Got milk? Algeria offers opportunities for Irish dairy firms
When the definitive book on Irish entrepreneurship is written a chapter will be dedicated to Alastair McGuckian. He may even be on the cover. Together with brother Paddy, he founded farming systems company Masstock in the 1970s and, in partnership with the Saudi Royal family, helped develop a modern dairy industry there. That business, Almarai, went on to become the largest vertically integrated dairy company in the world.
Could such a venture happen again? If a meeting last week of Irish dairy industry suppliers and Algerian business leaders is any indication, it just might.
"Creating Opportunities for the Irish Dairy Industry in Algeria" was a joint undertaking of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - supported by Breifne O'Reilly, Ambassador of Ireland to Switzerland, Algeria and Lichtenstein - and Enterprise Ireland's Milan Office which covers both Algeria and Morocco. Participants included members of the Forum Chefs d'Entreprises (FCE), the most influential business entity in Algeria, headed by Ali Haddad, a captain of Algerian industry.
They heard how Ireland, a world leader in dairy production, is perceived as a strong economic model for Algeria and - because of its history as a former colony - an attractive one.
Long-term economic goals in Algeria include diversifying the economy away from a reliance on hydrocarbon exports, bolstering the private sector, attracting foreign investment and providing jobs for its youthful population.
Over the years Algeria's reliance on oil revenues has put agricultural development at the mercy of external factors. Improving the capacity to produce processed dairy goods could generate notable investment and relieve its reliance on dairy imports. Algeria is the largest dairy consumer in the Maghreb region and one of the world's biggest importers of milk powder, second only to China.
With a dairy policy that has relied on milk powder imports to secure supply since the early 1970s, the development of an efficient chain using local raw milk has not yet been achieved. Whole milk powder is imported from New Zealand, Argentina and France. Cheese is imported from the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand and the US.
Algeria has an annual need of five billion litres of milk. It currently produces two billion domestically and has to import the rest as powdered milk to be reconstituted. An Algerian dairy products manufacturer told attendees how keen he is that quality be improved as the quality of his own cheeses is dependent on his ability to access good quality raw milk.