Egypt has a large and growing population, and its production of grains and oilseeds falls well short of its food needs, making large-scale imports necessary. It continues to run a bread subsidy scheme, with loaves provided to much of the population at prices well below the cost of production. At the same time, the Egyptian authorities are working to increase agricultural output, notably by focusing on increasing the uptake of new, higher yielding varieties, while providing information on best practices to the country’s farmers.
According to the International Grains Council (IGC), Egypt’s total grains production in 2021-22 will be 16.9 million tonnes, unchanged from 2020-21. Production of wheat is put at 8.9 million tonnes, also unchanged. The country’s maize crop is estimated at 7.1 million tonnes, again the same as the previous year. Egypt also is estimated to have produced 700,000 tonnes of sorghum, the same as in 2020-21.
Egypt’s total grains imports in 2021-22 are forecast at 23.8 million tonnes, up from 22.9 million the year before. Imports of wheat are put at 13.2 million tonnes, up from 12.8 million the previous year. The country also is expected to import 10.4 million tonnes of maize, up from 10.2 million in 2020-21. The IGC’s projection for rice production in 2021-22 is 3.5 million tonnes, revised down in July from the previous forecast of 4 million. Rice imports in 2020-21 were 4 million tonnes.
Egypt is forecast to import 4.6 million tonnes of soybeans in 2021-22, revised down from 4.7 million. Soybean imports in 2020-21 were 4.5 million tonnes.
The USDA attaché explained in an annual report on the grains sector dated March 17, 2021, that “wheat production in Egypt has improved through the development of breeding and cultivation techniques, citing “the use of high yielding seed varieties, expanding the amount of certified seeds distributed to farmers, ideal sowing time, laser leveling techniques and increasing areas of wheat raised bed cultivation to more than 420,000 hectares as techniques that have made the greatest contribution to increasing yield over the last six years.”
The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation’s Agricultural Research Center ran a campaign during the 2020-21 planting season to showcase good agriculture using high yielding varieties, while the Ministry’s Central Administration for Seed Production reduced the price of seed to encourage increased area.
The attaché forecast that Egypt would procure some 3.7 million to 4 million tonnes of wheat in 2021-22. Consumption in 2021-22 is put at 21.3 million tonnes, up from 20.8 million estimated in 2020-21. The report gives the reason as increasing population, currently 102 million and expected to reach 119.8 million by 2030.
“Egypt is also host to an estimated 5 million refugees from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Sudan,” the attaché said.
Bread subsidy system
Egypt continues to operate a bread subsidy system, with recipients getting 150 loaves of traditional baladi bread each month at a subsidized price of EGP 0.05 per loaf ($0.01).
“The government compensates bakeries for the difference in production cost,” it said, putting the subsidy paid on one baladi loaf at EGP 0.60. The Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade is studying the potential for switching to a cash subsidy, giving recipients money on a card to buy commodities.
The attaché explained that the subsidized bread is made with imported and Egyptian-produced wheat, blended to achieve the necessary quality. The wheat is milled in state-owned and private mills.
“Egypt currently has more than 410 public, public/private, and private sector mills,” the attaché said. “Public mills and public/private mills produce 82% extraction flour, which is used for making the subsidized baladi bread.
“They produce 70% of all the flour going to the baladi bread subsidy program, while private mills produce the remaining 30%. Currently, 30,000 bakeries produce from 250 million to 270 million subsidized loaves of bread each day.”
The attaché gave the largest foreign suppliers to the Egyptian market as Russia at 7.56 million tonnes, Ukraine at 1.9 million, the EU at 387,920 tonnes and Australia at 250,319 tonnes. The biggest buyer of wheat in Egypt is GASC, the General Authority for Supply Commodities, which bought 6.33 million tonnes of milling wheat, 49.4% of all imports, in 2019-20.
The government, through its Agricultural Research Center (ARC), has a strategy to increase feed maize area and yields. ARC has been demonstrating good agricultural practices. The attaché forecast growth of almost 1.4% in poultry sector feed consumption in 2021-22, “as the larger producers consolidate and vertical integration increases.”
The sector produced 1.4 billion chickens in 2020. The Egyptian government plans to increase production of red and white meat and milk to cut dependence on imports.
“Egypt’s feed mills produce poultry feed-mix consisting of 70% yellow corn, 19.4% soybean meal, 3.4% wheat bran, and 1.9% broiler concentrates (fish or meat meals) in addition to minerals and vitamins,” the attaché said.
“Egypt’s yellow corn production covers less than 35% of its feed demand needs and imports supplement the feed manufacturing industry’s current production,” the report said.
The top suppliers in 2019-20 (Oct-Sept.) were Ukraine at 3.15 million tonnes, Brazil at 2.63 million, Argentina at 2.4 million and the EU at 838,300 tonnes.
Rice and soybeans
The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) has imposed a limit of 451,164 hectares on summer 2021 rice planting in the Delta area provinces.
“Farmers planting rice outside the government’s allotment area will face fines,” the attaché explained. “Rice area and production have varied considerably over the last 10 years.”
The report said the area harvested is likely to exceed the limit, “due to the preference of farmers to plant rice because of its easier cultivation and higher profitability as compared to other summer crops, as well as its ability to store for long periods.”
“Rice cultivation in the Delta is critical to limit seawater intrusion into the Delta lands and prevents salinization of the soil,” the report said.
The attaché forecasts consumption at 4.3 million tonnes, unchanged from 2020-21.
“This indicates a downward trend in per capita rice consumption due to the availability of other more affordable carbohydrate sources (i.e. lower priced pasta),” the report said. “Rice consumption in Egypt varies across different geographical locations with higher rates in the Northern Delta, coastal cities, and greater Cairo, compared to the middle and upper Egypt regions.”
In a report from April 1, 2021, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Cairo forecast soybean area in 2021-22 at 9,000 hectares, with production at 25,000 tonnes.
“Soybean planting occurs in the Egyptian Delta, concentrated in the areas of Minia, Dehora, and Alexandria,” the report said.
Consumption is put at about 4.37 million tonnes. New facilities have raised the country’s crush capacity from 8.2 million tonnes a day in 2020-21 to 8.4 million in 2021-22. Two companies, SOYVEN and the Alex Seeds Co., are responsible for 80% of the volume. The United States is the main supplier of soybeans to Egypt.
The attaché said in a Nov. 18, 2020, report on the biotechnology sector, that Egypt does not produce or export genetically modified products, but that “imports are permissible if the export country-of-origin approves the product for consumption and authorizes its export.”
The country has focused on improving varieties but lacks a legal framework for biotechnology.
“The absence of a biosafety framework contributes directly to a lack of public awareness and trust in agricultural biotechnology,” the attaché said.