The price of flour soars


Cairo (Egypt)

Special correspondence

In Cairo, every day, couriers of a particular kind make their way through the exhaust pipes. On their heads, long wooden platters loaded with pancakes of bread. This daily ballet brings bread from bakeries to various points of sale in the capital, often stalls on the floor. The Egyptians are among the largest consumers of bread in the world. This food accompanies all the specialties of the country and constitutes the daily ration of the poorest. Egypt, which produces only 40% of its wheat needs, is thus the largest importer in the world: 12 million tonnes per year for a mere $ 3 billion.

At just 24 years old but already ten in the profession, Mohamed Ashraf manages an “oven” in the city center: a small artisan bakery from which more than 1,000 bread cakes are produced every day. A relatively profitable business, until last month, when the price of flour soared: 6,000 pounds per bag (324 €) instead of the usual 4,000 (216 €). In an attempt to limit losses, Mohamed reduced the size of his loaves, even if it meant making customers unhappy. “Despite everything, I lose almost half of my income, he sighs. If this continues, I will have to change jobs. “

In one of the capital’s markets, Amal slaloms between the fruit and vegetable stalls, her 2-year-old son sitting lazily astride one shoulder. “Everything has become expensive and chaotic”she says, waving the bag of potatoes in her hand. Despite her salary as a cleaning lady and that of her husband, a tuk-tuk driver, they do not get by anymore. “The traders make the law. In recent weeks, I have had to go around the market several times to find the cheapest products. Sometimes I go home empty-handed. “ Amal however benefits from a system of subsidies which allows him to obtain basic products, in particular bread, for a few dollars. Like her, more than 60 million Egyptians benefit on a more or less large scale. For the poorest, this social assistance is synonymous with survival. But in this time of economic slump – nearly 30% of Egypt’s 100 million currently live below the poverty line – many argue that is not enough.

In the Nile Delta, north of Cairo, fields stretch as far as the eye can see to the Mediterranean. Agriculture, a key sector of the Egyptian economy, supports 30% of the population. For more than thirty years, Sobhy El Sawy has cultivated corn and rice. He should have been the big winner from the increase in world prices for these products. This is without counting on the National Authority for the supply of raw materials, the GASC, which sets the prices. These have not budged for months – 680 pounds an ardeb of wheat, or 36 € for 150 kg – while its production costs continue to increase: “Only a quarter of my fertilizers are subsidized, I find it difficult to pay the rest. It has become too expensive ”, laments the farmer.

At Cairo University, Gamal Siam scrutinizes fluctuations in grain prices on a daily basis. This professor of agricultural economics believes that the policy of state subsidies has once again saved the poorest, but at the cost of a high bill. “The State will certainly contract new loans, that is its specialty”, quips the teacher. Before Marshal Sisi came to power in 2013, Egypt’s foreign debt stood at $ 40 billion, compared to $ 111.3 billion today. “The government seeks immediate results, without ever thinking of the long term. Thefuture generations will pay dearly for these decisions. “

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