This year’s wheat harvest has been successfully completed, with the Finance Ministry paying farmers LE16 million in return for 3.7 million tons of wheat, according to the Ministry of Supply.
The season, lasting from mid-April to mid-July, delivered less than the estimated 4.2 million tons of wheat, but observers say the overall amount is satisfactory. local wheat, alongside imported wheat, is used to produce the 250 to 270 million loaves of subsidised bread produced every day for 70 million people.
Bread subsidies cost the government some LE53 billion a year, and total wheat production this year was around nine million tons, including the recent harvest, around the same amount as last year and in line with the five-year average.
Salah Abdel-Meguid, head of the National Committee for Wheat, said “farmers keep a portion of their harvest for household use and to sell it at weekly village markets to generate a year-round income.
“The government paid a fair price of LE700 per ardeb [150 kg] of wheat this year to encourage farmers to deliver more. However, bad weather in the Delta this year prevented larger deliveries.”
Procurement prices are calculated according to the average prices paid for imported wheat over the previous two months. This year’s price was higher than last year’s, which ranged from LE665 to LE685 per ardeb depending on quality.
The “Eye of the Dragon” winter storm this year also affected wheat production in four Delta governorates, particularly Sharqiya and Kafr Al-Sheikh, Abdel-Meguid said. The government has adopted a four-year plan to plant wheat on terraces to avoid weather problems, and new disease-resistant seeds are being used, he added.
Sayed Khalifa, head of the Agriculture Syndicate and an expert at the Desert Research Centre in Cairo, said the harvest was a good one despite the less-than-expected amount of wheat.
The ministries of finance and supply had made sure that farmers were paid for their production within 48 hours of delivering their crops, down from the 72 hours previously, he said. The government had also facilitated delivery procedures and extended the working hours of silos to ensure quick deliveries, Khalifa added.
Total wheat production in 2020 grown on some 3.2 million feddans of land is half a million tons more than in 2018. The figures were positive, Khalifa said, and farmers had made no complaints about delivery procedures or late payments.
Besides locally produced wheat, Egypt also imports some 12 million tons of foreign wheat. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), wheat imports for the current 2019-20 marketing year are estimated at 12.5 million tons, about the same as the previous year and about 15 per cent above the average of the last five years.
Although the government does not usually import wheat during the harvest season, this year it imported 800,000 tons to help build up stocks of strategic commodities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly