Egypt to overhaul subsidized bread system

Fresh-baked bread slides out of the oven at a Cairo bakery. Egypt's bread subsidy totals $3.1 billion per month, and 85 million loaves are baked each day. [Waleed Abu al Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Fresh-baked bread slides out of the oven at a Cairo bakery. Egypt's bread subsidy totals $3.1 billion per month, and 85 million loaves are baked each day. [Waleed Abu al Khair/Al-Shorfa]

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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".

How the plan will work

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.

Monitoring is a challenge

"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.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    سيف الدين على

    2013-3-26

    How could it be that the minister of supply enforces a one-party contract under threats, abuses the rights of all bakeries, swears and insults owners of bakeries, pays no attention to the costs or the fuel prices or wages or rent or electricity or water bills, and pays no respect to any opinion, and in the end how could one person eat three loaves of bread a day?

  • راشد معاذ

    2013-3-21

    Egyptian citizens have been killed, for the sake of a ballot box. A ramshackle constitution that was the worst constitution to be drafted in Egypt has been passed, for the sake of a ballot box. Egypt has been seized by a group of people who have compromised everything, for the sake of a ballot box. A president that lets others share with him the nation’s governance was elected for the sake of a ballot box.

  • فريدة سيف الدين

    2013-3-20

    The mafia of smugglers has really damaged the relationship between the two people, either by smuggling or by the re-occurring assaults… Let alone what is yet to be uncovered, all because of the mafia of diesel and flour and everything that has something to do with the supplies used daily by the Egyptians. These things are being passed, i.e. smuggled, to Gaza through the illegal tunnels. Not to mention the KIA cars stolen by the mafia on both sides that I have seen in Gaza’s streets, and both the Egyptians and the Palestinians are affected. I, being a Palestinian from Gaza with an Egyptian mother, can’t agree to what is being done on the borders by outlaws. This could be ended with an agreement from both sides to trade legally, and not through the diabolical tunnels… This is a Palestinian request, the same as Egyptians. This would stop the mafia from selling us goods at twice the price. This requires an effort and full collaboration between the two sides. I understand my brothers in Egypt and I know how much they need their goods, which is about the same as for the Palestinians. So the people will know how much the mafia of smugglers has damaged the relationship between the two people.

  • عصام عبد العزيز

    2013-3-20

    Does Qandil eat normal bread like we do, he and the other big names? I wish he and Morsi would eat from the subsidized bakeries in Ain Shams or Izbat al-Nakhl; bread that takes your appetite away. Where is the supplies minister that you’re praising all the time? You people need to go to the bakeries. The bakery of Azzouz in Al Assara in Ezbat al-Nakhl produces bread that is distributed in stalls, and it is so bad that most of it goes to the poultry farms, because it’s not fit for human consumption… Where are the supply administration guys? And where is the flour that we see in the private bakeries? I’m wondering if this government feels anything. Why do the bakeries with the one-pound bread have that kind of flour, and why are they spreading all over the place? Why not give that flour to the subsidized bakeries? May God judge whoever is responsible for our bread.

  • منى المصطفى

    2013-3-20

    O God save us from the resolutions of the Ministry of Finance that will make people burst. The poor people are to be burned with gas, but unfortunately, they will not find any gas, so they have to burn themselves with sulfuric acid.

  • احمد السقا

    2013-3-17

    The weakness of the Egyptian Government is the cause of the overspread idleness as well as the fuel smuggling. * - The Government does not know whether the shipment has reached the petrol stations or not, do they? * - The government allows the gasoline vans to enter the petrol stations without serial numbers. * - The Government agrees to open secret escape tunnels to smuggle precious items and to enter drugs and weapons? * - The government failed to deploy an inspector and four policemen to monitor the petrol stations and impose regulations. * - The Government does not prevent the sale of diesel and gasoline in public. Ironically, the officials claim that they are controlling them. I use petrol 80% in Gas Stations. I usually see people fill their car tanks. As soon as they leave, they get to the end of the queue. Meanwhile, they empty their tanks in containers near the petrol stations in public. Of course, the authorities do not deter them. As the proverb puts it: “the shameless will do anything”! There is no control on public funds. The people are learning many bad habits. They are not ashamed of the violations. Those who refuse such heinous practices will remain poor forever. In this country there are the good and the evil. The lack of control and deterrent laws will definitely lead to the collapse of the State. The control is inevitable for the good, let alone the thieves.

  • مايسة العسال

    2013-3-17

    The Bakery owners think that they are beyond legal accountability. Thus, the competent authorities are supposed to deter them rather than respond to their blackmail. The authorities should not allow them to steal the livelihood of the citizens. Indeed, officials should stop the subsidized products. The Bakery owners are seeking to get the profit they earned from smuggling flour.

  • باسم محمد

    2013-3-17

    The heads of North Cairo Flour Mill companies stopped the automatic bakeries in the nineties of the last century. Those bakeries used to produce millions of “local” and French loaves of flour and white bread. They produced high quality bread. The suspension was attributable to the deficits in the budgets of those companies. Of course, the deficit put in question their position in the leadership of the companies. The establishment of the bakeries was an initiative made by the late President before his era ended. Then, the bakery owners threatened to refrain from work. The former president confronted them by establishing bakeries that produced decent loaves of bread. The new bakeries also produced low priced pies. We hope that the Messrs. Minister of Investment and Minister of Supply will deal with issue of automatic bakeries and the apparatuses which were disposed of in the rubbish. I mean by the late President, Mr. Anwar Sadat.

