CAIRO: Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer, will be able to cease importing wheat for the production of state-subsidized bread if it builds enough silos to store locally produced grain, Agriculture Minister Salah Abdel-Moemen said Sunday. Of the 18.8 million tons of wheat consumed in Egypt each year, around half is grown locally. Abdel-Moemen said the subsidized bread upon which millions of Egyptians depend accounts for 9.6 million tons of wheat consumption. Last season, Egypt’s harvest was 9.5 million tons, he said.
“Egypt’s production of wheat covers the [amount required for] the subsidized loaf, but the storage capacity is a problem. We stored 3.8 million tons of wheat last year and the rest was sold to private bakeries,” he told Reuters.
The government agency responsible for buying wheat said last week Egypt would seek to double the capacity of its wheat silos in the next three or four years.
By storing more of its locally grown wheat for subsidized bread production, Egypt might be able to cut down on how much it spends importing wheat for subsidized bread production.
Egypt’s new government, led by President Mohammad Mursi, is seeking ways to cut government spending on subsidies. Abdel-Moemen said that last season 3.1 million feddans (1.3 million hectares) of wheat were grown in Egypt, compared to the country’s total agricultural land of 8.2 million feddans. “I hope the area farmed with wheat will not be less than last season,” he said. “I cannot force the farmer to farm a certain crop.” He added that the state was working on a national program to farm an additional million feddans, though he did not say when the project would be launched. “The project requires finance of 12 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.97 billion) and the ministry does not have the finance. Therefore it will be put to civil society, investors, and the youth for participation, in addition to donations.”
The land would be in areas in the Sinai Peninsula and Toshka – a land reclamation project in southern Egypt that was established by deposed President Hosni Mubarak. The land would remain state property, he added.
The idea behind the Toshka project was to use water diverted by a canal from the Aswan High Dam reservoir to turn desert into farmland.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2012, on page 5.