Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said it is time for the very low price of the subsidised bread loaves - sold at 5 piastres for 30 years - to increase in order to help cover part of the cost of providing much needed meals to millions of school students among other urgent social needs that benefit the whole population.
El-Sisi’s remarks came during the inauguration ceremony of Silo Foods, the mega food industries complex, in Menoufiya governorate, which will provide schools meals for around 13 million students nationwide.
"The price of the subsidised bread loaves has been fixed for 20 or 30 years. This situation cannot continue."
"No one should tell me not to touch the issue of the price of bread loaves. I will," the president said.
"Not the prime minister, not the supply minister - I will take responsibility for changing this situation," El-Sisi said.
"We are responsible for the livelihoods and the destiny of all our people not just ourselves," the president stressed.
The government provides tens of millions of Egyptians with subsidised bread through a system of food cards.
El-Sisi said the government needs to procure EGP 7.7 billion to provide school meals to children.
“I cannot provide 20 loaves of bread at a cost of one cigarette,” El-Sisi said, “while the EGP 8 billion per year needed for meals for our school kids are not available."
"We have to feed our children. I would like to provide nutritional meals to the children every school day. Now, however, we can only do so three days a week because of the cost," El-Sisi said.
The president added that the price of subsidised bread loaves will be increased but not all the way to the real cost of 60-65 piastres per loaf.
The president affirmed that increasing the price of subsidised bread will help the state save money to serve meals to children in schools.
“We will pay EGP 7 for a school meal and if a family has two children we will pay EGP 15."
“I am saying this on the air to all people because we are serious, honest and honourable, and we are entrusted with people’s lives and future and the interests of our country and people,” El-Sisi added.
School meals will be rigorously monitored to provide safe food to our children, the president promised.
Combatting overpopulation, raising healthy kids
The fast increase in population in recent years has led people to build illegally on agricultural lands and harms food security, the president noted.
“The population has increased by 20 million from 2010-11. Therefore, prices must increase because demand increased. if we want food security for 20 million more people then the size of agricultural land has to increase to achieve that,” the president said.
The president said the state has launched the Hayat Karima “Decent Life Initiative' to develop the countryside with the aim of achieving nationwide balanced development.
During the event, Minister of Education Tarek Shawki announced that physical exams of 25 million students under the presidential initiative '100 Million Healthy Lives' have shown that 3.4 million students suffer from obesity, 8.2 million suffer from anemia, and 1.3 million suffer from dwarfism.
The president interjected and asked: “Do we just want to have lots of children or do we want to have healthy children? Do we want a healthy child or 3 sick children?
"Do we need to have a large number of children or a number that we can care for?” El-Sisi asked.
"3.4 million students suffering from obesity means they do not play sports or receive the required healthcare," El-Sisi said.
A balance for the general good
The president announced that the budget allocated for each ministry in the general budget will also be cut to cover the cost of the children’s meals.
"We want our country to prosper, we want to organise our lives in a balanced way in all aspects,” the president added.
“I hope that the true meaning of what I said about the process of adjusting bread subsidies reaches people and is not misconstrued simply as an attempt to increase prices,” El-Sisi said.
“We want to create a balance to secure the EGP 8 billion required to feed students,” he said, stressing that “we must feed our children.”
Vaccinating school, university staff
El-Sisi urged the health ministry to intensify its coronavirus vaccination campaign before the upcoming school year, which is set to start in October.
The president said that it is vital to vaccinate all employees and teaching staff in universities and schools before the next academic year.
El-Sisi said the state aims to vaccinate “a very large” portion of citizens by the end of this year.
He affirmed the citizens’ need to stick to the coronavirus preventive measures in order to maintain the accomplishments the country has achieved over the last two years.
“We should continue to be cautious and vigilant [towards the coronavirus] but also maintain the balance between observing the preventive measures against the virus and keeping our economy going to minimise the pandemic’s repercussions,” the president stressed.
A mega project
The first phase of the Silo Foods complex was established over an area of 102 feddans out of a total planned area of 135 feddans,
The complex consists of 10 factories to produce 40 different goods, Walid Aboul-Magd, the director-general of the National Service Projects Authority, said during the inauguration ceremony.
Silo Foods will secure school meals with integrated ingredients for 13 million students, Aboul-Magd said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Supply Ali Moselhi said that "Silo Foods will contribute to securing an abundance of food goods in the market thus exerting downward pressure on prices, in addition to strengthening investments and exports.
Moselhi said the state targets increasing the storage capacity of wheat to 5 million tons from the current 3.4 million capacity.
He affirmed the availability of adequate strategic reserves of basic commodities for several months, including rice, sugar, oil, and poultry.