The Egyptian Ministry of Supply is preparing to introduce a new system to distribute subsidised bread to those who need it using national identification (ID) numbers.
A trial run is expected to begin in al-Fayoum province, and will be rolled out to the rest of the country after technical and logistical problems are identified and resolved, officials told Al-Shorfa.
Subsidised bread is currently rationed at 20 loaves per family per day at a cost of one Egyptian pound ($0.14). Non-subsidized bread is available at bakeries for 50 piasters ($0.07) per loaf.
"My family members and I take turns, depending on who is free, to stand in line for subsidised bread each day starting in the early morning hours," said Tawfiq Nagy, who heads a family of six.
"If we're late getting in line, we might miss out on getting our bread ration," he told Al-Shorfa.
When that happens, Nagy buys bread from unsubsidised bakeries, adding that "private bakery bread is bigger and of higher quality".
Nagy believes the subsidised bread distribution system needs to be regulated, as "neither the distribution mechanism is good nor is the quality of the bread acceptable".
Distribution based on the national ID number would prevent bakery owners or any other party that wishes to trade in subsidised bread from exploiting the system, he said.
The plan aims to eliminate waste and attempts by some bakery owners to sell bread on the black market, said Saleh Jaber, development advisor at the bakeries monitoring room at the Ministry of Supply.
This leads to low quality bread on the one hand, and a shortage in supply on the other, he said, forcing people to "buy bread from tourist bakeries, whose prices exceed their purchasing power".
Jaber said the new plan is being introduced in co-operation with the Ministries of Communications and Information Technology and Administrative Development.
"Each Egyptian citizen has a national ID number, which helps control the delivery of bread to each head of household based on that number," he said.
A feasibility study is being conducted to determine if the process can be mechanised, he said. In this case, each person would get a receipt that shows his ID number from a machine inside the bakery. "A receipt with that ID number would only be printed once in a 24 hour period."
The receipts would be numbered, so people would be spared from having to stand in long lines, he added.
Jaber said the Ministry of Communications' role will centre on the use of its national ID database and linking data to the new system in uncomplicated ways.
The Ministry of Administrative Development will continuously improve the plan, he said, in addition to overseeing the development of bakeries in general.
"The weight of a loaf of bread currently does not exceed 60 grammes and is of poor quality," Jaber said. "The ministry is working to increase its weight to 130 grammes and specify that it be made with high quality flour, hence each citizen will need between three to five loaves a day at the most, bearing in mind that the ministry has not set an upper limit on each citizen's ration."
Bread subsidy totals 21 billion Egyptian pounds ($3.1 billion) per month, while subsidized flour is smuggled into the black market at a value of 11 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.6 billion), Jaber said. Daily production amounts to 85 million loaves of bread.
"If the Ministry of Supply's plan goes well in the al-Fayoum province trial run, that would mark an important step forward towards regulating the distribution of subsidised bread," said Amr Fendi, a bakery owner in Giza province and member of the General Division of Bakery Owners at the Egyptian Federation for the Chambers of Commerce.
"All previous measures to control distribution and curb manipulation have failed," he said.
A trial run of bread distribution based on ID number was recently conducted, whereby young men in each province delivered bread to homes for a fee of 7 pounds ($1), Fendi said.
"However, bakery owners objected to the plan on the grounds that the persons delivering the bread have no official status, which led to stopping [the trial run] in some areas while it continued in others," he added.
The General Division of Bakery Owners works with ration control agencies to curb manipulation of the system and prevent violations, which mostly involve the weight of the loaf and non-compliance with specifications, Fendi said. It also works with village units, which in turn co-ordinate with officials at the provincial level.
Equipment breakdowns in bakeries are assessed so they can be urgently addressed and repaired, and subsidised bread recipient lists are periodically reviewed and updated, he added.
"All of these processes contribute to finding an optimal solution, if the trial run in al-Fayoum succeeds," Fendi said.