Food prices in Egypt were already climbing before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now bread, a politically symbolic staple on which many Egyptians are heavily dependent, is also getting costlier as Black Sea wheat exports are disrupted and global prices surge.
That is piling financial pressure on families who have already endured years of austerity, in a country where nearly a third of the 103-million population live below the official poverty line and many more struggle to get by.
Shoppers say the cost of a packet of unsubsidised loaves has risen by a quarter in the three weeks since Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, while prices of oil, eggs, pasta and other widely consumed foods are also climbing.
Flour prices have risen by up to 15%, said Attia Hamad of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.
“I eat less so my kids don’t get hungry,” said Farag, 52, whose daily budget for bread currently buys eight small flat loaves instead of 10. “Sometimes we cook a good meal every three days, and the rest of the week we just eat something like bread and cheese.”
Egypt is typically the world’s largest wheat importer, buying more than 60% of its wheat from abroad. Russia and Ukraine accounted for some 80% of those imports last year.
Now traders are scrambling to source supplies from elsewhere as fighting in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia block shipments.
“If I want to find an alternative, prices will be vastly different,” said one trader in the region, pointing to volatility in the futures contracts that underpin the market.
The contract for May delivery wheat on the Paris-based futures market is up almost 50% from its February lows.