Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egypt has enough wheat to last 5 months, says official | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People queue for subsidized bread in front of a bakery in Alexandria, in this June 2, 2013 file picture. (Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)

People queue for subsidised bread in front of a bakery in Alexandria, in this June 2, 2013 file picture. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

People queue for subsidised bread in front of a bakery in Alexandria in this June 2, 2013, file photo. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, has enough wheat stocks to meet domestic demand for the next five months, the vice chairman of the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) said yesterday.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the vice chairman, Nomani Nomani revealed that “[wheat] imports have been halted since February following predictions of a higher domestic crop.”

“At the beginning of the last financial year, we had approximately 1.2 million tons of imported wheat in addition to 3.7 million tons of domestic wheat, an amount that lasted for approximately six months,” he said.

Today, however, Egypt has 3.6 million tons of wheat, 400,000 tons of which are imported. This has prompted the government to invite tenders to import approximately 180,000 tons of wheat, he added.

When asked about the reasons behind blocking wheat imports since February, Nomani said: “The ministry of agriculture overestimated the amount of this year’s domestic crop, in addition to lack of funding due to the unavailability of hard currency.”

Mohammed Mursi, Egypt’s deposed president, had announced in May that the domestic wheat crop would yield 9.5 million tons this year.

Despite the decline in Egypt’s wheat stock, Nomani attempted to reassure Egyptians that reserves will last until November 25, 2013, and that any shortages can be overcome by increasing imports.

Under previous administrations, Egypt’s flour reserves were comprised of 50 percent domestic wheat and 50 percent imported wheat. However, Mursi’s government increased the amount of domestic wheat to 75 percent in a bid to lessen dependence on foreign wheat, a move that decreased the country’s reserves of the crop.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced on Thursday that political unrest, in addition to shrinking foreign currency reserves, are placing Egypt’s food security in jeopardy and causing the public to fear wheat shortages.

Speaking to Reuters earlier this week, former minister of supplies Bassem Ouda claimed that the state had just 500,000 tons of imported wheat left—less than two months’ supply.

However, the FAO report did not consider the USD 12 billion worth of aid that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait pledged to Egypt this week, following Mursi’s ouster.

Although Egypt is a large producer of wheat, reports claim that the country requires huge quantities of foreign wheat, which has a higher gluten content, in order to produce flour suitable for making bread.