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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi Recommends Rise In Price of Aish Baladi Bread

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Baladi Bread

Despite the Covid-19 Pandemic, Egypt’s Wheat and Corn Imports Hold Steady – Grain and Feed Update 2020, a report approved by Ali Abdi, Minister-Counselor for Agricultural Affairs. FAS Cairo forecasts Egypt’s wheat imports in MY 2020/21 (July-June) at 12.9 MMT, up by 1.57 percent from MY 2019/20 Post’s import estimate figure of 12.7 MMT. FAS Cairo estimate Egypt’s wheat consumption in MY 2020/21 at 20.8 MMT, up by 1.46 percent from  the MY 2019/20 estimate of 20.5 million metric tons. Post attributes the uptick to a 1.56 percent increase in food, seed and industrial use (FSI) consumption.

The rise in FSI wheat consumption is attributable to population growth. Egypt has a population of 100 million (CAPMAS, est. Feb 2020). Egypt is also host  to an estimated of five million refugees from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Sudan.

Egypt is the largest importer of wheat and bread made from whole wheat is the most heavily subsidized good in Egypt, and has been since the 1952 revolution and the then government. Subsidies were always there in Egpyt since the majority of people were poor and many were refugees.

They expanded during the Nasser government. Bread Riots happened when in 1977, the then President Sadat tried to lift subsidies at the behest of the IMF, but failed. Wheat imports and wheat per capita would globally fall if breads were more expensive in Egypt. 

Egyptian Bread comes either as aish shamsi (sun raised bread made from white flour) and aish baladi (made form whole wheat flour). aish', which also means "life". Bread is eaten with all meals and snacks and comes either as a pitta-type 'aish shamsi' (sun raised bread made from white flour) or 'aish baladi' (made from coarse whole wheat flour). This bread is round, 15-20 cms in diameter and 1-2 cms thick. It can be machine-made or hand-made. 

The contemporary system (Tamween) includes the two components of baladi bread (BB) and ration cards (RCs), but continues to face challenges, including shortages of some basic commodities, continued distortions in the market, poor targeting, and lack of adequacy. The Bread Subsidy System till date Remains Unchanged. Articles report that Tamween’s ration cards benefit around 70 million people, while the bread subsidy benefits around 83 million people, and together they make up about 6% of the government’s budget.

According to Government reports, Egypt allocates bread subsidy beneficiaries 150 loaves of bread per month (i.e., five loaves of bread per day). Baladi (i.e., common, traditional) bread is sold at a subsidized price of EGP 0.05 per loaf ($0.01 per loaf); this is less than one tenth of the actual cost. The government compensates bakeries for the difference in production cost. The current subsidy system permits beneficiaries who consume less than the quota amount to convert their bread savings into points (1 point = EGP 0.01). Points are redeemable to purchase 28 other food and non-food items sold at discounted prices. Beneficiaries make their purchases at the roughly 35,000 MoSIT partnered private grocery stores, as well as from 1,300 state-owned consumer complexes.

The bakeries were inspected and it was found that many bakeries produced loaves between between 10 to 20-30 grams less than the usual required weight of 100 or 110 grams. So the loaves were generally between 80-90 gms and that prompted the MoSIT to reduce the size of the loaf. In 2019-20 the country reduced the size of its loaf of bread by 20 grams, allowing bakers to make more fixed-price loaves from the standard 100kg sack of flour. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said it was time to increase the price of the country's subsidized bread, by 5 piaster per loaf revisiting the issue for the first time since 1977. 

Egyptian bread called “Aish Baladi” is made from 100% whole wheat and has a unique taste and aroma and is traditionally baked in scorching-hot ovens in Cairo’s bustling markets and is the cheapest food available.

The History of Egyptian Bread dates back to around 2000 B.C., .Reports about a baker in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes who captured yeast from the air and kneaded it into a triangle of dough. The baked bread was then buried in a dedication ceremony beneath the temple of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II on the west bank of the Nile. (Wikipedia)

The heavy reliance in  breads is  also highly undesirable and that has led to undiversified diets. Excessive wheat consumption has also been linked with obesity and less than ideal nutrition despite enough caloric intake.  

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