AFRICAN nations are expected to remain strong buyers of Australian wheat this season after buying almost two million tonnes last season.
Emerald Group trading and marketing manager Brian Dalitz said that while total Australian wheat exports this season were expected to be about 25 per cent less than the 24.1 million tonnes shipped in 2011-12, Africa was forecast to maintain its relative share at the expense of Asia.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 13 African nations imported 1.98 million tonnes of Australian wheat last year, slightly less than the 2.1 million tonnes bought in 2010-11 and well below the 2.6 million tonnes shipped in 2005-06.
Shipments for the past year ranged in size from 2062 tonnes of bagged wheat bought by Ethiopia to 793,237 tonnes sent to Sudan in bulk orders.
Records for the past 18 years show Congo and Madagascar were first-time buyers of Australian wheat in 2011-12, while Rwanda took local wheat for only the second time.
All three countries, plus Ethiopia and Kenya, each took fewer than 12,000 tonnes for the 12 months to September 30 this year.
At the other end of the scale, the world's biggest wheat buyer, Egypt, took more than 540,000 tonnes of Australian milling grain.
Regular buyers of Australian wheat include South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius and Tanzania.
Mr Dalitz said most of the extra sales made last year were commercial transactions, not food aid shipments.
He said AWB had a strong export program to Africa from the late 1990s until 2004, but competition from Black Sea countries followed by drought in Australia saw sales wane until the recent surge.
Mr Dalitz said big multinational grain companies, such as Cargill, had set up better distribution networks into Africa during the past five to 10 years, helping Australian wheat to get back into those markets.
He said some of the larger traders had built warehouses at African ports where they sold wheat locally by the truckload.
"That's one of the major reasons why we've seen this (African) business increase," Mr Dalitz said.
He said all the wheat exported from Australia was milling wheat, except for some feed grain shipped to South Africa.
Mr Dalitz said African nations had an increasing appetite for white hard wheats.
He said Africa was "not a market for the faint-hearted", with many exporters selling through third parties.