The Egyptian Ministry of Supply issued a decision to reduce its bakeries’ share of flour by 10% during the current month of Ramadan, which reflects the government’s fears that the strategic wheat stock is insufficient to secure the country’s needs during the coming period. The decision to supply coincides with the government’s announcement that the strategic wheat stockpile has nearly halved within one month, amid the exchange of accusations between Russia and Ukraine about preventing a cargo ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat from heading to Egypt.
A flimsy excuse
The Ministry of Supply justified its decision to reduce the quota of its bakeries of flour due to the low demand for bread consumption and the lack of sales during Ramadan, as citizens try to diversify their meals away from bread to celebrate the holy month. Several ration bakery owners confirmed that the situation in Ramadan this year is different, as there is an increase in consumption and sales due to record increases in the prices of many food commodities, which has caused many citizens to lose their ability to diversify food on their tables as was the case previously.
Some bakery owners complained that the decision to reduce flour rations caused some citizens to be unable to spend their rations of bread. At the same time, a source in the General Division of Bakeries in the General Federation of Chambers of Commerce expected that reducing the weight of the loaf would be the solution that bakeries would resort to avoid the problems that would occur from Citizens due to the lack of their daily rations of living. On the other hand, the supply inspectors will be more lenient in controlling weights.
The decision to supply coincides with the government’s announcement of a decrease in the country’s strategic reserve of wheat, sufficient for only two months and six days, down from the resources recorded in early March, which were enough for four months without providing an official justification for that. It is believed that the reason for the gap between what was consumed during a month and the size of the decline in the strategic stock of wheat comes as a result of the lack of transparency and the failure to disclose the actual size of this stock, which appears to have been less than what was announced.
At the same time, last Tuesday, the Ukrainian embassy in Cairo accused the Russian authorities of preventing a cargo ship loaded with wheat from heading to Egypt. And she said in a statement on her Facebook page: “Russia prevents the movement of a ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat after the Arab Republic of Egypt purchased it. Those who wish to track the location of the EMMAKRIS III at present can do so through the marine traffic website to monitor maritime transport.”
According to marine traffic, the ship indicated by the Ukrainian embassy is docked at the Chernomorsk commercial port in the Black Sea. On the other hand, the Russian embassy in Cairo denied what Ukraine announced and confirmed that it was “incorrect” and that “Ukrainian military departments are responsible for the movement of ships in the Odesa and Chernomorsk regions.” The Russian statement stressed that the country’s naval fleet “guarantees the freedom of movement of commercial ships,” noting that the Ukrainian authorities “are the ones who prevent these ships from leaving the port.” The Egyptian government remained silent as if it did not concern, leaving citizens to wonder about the truth of what was happening in light of the lack of government transparency.
The government is counting on the local production of wheat, which, according to official figures, suffices for about half of the country’s consumption, to support its strategic stock of wheat, as it expressed its intention to collect 6 million tons of grain from farmers in the next season, which is expected to start during April, in compared to only 3.6 million tons piled last season 2021. Experts warn that these numbers are over-optimistic. According to governmental statements, collecting this considerable amount is not guaranteed because the country does not have enough barns and silos to store it. It has enough to keep only 3.4 million tons.
In addition, many farmers announced their refusal to hand over their wheat crop to the government unless it offered a fair price, preferring to sell their produce to the private sector to get a profit instead of supplying it to the government at such a low price. In this case, the government will have no choice but to import wheat from abroad, from countries other than Russia and Ukraine, which used to supply the country with about 80% of wheat imports. The government is experiencing a severe foreign exchange crisis. This raises eyebrows, as the government prefers to buy wheat from abroad with hard currency instead of offering farmers a fair price for their crop and paying in local currency, which raises many questions about the rationale of government spending.