Egypt’s president on Tuesday ordered his government to fix the price of unsubsidised bread consumed by an estimated 40 million Egyptians.
Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s media office said he ordered the Supply Minister to ensure bakeries have sufficient wheat flour to “streamline” the price of the free bread not covered by state subsidies and allow the ministry’s inspectors to enforce the price.
Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer, with producers in warring Russia and Ukraine combining for about 80 per cent of those purchases. The Ukraine war has sent jitters through Egypt, which is struggling to find alternative sources of wheat.
Already, the price of free market bread has shot up by up to 50 per cent, further burdening middle-class Egyptians struggling to cope with a current surge in food costs and wheat-based items such as pasta.
The crisis in Egypt is compounded by the approaching month of Ramadan, which begins in the first week April. Egyptians, like Muslims across the world, traditionally treat themselves to lavish sunset meals to end their day-long fast. Retailers take advantage of the spike in food consumption by marking up their prices.
Most items in the range of traditional Ramadan desserts, which are consumed in huge quantities, are wheat-based.
“The president has also given directions for the additional incentives to be given to [local] wheat growers to be quickly decided and announced,” Tuesday’s presidential statement said. It came after a meeting between Mr El Sisi and his top aides, including Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and the ministers of supply, defence and interior, as well as the chief of intelligence.
The statement said the president ordered that the government build up six months' supply of all essential foodstuffs.
On Sunday, Supply Minister Ali Moselhy said the government aimed to procure more than six million tonnes of local wheat during the harvest season, which starts in mid-April.
Government fixing of the prices of food items automatically criminalises selling them at a higher price. Already, hoarders of essential foodstuffs face a fine or jail term. However, enforcing fixed prices has in the past proved difficult given the magnitude of retail markets and insufficient government manpower.
The price of free-market, flat loaf bread varies according to size. It currently sells for up to 1.5 pounds ($1), up from only 1 pound before the Ukraine war broke out. A smaller loaf now sells for 0.75 Egyptian pounds ($50 cents), up from 0.50 Egyptian pounds.
The bread available to the 60 million Egyptians covered by subsidised food cards sells for 0.25 pounds. An adult is entitled to five loaves a day.
Egypt’s state grains buyer said this week that a previously contracted 63,000 tonnes of Russian wheat, and a similar amount of Ukrainian and Romanian wheat, was due to arrive in the country in days.
It received 63,000 tonnes of French wheat on March 8, and a similar amount of Romanian wheat on March 5, the state General Authority for Supply Commodities said.