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Africa’s cereal supply costs will soar and millions more Africans will seek to migrate if deserts keep expanding at their present rate, Algeria’s environment minister said in remarks published on Wednesday.

Newspapers quoted minister Cherif Rahmani as saying he estimated Africa’s annual cereal supply costs would reach about $14 billion in 2020 for projected consumption of 60 million tonnes, compared with $3.6 billion in 2006 for 43 million tonnes, if desertification was not tackled.

Rahmani was speaking at a workshop on desertification jointly organized by Algeria’s parliament and the Africa Union’s Pan-African Parliament.

Algeria is among the world’s biggest wheat importers, shipping in five million tonnes each year at a cost of about $1 billion.

Africa has lost over 140 million hectares to desert in the past decade, the head of the Pan African Parliament’s economic commission, Chara Bachir, told the conference.

Rahmani said the spread of deserts would swell the flow of Africans fleeing poverty at home for economic opportunities in rich countries, newspapers including El Watan and El Moujahid said.

“Desertification will push 65 million Africans to seek refuge in the West,” he said without elaborating.

Rahmani said that by 2025 the number of people living in deserts around the world would have doubled to two billion, including 750 million in Africa, and called on the international community to do far more to protect the land.

He said it took on average three to four years and about $400 million to transform a hectare of semi-arid land in Africa into fertile ground.

Participants at the workshop include representatives from 20 African countries, European deputies and international specialists in desertification.