Egypt, already facing social unrest over a crisis of national leadership and an imploding economy, may be counting down to a more profound problem: a food crisis.
Speaking late Wednesday night from a rally in Cairo in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, Bassem Ouda, Egypt’s former minister of supplies who was ousted along with the democratically elected president, told Reuters that Egypt is down to 500,000 metric tons of imported wheat.
The country is currently estimated to have about 3.6 million tons of domestically grown wheat, which is typically mixed with imported wheat that has higher gluten content more suitable for bread-making. Between the imported and domestic supply, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Egypt has enough wheat to last through October.
Years of turmoil since the Jan. 25, 2011, uprising that booted President Hosni Mubarak, has left Egypt struggling economically as investors have fled and tourism -- a major source of national income -- has plummeted. “In Egypt, civil unrest and dwindling foreign exchange reserves raise serious food security concerns,” the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations said Thursday in a report on world cereal production.
Thanks to its arid climate, Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, mostly from Russia, Ukraine and the United States. It imports about 10 million metric tons of the grain a month to help feed its 83 million people.
Flatbread, a basic item of the Egyptian dining table and an important source of nutrition for a nation where 40 percent of the population is so impoverished it struggles to feed itself, is heavily subsidized and Egyptians are very sensitive to price fluctuations.
Riots over bread erupted in Egypt during the 2007-2008 global food-price crisis. Now, with the country struggling for stability, the threat of food shortages is rising once again.