Who is responsible for the current wheat shortage in Egypt?
This very simple question has become a riddle since 2005, after someone from within the ruling elite decided to damage Egypt's wheat supply system by scattering various responsibilities–cultivation, import and milling–among several ministries, each of which works alone and without any coordination with others.
Russia's decision last week to ban wheat exports until the end of September puts the Egyptian people–not the state–on the verge of a crisis. Many will be forced to queue up for bread and clash over limited quantities, leading to possible casualties, while wheat importers will continue to make astronomical profits.
Safeguarding the interests of importers, who have reaped billions in profits, is the main reason behind the sabotage of the wheat supply system.
Before 2005, the Ministry of Agriculture was doing everything in its power to boost wheat productivity, which at one point reached 18 ardebs per feddan in old lands and 22 ardebs per feddan in newly-reclaimed lands. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Supply was responsible for pricing crops it received from the farmers. Farmers never complained at the time about being unable to sell their crops to the government. While it's true that Egypt was importing about 7 million tons of wheat every year, most of it went to the Commodity Supply Authority, affiliated with the Ministry of Supply.
After 2005, things completely changed–for the worse. A government official brought the Commodity Supply Authority under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, while the Ministry of Supply itself was turned into the Ministry of Social Solidarity. As a result, farmers were deliberately blocked from selling their crops to the government, while traders were allowed to supply high-quality local produce and low-quality imported wheat to to the Development Bank, thereby taking advantage of the large price difference between local and imported produce.
Who allowed the traders to supply wheat to the government instead of the farmers? We will likely never find an answer.
Why were the various tasks that make up the wheat supply system–cultivation, import, milling, bread distribution–divided amongst the ministries of agriculture, solidarity, trade and investment? Again, we will probably never know.
Amidst this mess, it's impossible to single out the people responsible for what is now a crisis in Egypt.
There is one individual though who can take a fair share of the blame: Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. The head of Egypt's cabinet must now find a way to finance the import of 11 million tons of wheat from around the world, a third of which promises to earn the importers handsome profits.
And thus the mystery is solved. Why was Egypt's wheat supply system sabotaged? Because the government is keen on making our importers richer and our producers poorer.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.