Food Security in Egypt “Twenty loaves of bread for the cost of a cigarette”

A boy holds up a loaf of bread while making a peace symbol at Tahrir Square in 2011

Portrait of Jessica Barnes
Jessica Barnes
Egypt spends about 3% of its budget subsidising bread for about three-quarters of its population. Threats to that subsidy provoke massive civil unrest, helping to topple the regime in 2011. As a result, bread and wheat are fundamental to the government’s security and that of the people of Egypt. Wheat yields in Egypt are among the highest in Africa, but they are no match for the population, which is why Egypt is the biggest buyer of wheat on the global market. Even when government raises the price it will pay for local wheat, the farmers who grow it prefer to keep their harvest — for their own family food security — rather than sell it to promote the government’s security.

These are just some of the challenges Jessica Barnes brings to light in her new book, Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt.

Sheaves of harvested wheat in the foreground with a row of date palms behind


  1. Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt is published by Duke University Press.
  2. Music by Ramy Essam.
  3. You may be interested in an episode I did back in 2014: Food prices and social unrest
  4. Transcript available here.
  5. Cover photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy. Banner photo “courtesy Middle East Confidential”.

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