Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Poor start on wheat

Problems with wheat deliveries this season could jeopardise planting for next year’s harvest, reports Niveen Wahish

Poor start on wheat
Poor start on wheat
Al-Ahram Weekly

The wheat harvest is usually a time for celebration, with Egypt’s farmers looking forward to cashing in on their crop. However, this year’s harvest got off to a bad start. Egyptian farmers produce about half of the country’s wheat needs, but problems delivering the crop to government silos this year mean that the figure could be much lower in the future.

Egypt’s consumption of wheat reached around 19.5 million tons in 2015, around 11 million of which were imported.

The problems began with the beginning of the harvest in mid-April, when many farmers experienced difficulties delivering their crop to government silos due to bureaucratic problems.

They were required to show deeds of ownership for their land, since the amount of wheat accepted is based on the amount of land and the average yield per feddan. Some farmers had problems providing the deeds because they rent their land.

Eid Hawash, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry called off the requirement when it understood that it would cause problems. He said it had wanted to apply the rule to avoid problems of traders mixing cheaper imported wheat with domestic wheat and delivering it to the silos to receive a higher price.

Imported wheat costs LE250 per Ardeb (150 KG), while the government pays LE420 for domestic wheat. Hawash stressed that the ministry has nothing to do with the marketing of the crop, which is carried out by the Ministry of Supply. A spokesperson for the ministry could not be reached for comment.

Instead of the ownership deeds, farmers were required to identify their names on a list showing who was planting on which land. However, even these lists are not complete or always correct, and finding names on them can be time-consuming.

The Sharkia governorate, the earliest to finish the harvest, felt the pinch first, swiftly followed by farmers in other governorates.

According to Hajj Hosni, a farmer in Sharkia, farmers do not know how to deliver the wheat. He said that in previous years traders bought the crop from the farmers and delivered it to the silos.

This year, farmers have had to bear the cost of loading their crops onto trucks and taking them for delivery. This has meant making payments for the trucks, the porters and even the tips to the employees at the silos, he said.

Some farmers were selling wheat to traders at LE350 per Ardeb to get the crop off their hands, Hosni said, adding that in some cases they have not received the money because the traders themselves have been unable to deliver to the silos.

Many farmers were not planning to cultivate wheat until the government announced that it would pay LE420 per Ardeb, said Mohamed Saeed, the owner of a farm in Sharkia.

Earlier, the government announced that instead of a fixed delivery price it would pay LE1,300 in subsidies per feddan, up to a maximum of 25 feddans, and the international price for the wheat.

But the farmers objected that the international price was too low, he said, and had demanded that the government revert to the fixed price.

 “Now that we have cultivated the land, we cannot market the produce,” Saeed said. He added that a presidential decision had said that ownership deeds would not be required, but this had not been implemented.

Egypt will suffer huge consequences as a result,” he warned. “Farmers have quit the cultivation of cotton as a result of bad policies, and we have lost our world-famous cotton crop. We cannot risk losing wheat as well.”

If the problems continue, many farmers are expected to abandon the cultivation of wheat next year and will opt for easier crops such as alfalfa, he said.

Youssef questioned the role of the government in helping farmers market their crops. “In the past farmers delivered to local cooperatives which then delivered to the silos. Why is this system no longer in place?” However, a statement issued by the Ministry of Agriculture this Tuesday said that all agriculture cooperatives have started receiving the wheat from the farmers as of Sunday.

Last year, in the two weeks following the harvest, an estimated one million tons of wheat were delivered. This year, since the harvest season began, 400,000 tons have reached the silos, said the Ministry of Agriculture statement said. 

He continued, “We pay scarce hard currency to import our wheat needs. If the government appreciated farmers more and made their lives easier, we would not need to import wheat at all.”

He complained about the lack of response by the ministries of agriculture and supply. “Trucks have been queuing for hours on end to reach the silos,” he said.

These contradictory policies are putting at risk one of Egypt’s most important crops,” Youssef said.

Moreover, with imported wheat there are other issues to consider, including permissible levels of ergot fungus in imported wheat. According to international standards, 0.05 per cent of ergot is acceptable.

But there were times when Egypt had not accepted wheat with any indication of ergot fungus, discouraging international suppliers from submitting bids to meet Egypt’s tenders for wheat.

Hosni said that wheat cultivation is a matter of national security. “Foreigners will control us if we cannot produce our own wheat,” he said. 

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