  • شاهرمنصور

    2013-3-17

    The public employees represent a broad proportion of the Egyptian population. Why don’t they try to pay a cash salary according to the number of the family members? This proposal will save the significant waste of subsidies. The manipulation of the subsidies represents a heinous crime because the rich share the livelihood of the poor. Still worse, the former pays bribes to get more subsidized products. For example, the breeders of chicken and cattle get the greatest share of subsidized products. The subsidy policy is an utter failure. It could not afford such important products as diesel and other fuels. Egypt is the only country that wastes amounts of money every day. The consumption of the subsidy starts from the beginning of the day where they use the subsidized electricity to perform the dawn prayer. The breakfast includes such subsidized products as oil, falafel, bread, tea, sugar and water, in addition to transportation. The employees receive subsidized medical treatment. On the other hand, the public personnel usually do not even get to their workplaces at all though they receive a salary. Of course, the State pays those people. Even the rich countries could not afford such huge expenditures. Thus, the Egyptian people must realize that they should rely on themselves. Even the mothers, the epitome of affection, breastfeed their babies for two years only. However, Egypt is spoon feeding the rich as well as the poor. The great mother, Egypt, is exhausted now. It is really suffering.

  • مايسه المعمرى

    2013-3-17

    The situation is so critical that the authorities determined quotas for bread. Shame on you O Morsi, shame on Kandil Um-Hashem. Nothing seems to embarrass you, does it? As long as this deviant group is ruling Egypt the situation will never change. I really regret voting for Morsi. May Lord rid us of Morsi and his ugly “guide”, the defender of retribution!

  • جمال طيف الله

    2013-3-17

    It seems that this country is devoid of a government, law, Interior Ministry, bakeries, Central Security, National Security and intelligence services. The army’s millions of bakeries vanished suddenly. The competent authorities are doing too little to deter the thieves, the remnants of the former regime who are wreaking havoc. Indeed, the corrupt remnants of the former regime are still endangering the livelihood of the Egyptian peoples as if there were no revolution. The officials do not prevent the thugs from stealing flour and selling it in the black market in public. The corrupt defy the Government. The housewares refuse to supply the bakeries with flour. They defy the Government as well as the people. The competent authorities abandoned their positions only to pave the way for the corrupt to abuse us. O Mr. President! O Prime Minister, the threat of the remnants of the Salvation Front is increasing every day. As usual, they are trying to hurt the Egyptian people. Thus, we need a plan to stop a fraction of the corruption. We want to see the Government address those thugs, thieves and outlaws now. We expect the authorities to deter those people with an iron fist. Of course, the Egyptian people will support them. Otherwise, they must step down from power. God willing, we are able to eradicate the pockets of corruption in every single neighborhood and every single street. Who are you? The leaders of treachery and corruption who marred our lives during the rule of the deposed president have showed up in the Ministry of the Interior, the judiciary, the localities, the Bureau of Supply Investigation and the inspectors of the Ministry of Supply.

  • منى المصطفى

    2013-3-17

    The real problem in our country is that the subsidized goods, namely wheat, flour, bread and food supplies such as oil, sugar, rice and energy materials like diesel, petrol and gas have two prices. One is the subsidized price which is unreal and fake and another is the real price in the free market. This situation has brought about a black market to sell these goods urging the consumers to ignore their real value, hence consuming them excessively and with contempt. The solution for this issue lies in eradicating the falsification of prices in the way they are subsidized and bringing them back to their real price in the free market according to supply and demand. At the same time, we should grant subsidies in cash to those who deserve it and determine these people accurately. In so doing, we could rationalize subsidies and citizens will recognize the real value of these goods so that they will be keen on them and on their consumption.

  • عبد الله علوش

    2013-3-17

    The country is full of bread and people can buy it for a quarter of a pound. I wonder where it has been made. Maybe the Police or the Army in addition to the Egyptian woman who is able to bake bread at home at least using clean water and dealing with powder in a right way using their hands. The most important thing here is that the Government should grant flour on the ration card or the personal identity card. It should grant every person a monthly amount until the end of the strikes. We should not oblige the Government to do anything unwillingly and starve the people into overthrowing the Government.

  • محمد عفيفى

    2013-3-16

    In my opinion, this is very good and this would mean that all people would get their rights. I think that using the machine will decrease all lines in front of the bakeries. The most important thing is that the Ministry of Provisions will conduct continuous searches in the bakeries to stop the smuggling of flour and selling it in the black market. There should be a law stating that whoever is found guilty of selling the flour in the black market must not only be fined or have his share in the flour sent to another bakery, but also his bakery should be confiscated to work for the benefit of the ministry during the sentence period. I see that the ministry should train professional people to work in the bakeries as bakers, sellers, and technicians to maintain all ovens and conduct continuous activities to raise the awareness regarding the importance of the cleanliness of the bakeries and the personal cleanness of the individuals. In the past, we used to find matchsticks and used cigarette filters in the bread. Today, we speak about an important issue, which is the bread. These statements will restore the good conditions of the bread, which is the main food of many families. We all seek to serve each other and God always helps one as long as one helps his brother. Let us work hard to serve each other as God helps those who help their brothers. Let us work for Egypt as we as the builders of the civilization since the ancient times we have to protect the wealth and riches of Egypt rather than wasting them. I call on the nation of Muhammad, peace be upon him, to preserve each drop of water and each loaf of bread. Today, we have to support the economy and we should not belittle the value of the single loaf of bread, because some families cannot get it. Please, let us be conservative and we wish that you all would commit to the laws and the regulations of the state. Our religion is the religion of order and peoples only achieve progress through respect for the law and the regulations. May God guide us to what is better for Egypt and we ask God to protect this country from all evils. O God! Protect Egypt and provide its people with security.