(Add details, background)
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Algeria's grain output for the 2017 season reached 3.5 million tonnes, slightly up from last year's 3.4 million tonnes, a senior official at the agriculture ministry told Reuters on Thursday.
Algeria, one of the world's largest grain importers, has been trying to boost domestic production and cut purchases from abroad in a bid to ease financial pressure caused by a sharp fall in energy earnings, the main source of state finances.
The harvested crop will keep imports for 2018 almost unchanged from this year, the official said, without giving figures. The North African country of 41 million people imported 13.32 million tonnes in 2016, according to customs data.
Durum wheat output reached 2 million tonnes, while barley stood at around 1 million tonnes in 2017, the official said.
"Durum wheat accounted for 57 percent of total production this year," he said, asking not be named.
Algeria imports most of its soft wheat needs with France remaining the main supplier.
The official attributed the "weak output" to bad weather conditions that have persisted for at least two years.
"Drought severely hit eastern provinces where we usually get much better production," he said.
Total grain-planted surface area is estimated at 3.5 million hectares, but the government is planning to increase that to more than 4 million hectares.
In a bid to cope with drought, the government has announced plans to raise total irrigated areas to 2 million hectares by 2019 from 1.2 million hectares now. The share of irrigation for cereals is expected to reach 600,000 hectares from 60,000 hectares currently.
It has also promised incentives for farmers, including cheap loans and low prices for seeds and fertilizer, aiming to harvest 6.9 million tonnes of wheat and barley by 2019.
The steps in the agriculture sector are part of efforts to diversify the economy away from oil and gas after a slide in global crude oil prices hit the state budget as Algeria now imports most of its goods needs.
It has approved import restrictions for several products including barley in an attempt to cut its import bill. (Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; editing by Ulf Laessing, editing by David Evans)