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Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Local harvest will be a critical cushion as Russia-Ukraine war challenges global market

The Madbouly government plans to buy 5.5 mn tons of wheat from local farmers during the upcoming season, Supply Minister Ali El Moselhy said in an interview with Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa (watch, runtime 1:47:10) last night, upping previous purchase plans by more than a third as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown the global grain market into disarray.

This is a 38% increase from the government’s previous target. The state had previously expected to collect 4 mn tons, which El Moselhy last week said would help cover Egypt’s needs through the end of the year alongside the current four-months stockpile. The 5.5 mn tons the government now plans to buy would cover the equivalent of around a quarter of local consumption for the 12 months through the end of September 2022, on the basis of the most recent estimates (pdf) from the US Foreign Agricultural Service.

BACKGROUND- State grain buyer GASC has called off two tenders in recent days due to a shortage of offers and high prices as the grain market sorts out the impact of Russia’s invasion. Together, the two countries account for nearly a third of the world’s wheat supply, and some 60-80% of our grain imports at any given time.

Targeting a better harvest: Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has given orders to increase the number of wheat collection points and slash red tape with a view to making it easier for small farmers to grow wheat, El Moselhy said in the interview. The government also brought back to life the decades-old Toshka agricultural project in December, which El Moselhy said is expected to save about USD 1 bn in the country’s wheat budget by 2025.

How much of the wheat we need can we feasibly grow ourselves? Egypt aims to achieve 60-62% self-sufficiency in the grain this season, Agriculture Minister El Sayed El Quseir told Bloomberg Asharq last month, adding that the country has cultivated 3.6 mn acres with wheat, which should produce 9.5 to 10 mn tons.

Homegrown wheat isn’t totally insulated from global price hikes: Even before war broke out, the government had agreed to pay 13% more for local wheat this season than it did in 2021, after a global supply squeeze saw prices hit a ten-year high and the price of inputs such as fertilizer rose. The price hikes were expected to take an additional EGP 12 bn out of the state budget this fiscal year — again, before conflict hit the Black Sea and prices spiked yet further. Chicago wheat futures closed up 5.4% yesterday.

On the imports front, we’re still pushing to diversify supply. Egypt has extended its imported wheat moisture level specifications for an additional year, as the government looks to diversify its supply sources amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the Trade Ministry said in a statement. The decision, which will be in force until April 2023, caps moisture content in wheat shipments at 13.5%, 0.5 percentage points higher than the normal 13% limit. The government is also still studying hedging wheat.

Could the international community do more to help? As fuel, food, and fertilizer prices rise on the back of Russia’s war, food security professors Michael J. Puma and Megan Konar are warning of “an accelerating food crisis rippling outward from Ukraine” to vulnerable African countries in the New York Times. They’re calling on Western countries to avoid restricting grain exports, make sure sanctions don’t threaten food security, work to reduce fertilizer costs by suppressing energy prices, divert some oil and corn currently used to create fuel and ethanol back to the food markets, and increase financing for humanitarian aid.

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