Cork in Algeria
First broadcast date
Cork represents an economic wealth.
It is valuable for various applications and is traditionally used in the manufacture of caps and other items such as shoes; it is also used as thermal , acoustic, or vibration insulation.
Algeria is the third world producer and development prospects of this material , source of foreign exchange and employment, are undertaken.
EPTV - 1st national channel
- Landscapes and environment
Credits / Cast
- Boukerdous Azzedine - Journalist
- Algeria - East - Jijel
- Algeria - East - Bejaia
Cork in Algeria
The cork oak (Quercus suber) grows in areas that have a warm damp climate, on soil that has no lime. They grow particularly well in the western Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast nearby (Morocco). In Algeria there are enormous numbers of cork oaks and they thrive at relatively high altitudes, up to 4,500 feet at Teniet-el Haad. Algeria is probably the second largest producer of cork oak (around 440,000 hectares) after Portugal (650,000). During the colonial period, the French developed cork production by creating groves of cork oaks and factories for processing the cork. After independence, production continued, but both the cultivation of the trees and the treatment of the cork were nationalised.
There are several different operations in making cork. At the beginning of the cycle the husbandry of the trees is vital: they have to be well looked after and pruned carefully to increase the production of good quality cork. Then comes the demasclage, stripping off the first, young bark. Then, when the tree is at least 25 years old, comes the ecorcage, stripping off the mature bark – and this can only be done every 9 years. The bark is then seasoned and sorted. The planks of cork bark are softened by boiling in water, which removes some of the tanin and makes it easier to scrape off the outer crust. The less good pieces are then removed with a knife and finally the pieces are sorted according to quality. The best quality is used for bottle corks, the less good is pulped and made into cork boards.
These activities have considerable economic importance. Cork is a renewable wealth and employs many people. In rural areas cultivating the trees provides stability for whole populations. A single forest can keep workers busy for months and the public sector employs more than 1,400. Algeria has pulled itself up to third biggest cork producer in Europe, after Portugal and Spain, with an average production of between 350,000 and 400,000 quintals of raw cork a year, exported in part to Europe.
At present Algeria's potential output of raw cork , say around 300,000 quintals a year, would need more than 400,000 hectares of oak trees. But in reality the surface area of productive trees has shrunk to 250,000 hectares. Consequently, between 2000 and 2006, production dropped sharply. Insecurity during the civil war, deforestation because of fires, pasture, set-aside and uncontrolled urbanisation have hit production hard. Cork oak forests have to be constantly managed or undergrowth will take over, and that is fatal as a fire risk. As it gets older, the oak tree produces less bark and of inferior quality. Finally the industry has been completely shaken up by competition from the private sector, in both the cultivation of the tree and the treatment of the cork. Fully aware of the seriousness of the situation, the public authorities have set up different plans to inject fresh life into the industry, including a massive tree-planting scheme. The difficulties the industry are facing are particularly serious because they coincided with the traditional markets closing down. During the last 60 years, consumption of bottle corks, even of pulp cork, has fallen as demand for plastic has risen inexorably and in every domain. Only the highest quality cork manages to keep its head above water.
Philippe Chenel, « Le liège en Algérie », Annales de géographie, 1951, vol. 60, n°321, pp. 296-299.
Alexandre Seigue, La forêt circumméditerranéenne et ses problèmes, Paris, Maisonneuve Larose, 1985.
Colloque international sur la gestion des suberaies et la qualité du liège. 18-19 Octobre 2009, Tlemcen, voir www.univ-tlemcen.dz/fichier/Bulletin_04.pdf