Egypt has less than two months’ supply of imported wheat left in its stocks, ousted President Mohamed Mursi’s minister of supplies said, signaling that a shortage is more acute than previously revealed.
Speaking to Reuters near midnight in a tent at a vigil where thousands of Mursi’s supporters are protesting against the Islamist president’s removal, former Minister of Supplies Bassem Ouda said the state had just 500,000 tons of imported wheat left.
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, half of which it distributes to its 84 million people in the form of heavily subsidized bread. The ousted government closely guarded figures about its foreign grain stores even as a shortage of cash halted its imports.
Two and a half years of political turmoil have caused a deep economic crisis in Egypt, scaring away investors and tourists, draining foreign currency reserves and making it difficult to maintain imports of food and fuel.
After buying 3.7m tons from a domestic harvest that is now finishing, Egypt has 3m tons of home-grown wheat left in its stores, Ouda said.
Egypt normally mixes its lower-gluten domestic wheat with equal parts foreign wheat in order to produce flour suitable to make bread. Ouda said Mursi’s government had tried to increase the ratio of domestic wheat it used to 60 percent.
In a typical year Egypt imports about 10m tons of wheat. Egypt had not imported any wheat since February, its longest absence from the market in years, until the eve of Mursi’s overthrow when it bought 180,000 tons for shipment in August.
The government said on June 26 it had 3.6m tons of total wheat but did not reveal how much of that was imported.
Since Mursi was toppled last week, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have promised $12 billion in cash, loans and fuel, which economists say buys Cairo several months of breathing room to fix its finances.