Egypt’s wheat harvest has increased as a result of an increase in the area of agricultural land designated for planting the crop, as well as upgrading operations related to harvesting and storing the grain.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation announced that some 3.4 million feddans of wheat have been planted with wheat to date, up from 3.2 million feddans in 2019.
In the current season, which started in April and extends until the end of June, approximately four million tons of locally produced wheat have been collected from farmers through 450 centres designated for collecting the wheat at a rate of some 991 tons daily, according to the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade.
The prospects for boosting local production look promising, with the US Department of Agriculture indicating a slight decrease in Egypt’s wheat imports, predicting them to be 13 million tons compared to 13.3 million tons in 2020.
The increase comes on the back of policies aiming to reduce Egypt’s reliance on imported wheat, in 2019 reaching 12 million tons annually, according to figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
These figures make Egypt the world’s largest importer of wheat, turning for imports to countries such as Russia, Romania, and Ukraine. The FAO projects that Egypt’s reliance on wheat imports could rise to more than 15 million tons by 2028.
The challenge remains to attain the target that the government has set of increasing the ratio of domestically produced wheat to imports.
The current ratio of imports over domestic production currently stands at 55 to 45 per cent. The aim, according to statements made by Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Meselhi last week, is to “attain relative self-sufficiency” of 65 to 70 per cent local wheat production as opposed to imports.
Wheat remains Egypt’s most important single strategic commodity, being the mainstay of the government’s policy of subsidising bread for some 71 million people who account for more than 70 per cent of the country’s population. Some 10 million tons of subsidised bread is consumed on an annual basis.
In addition to existing agricultural land in the Delta and Upper Egypt, new areas have been designated for wheat production, most notably in the Toshka region and in the New Delta area on the North Coast.
Upgrading productivity is also a priority, since wheat crops are often affected by the use of hybrid strains, as well as pests and diseases.
The aim is to raise the average productivity per feddan from the current 15 to 18 ardeb per feddan of wheat to 22 ardeb (an ardeb is around 150kg). This will be done through the provision of high-quality seeds as well as cost-effective production inputs and instructions on the more efficient use of water.
Waste and the loss of harvests during storage in traditional shuna storage barns has also been an endemic problem, causing annual losses resulting from poor storage and climatic factors to amount to some LE4 billion a year.
To overcome this problem a major overhaul of the country’s storage infrastructure has been undertaken, with a large number of new grain silos being constructed, in addition to renovating and upgrading already existing ones.
The storage capacity for grains has been doubled since 2014, according to the minister of supply and internal trade, and can now preserve grains in prime condition for up to one-and-a-half years. The new infrastructure currently holds four months’ worth of wheat.
Over the past three years, the prices paid to farmers for wheat have been raised, reaching LE725 per ardeb in the current harvest and up from LE700 last year.
Insaf Al-Morsi, a farmer in the Al-Sinbillawyn area of the Daqahliya governorate, said she had sold her crop to a trader for LE695 per ardeb, as she does every season, preferring to do so in order to save on the cost of transporting the grains to silos run by the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade as well as the interval before she is paid for the crop.
Ashraf Abdel-Bari, a farmer and trader in the same region, has been collecting wheat from farmers for several years and transporting it to the silos. “This year we have felt the pace of receiving wheat at the silos quickening. In previous years, I would take one truckload per day to the silo, and the procedures would take time. But this year I have been taking three truckloads per day,” he said.
He attributed the increase to an increase in storage capacity and the number of operating silos. “There are several silos working now. The older ones have been renovated, and new ones have been constructed. They are in several places, including Mit Ghamr, Hehya, and Mansoura [the capital of the governorate]. All the silos are open at the same time and are working at full capacity,” Abdel-Bari said.
He said he pays farmers prices ranging from LE680 to LE700 per ardeb of wheat “depending on the quality of the grain”.
Payment is made on the spot, and he later collects the money for the crop when it is delivered at the silo. This procedure “takes less time than in previous years. Now, we get paid within two weeks of delivering the wheat to the silos,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly