Algerian Date Exports Exploding like a Nuclear Bomb, going to Niger at USD 92 / MT

Fresh Date
Dried Date
Published Nov 11, 2021
Algeria’s date exports to Niger have nearly quadrupled in the last 5 years to more than 60,000 MT. These dates are going to their neighbor in the south for as little as USD 92 / MT. Compare this to the unit value of Algerian dates going to France at USD 1,715 / MT and there are more questions than answers. The exact cause for this discrepancy cannot be pinned down, and there could be different reasons. Nonetheless, there are concerns about contamination to the food chain from French nuclear tests in Algeria in the 1960’s.

Algeria’s Date Production and Exports

Algeria produces more than 114 varieties of dates and there are large differences in the way date production is reported. For example, as reported by FAOSTAT, in 2019, Algeria’s total date production was a massive 1,136,025 MT. However, this includes all dates, not only the ones destined for human consumption. Algeria’s so-called table date production in 2019 was around 100,000 MT as reported by the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC). Table dates are commonly the term used for dates destined for the food market.

Algeria’s table date production has increased from 80,000 MT in 2016/17 ton to an estimated 110,000 MT in 2021/22 according to the INC. While this solid growth is noteworthy, the jump in exports is remarkable, and the value of dates going to Niger is extraordinary. Algeria exported a mere 28,645 MT of fresh or dried dates in 2015. Five years later, in 2020, exports more than quadrupled, to an incredible 129,175 MT. 60,539 MT of this went to Niger, at a value of USD 5.6 million. This is according to data from ITC Trade Map, HS Code 080410 - Fresh or dried dates.

Source: INC, ITC Trade Map

Well-established markets for renowned Algerian dates. Exports to Niger sky-rocketing

Algerian dates are known for their quality and taste. Especially deglet nour dates from Algeria is a high-quality product renowned for its taste. France has been a consistent buyer of Algerian table dates, averaging 17,000 MT annually for the five years ending 2019, however, they also increased their imports in 2020, to a healthy 25,776 MT. Morocco is another popular market for Algerian dates and Algeria exported 11,787 MT to their neighbor to the east in 2020, much higher than the average for the previous 5 years of 3,660 MT. Russia and Germany are other popular destinations.

Niger has long been an importer of Algerian dates, but there has been a recent boom in volumes going to Algeria’s southern neighbor. These exports make their way across the Sahara to one of the continent’s most remote borders in the middle of the Sahara desert. Niger’s share in Algeria’s date exports, on a volume basis, made up 47% in 2020, from 36% in 2015. What is mystifying is that on a value basis, these exports made up only 4% of Algeria’s date exports in 2020.

Source: ITC Trade Map

Comparison of unit values of dates to Niger

The value of dates going to Niger is astonishingly cheap, and according to data on ITC Trade Map, the value per MT was a mere USD 92 in 2020. This compared to their second-biggest export destination, France, where the value per MT was USD 1,715 in 2020.

Source: ITC Trade Map, UN Comtrade*

*ITC Trade Map and UN Comtrade publish official data, known as “direct data”. ITC Trade map also publishes “mirror data”. In the case of mirror data, when trade data from country A with country B is not reported, the trade data from country B with country A is used. For example, there is no direct data for Algeria’s date exports to France after 2017, but there is data available from French customs for date imports from Algeria.

Possible explanations for cheap dates

While Algeria is renowned for its dates, it is not renowned for its data in the public domain and neither is Niger. Official publications on exports from Algeria were last released as far back as 2017 and any official data from Niger is broadly categorized. Even some traders in these countries are surprised by these export values. There could be a few reasons why the prices of dates are lower.

Dates can be used for a variety of purposes, including date paste, condiments, juice, syrup, wine etc. Normally these dates are of lower quality and are traded at lower prices. But usually at slightly lower prices, not prices of 20 times lower. Also, the dates leaving but entering Niger is reported as HS Code 080410 - Fresh or dried dates and Niger lacks the facilities to process these dates further.

Dates can also be used for animal feed, but it is normally only the pits that get fed to animals. However, at these prices, it is hard to believe that these dates are suitable for human consumption, and it might be a case of expired or completely substandard dates being exported as animal feed.

More worryingly is the question about whether the nuclear tests by France in the Algerian desert, in the 1960’s have anything to do with it. Radioactive waste from these tests are still a major concern in Agriculture in Algeria. However, according to Executive Decree No. 14-366, published in 2014, by the Algerian Ministry of Trade, food intended for human consumption cannot exceed the maximum limits for “ contaminants by radioactive elements such as radionuclides”. So if this decree is enforced, these dates are not contaminated, or at least they are not for human consumption.


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