It is the wheat harvest season and questions have been arising as to the quantity and quality of the crop this year.
Egypt produces 30 per cent of its wheat consumption and imports the rest from different countries. Global and domestic challenges including the coronavirus pandemic and the “Eye of the Dragon” storm earlier this year have resulted in worries about the wheat harvest, but reports indicate that this will not be negatively affected.
Egyptian farmers are obliged to deliver their wheat to the ministry of supply and internal trade, and it is illegal for them to sell their harvest to the private sector. The Ministry of Supply issues international tenders to buy wheat for bakeries producing subsidised baladi bread, while the private sector imports wheat for other purposes.
The Ministry of Supply said recently that it had received 600,000 tons of wheat from a harvest that runs from 15 April until the end of May.
Despite the curfew imposed from 9pm to 6am each day necessitated by the need to halt the spread of the coronavirus, wheat shipments have been unaffected. They are transported daily to silos in two shifts from 8am to 4pm and from 8pm to 11pm.
Salah Abdel-Meguid, head of the National Committee for Wheat Improvement, said the total area planted with wheat is 3.2 million feddans, and this should produce the same amount of wheat as is available every year.
He did not believe that the “Eye of the Dragon” storm that hit Egypt for three consecutive days in March would compromise the quality of this year’s wheat harvest, primarily because the majority of wheat fields are located in Upper Egypt, whereas the storm was centred in the Delta, Greater Cairo, and the Canal cities.
The storm had hit Egypt after the growth of the wheat crop, so it was not damaged, Abdel-Meguid added, explaining that only a small percentage of the wheat had suffered because it was planted later in the season.
He stated that 1.2 million feddans, or about 30 per cent, of home-grown wheat is planted on agricultural terraces, a system which protects the harvest against storms and reduces the consumption of water and fertilisers by 25 per cent.
He warned that a group of farmers had harvested their wheat two weeks in advance, which increases the humidity of the wheat. He said the harvest should commence on 15 April on newly reclaimed land and on 1 May on older land as temperatures begin to rise.
He also warned that storing crops before handing them to the Ministry of Supply could damage them. The state’s new silos can store up to five million tons of wheat, he added.
Egypt’s wheat harvest should come in at 9.2 million tons this year, at three tons of wheat on average per feddan. Farmers will deliver the wheat to the Ministry of Supply at a price of LE725 per ton, up LE25 on the year before.
To be self-sufficient, Egypt needs to grow wheat on five million feddans of the country’s 14 million feddans of agricultural land. “We hope the state will increase the price of wheat for farmers in order to encourage them to cultivate more land so that Egypt becomes close to self-sufficiency in wheat,” Abdel-Meguid said.
Head of the Agriculture Syndicate Sayed Khalifa said it was still too early to monitor whether the quality and quantity of this year’s wheat has been affected. All the indicators were positive, however, he said.
“We believe this year’s wheat harvest will be better than last year’s because there weren’t as many heatwaves this year,” Khalifa added.
Another reason for the good quality of this year’s harvest is that the strain of wheat used was mostly dwarf wheat, which is no more than one metre high, and this protects it from any negative repercussions of storms or wind, Khalifa explained.
Tarek Hussein, chairman of the board of the Chamber of Grain Industries, said that “the usual plan of receiving wheat from farmers or importing wheat from abroad will not change. We are expecting a good harvest season.”
Hussein denied that the coronavirus could have a negative effect on the quantity of wheat Egypt receives from other countries, saying that the wheat-exporting countries would commit to their delivery deadlines because they had stocks that could not remain unspoiled in storage.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly