Fababean buyer shuts down

The world’s largest fababean buyer is out of the market for the short term as it chews through excess supplies.

COVID-19 caused a sharp reduction in Egyptian consumption of the crop, said Mufaddal Saifuddin, a trader with Mufaddal for Food Industries in Egypt.

He told delegates attending Pulses 2.0, a virtual conference hosted by the Global Pulse Confederation, that no fababean consumption occurs in Egyptian homes.

It all takes place through the country’s street vendors, and they were shut down for months because of COVID restrictions.

An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 tonnes of consumption was lost, resulting in about two full months of carryout supplies.

“Egypt is not in a hurry to buy,” said Saifuddin.

The North African country typically accounts for three-quarters of world fababean imports and usually pays a premium for the crop because it is one of the only markets in the world where the crop is consumed by humans.

Saifuddin believes the country will eventually end up importing 450,000 tonnes of fababeans in 2020-21, which is about 100,000 tonnes lower than usual.

One positive demand factor is that fababeans are inexpensive right now and may take back some of the Egyptian market that was lost to yellow peas and chickpeas.

Those two alternative pulses have been used as substitutes in making falafel the last couple of years because fababean prices have been too high.

Australia and the European Union are the top exporters of the crop, followed by France, Canada, Lithuania and Latvia.

Australia has a bumper crop on the way, said Francois Darcas, owner of Agri-Oz Commodities.

The Aussie crop is pegged at 520,000 tonnes but could come in as high as 600,000 tonnes. That is up from 327,000 tonnes last year and 233,000 tonnes the year before that.

Crop quality is very good so there will be an overabundance for overseas markets and prices will have to fall, he said.

Andy Bury, trader with Frontier Agriculture in the United Kingdom, said it will be a disappointing harvest in terms of both yield and quality in the U.K.

He is forecasting 480,000 tonnes of production.

“Only a very limited amount will be suitable for human consumption,” said Bury.

A lot of the U.K. crop has already been sold to feed markets in Europe. Prices are up for feed quality fababeans, which along with Australia’s top-notch crop is squeezing the premium for human consumption fababeans.

Jean Louis Lamau, a pulse broker with the French firm Courtier, said France used to export 200,000 to 300,000 tonnes of human consumption fababeans. Last year it shipped out a paltry 2,000 tonnes and this year’s volumes will be similar.

That is because the country’s farmers have been battling an insect infestation caused by a ban on certain insecticides.

He said France will no longer be a factor in export markets for the human consumption product.

“I’m very pessimistic on the future. I hope I’m wrong,” said Lamau.

Bury said the same problem is unfolding in the southern U.K., where summers are getting warmer and insects are on the rampage, causing quality issues.

The reduced EU/U.K. export competition could help Canadian farmers, who grew an estimated 122,000 tonnes of the crop.

GPC executive director Randy Duckworth said he is optimistic about future demand for the crop.

“Every major fractionation manufacturer in the world right now is looking at fababeans as a potential ingredient,” he said.

In fact, a fababean fractionation plant recently opened for business is Wimmera, Australia.

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