Egypt's Reliance on Imported Wheat: Concerns, Challenges and Opportunities
Almas, Lal K.
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This exploratory study aims at the evaluation of different aspects of food security and provides insights and valuable information about concerns, challenges and opportunities for agricultural production especially wheat in Egypt. With a population of 96 million and annual population growth at 2.27%, Egypt is considered one of the fastest-growing nations in the African continent. Egypt’s total land area is 1,000,450 sq. km and the population covers only the 10 percent while the rest of the country is desert. The agriculture sector of Egypt is a major component of the Egyptian economy, contributing 14.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The agricultural sector accounts for 28 percent of all jobs, and over 55 percent of employment in Upper Egypt is agriculture-related. Egypt’s agriculture sector is dominated by small farms using traditional practices. Field crops contribute about 75 % of the total value of Egypt’s agricultural production, while the rest comes from livestock products, fruits and vegetables, and other specialty crops. Major field crops include corn (maize), rice, wheat, sorghum, and fava (broad) beans. Despite a considerable output, the cereal production in Egypt falls short of the country’s total consumption. A substantial amount of foreign exchange is spent annually on the import of cereals and milling products. Egypt is one of the major producers of wheat in Africa, with 8.8 million tons in 2017 against its consumption of 18.96 million tonnes. Hence, Egypt is the second-largest importer in the world with more than 10 million tonnes in 2017. One of the main challenges of wheat production in Egypt is the available land area. The total arable area is 3.3 million hectares. It is extremely productive and can be cropped two or even three times per year. Most land is cropped at least twice a year, but agricultural productivity is limited by salinity, which afflicts an estimated 35% of cultivated land, and drainage problems. Another challenge to Egypt’s agriculture is the shortage of water. Water is a very scarce resource in the region, the major source of this essential commodity is the Nile River. The second threat and the most imminent is the growth of the population. By 2050, Africa’s population is expected to grow by an additional 1.3 billion people, the equivalent of today’s China. For the case of Egypt, the population is expected to reach over 100 million in 2025, lowering the per capita water availability from 1123 m3 in 1990 to 630 m3 in 2025. This shows that the challenge now for Egypt is to look for perennial solutions to lower its dependency on the Nile water supply and to find sustainable alternatives like desalination. This study focuses on the demand and supply determinants of wheat by using data from 1961 through 2017 and to identify strategies to reduce the gap between country's wheat production and imports in the future in order to address food security challenges and curtail its heavy reliance on imported wheat. The statistical procedures have been applied to analyze and predict the production and consumption of wheat given the estimated population growth of the country up until 2050. The study also provides an overview of all the available opportunities and challenges facing agricultural production and different aspects of food security in Egypt.