Belkacem Becharef, Africaine Paper Mills (APM) General Manager
Belkacem Becharef, Africaine Paper Mills (APM) General Manager

Algeria is attracting a lot of trade because of its low costs base. After having to turn away orders due to mill capacity, General Manager Belkacem Becharef is determined to gear up production. He spoke to TWM Senior Editor Helen Morris.

With a warm invitation to visit the company’s plant in the very near future, and a thanks for “putting Algeria on the world tissue map,” Africaine Paper Mills (APM) General Manager Belkacem Becharef has been working at the company for only the past year and a half, yet his enthusiasm for his new role is clear.

Speaking across a Teams call from his office at the business’s 50,000m² Rouïba plant, located 22 kilometres in the eastern suburbs of Algiers and within the 2,381,741km² that is the largest land mass in Africa, APM is now a leading manufacturer of tissue paper jumbo rolls across the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. It moved into tissue production in 2019 when it started up its first tissue machine, an Andritz-supplied PrimeLineCOMPACT TM, equipped with the supplier’s latest shoe press technology PrimePress XT Evo. The line has a design speed of 2,100m/min and a width of 2.85m, and now produces 35,000tpy. Product grades of 13.5gm to 40g jumbo rolls include white or coloured tissue paper that is then cut and packed in converting factories for toilet, facial, industrial, kitchen and pocket tissues, napkin, towel, and diapers.

It was the first tissue machine for the now 210-staffed APM, and at the time of its launch, the company said its target was to “produce good paper quality combined with energy-efficiency and be leaders in the MENA tissue market.”

Becharef joined in November 2022, having previously studied paper engineering, working in Algeria for 15 years and latterly Kuwait for 20 years: “APM is made by three families, one from Algeria, one from Syria, and another from Saudi Arabia,” he says. “We started it because in Algeria there’s fewer factories for tissue than is needed, so we saw an opportunity there. Some 30 years ago, there were five or six paper mills here, and our site made white pulp and brown pulp for writing paper and also for fluting and test liner up until 1980/1990. After many problems, they closed all of the factory. Recently they started to make tissue and we now have three or four plants here. In the next four to five years, we will construct one big factory for test liner and fluting, we have signed with Voith, to go alongside the tissue production. We are seeing a lot of increase in demand for tissue paper products, as well as test liner and fluting.”

Investment in tissue remains key, and in May 2024 the company announced it was to boost its production capacity across the MENA tissue market after investing in a Toscotec-supplied rewinder line to be installed at the Rouïba site. Start-up of the OPTIMA 1800 slitter is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2024, and once up and running will process 2,800mm width parent reels using two unwind stands.

Becharef says the new rewinder line “represents a strategic investment – it will resolve bottlenecks in our operations and support our growth in the MENA market. We have increased our speeds since we started the project in 2019 and reached 85-90 ton daily. We extended our existing rewinder as it couldn’t cover all production and we understood that a second rewinder line was necessary. The new rewinder will be placed here in our factory parallel to the existing rewinder to increase our capacity and to make this production with 1ply, aiming for start-up in August/September.”

Africane Paper Mills’ Rouïba plant: A Toscotec-rewinder line is due for start-up in Q4 2024
Africane Paper Mills’ Rouïba plant: A Toscotec-rewinder line is due for start-up in Q4 2024

Demand in the local Algerian market consists of 1py and 2ply toilet paper, and the company also plans further export to several countries in the MENA region: “We currently export into the Middle East and Africa, as well as Spain, Portugal, and Greece,” he says. “We export 40% of production, and the remaining 60% to the local Algerian market. We feel our market growing now and we are considering a second tissue machine line also, so that we can increase our production capacity from 2,500 monthly to sell 5,000 monthly, because our orders are already 4,000 monthly.”

Over the past few years, tissue volume growth in Algeria has been around 5-7% annually, he adds. “After Covid, tissue volumes have been growing every year. So in the end, Covid created a new oxygen for the tissue industry here, it created a new market for tissue products. Tissue paper, napkin, kitchen towel … it is now a lot like Europe here in Algeria. Life here is changing, everything is growing and there is need for these products everywhere you look.”

He says that previously Algerians needed one kilo per person per year, but now its two or three kilos annually. “Now you find more paper and napkins in restaurants, offices, everywhere. And there are still some places where there is food, but not the paper, so there is potential for us there too. In Algeria, the population is nearly 45m, and the culture here is sitting outside to eat, so there is great potential.”

The company recently had a big order of 800 tonnes per month to England, but Becharef says they simply “didn’t have the capacity for it”. “Because of the situation here with the Red Sea, all the European countries want to bring from Algeria because it is a low price, low energy prices, low water, and electricity prices, etc. They prefer to take from here rather than the other side because it’s very far. But here in North Africa, we are just across the sea. We are in front of Europe. From my city here, the factory in north Algeria, it is three hours to south Algeria. Whereas from here to Europe it is one and a half hours.”

With the need for increasing production clear, would he consider a converting facility? “We have a lot of competitors here in Algeria for converting, so maybe in the future we would consider a workshop for converting. But in any case, we are busy with our test liner and fluting. But maybe when we have finished that project, PM2, maybe then we come back to converting, or a second tissue line.” Watch this space.