The milling industry in Morocco
“Through education and training the world of milling and flour transformation has taken a traditional form of processing and turned it into a level of expertise that will continue to meet the demands of a population looking for new food products and to feed our growing population. Cereal and grain production and consumption in Morocco and throughout the region is important and well established and the tools to improve are available to grow even more.”
In Morocco the milling industry has hundreds of operating units, bridging the range of simple stone mills in rural areas to modern roller mills in urban areas. Wheat production and milling are important activities as the population has a significant per capita consumption at over 200 kg per capita per annum. Wheat is by far the main grain staple in the diet, although pulse crops are also consumed on a regular basis, including chickpeas, lentils and beans.
Agricultural activities are important to the Moroccan economy with over 40% of the population involved in production, handling or transformation of locally grown foodstuffs to finished consumer products Both soft wheat (blé tendre) and durum wheat (blé dur) are produced in Morocco but production can be highly variable due to the potential for drought and the low level of irrigated land, at only about 15%. Production of wheat can vary significantly with around 3 million tonnes harvested during drought years to highs above 7 million tonnes when there is ample rainfall. This means that Morocco is always a net importer of both types of wheat with soft wheat typically coming from the EU and Black Sea regions and durum almost exclusively from Canada.
Most of the local durum wheat production is consumed close to the producing region and milled on stone mills or small roller mills. The flour and semolina from these artisan mills is transformed into traditional bread or into couscous, a product historically unique to the Maghreb (North Africa) region but becoming well known and popular in many other countries.
The large industrial mills use the local common wheat but also import more than 50% of wheat from Europe and Black sea in order to assure the consistent specifications necessary to produce the best quality flour and semolina. There is a serious effort in Morocco today, as part of the Green Plan (Plan Maroc Vert), to improve quality and consistency of locally produced wheat and allow more to get into the local market for commercial wheat milling.
Farming of pulses in Morocco used to be an important crop, often producing a surplus over demand, but farmers have more recently cut back planting pulses due to lack of market economic incentives and the advantage of growing other crops with a better financial return. Through the Plan Maroc Vert there is also an effort underway to re-kindle the interest in pulses due to the environmental advantages of crop rotation and nitrogen fixation and significant consumer health benefits of high protein and fibre in these crops.
Milling of grains into flour is an important and honourable process and the technology has never stopped progressing. What started historically as a simple process of rubbing grain between stones to release the flour has become amazingly complex and sophisticated training is necessary to produce the high quality flour demanded by discriminating food processors.
The National Millers Federation (Fédération Nationale de la Minoterie) in Morocco recognized the need for training and almost 25 years ago established a training centre known as IFIM (Institut de Formation de l’Industrie Meunière) to provide technicians in milling technology and grain analysis to work in the North Africa and French West Africa markets. Hundreds of graduates from the school are now spread out all over the region and the numbers continue to increase in response to the growing international demand. Over the last few years IFIM has started an expansion program to include training in secondary product expertise with support from the Government of Canada and from France Export Céréales.
IFIM now has well trained staff in all aspects of cereal and grain processing, ultra modern testing equipment and recently acquired a unique couscous pilot plant in the world, developed by Clextral, the major French manufacturer of industrial extruders, pasta and couscous equipment. This platform is being used as a training tool and more importantly is offered to the food processing industry for research and new product development. The pilot plant is being used to test new formulations and to develop new products such as gluten free pasta and couscous using local grains such as chickpeas, quinoa, manioc and millet, to name just a few.
They will soon launch additional training and research platforms such as a state-of-the-art bakery training school as well as a fully equipped microbiology laboratory. These will further expand their training and customer service opportunities. IFIM is now positioned to become the best training centre in the Africa – Middle East region and will offer expanded training programs to students from around the world.
With support from the Canadian embassy in Rabat, IFIM has launched an important development project aiming to improve the economic opportunity for women at the rural level. Working with the many female cooperatives that are producing artisan couscous from wheat and other grains, IFIM is providing training to improve product quality and food safety levels. As well there is development of new products for these female cooperatives in conjunction with industrial processors using the training platform available at IFIM in Casablanca.
Through education and training the world of milling and flour transformation has taken a traditional form of processing and turned it into a level of expertise that will continue to meet the demands of a population looking for new food products and to feed our growing population. Cereal and grain production and consumption in Morocco and throughout the region is important and well established and the tools to improve are available to grow even more.