Egypt to spend $1.6 billion on local wheat purchases

CAIRO, March 24 Sun Mar 24, 2013 5:09pm EDT

CAIRO, March 24 (Reuters) - Egypt's government has allocated 11 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) to buy 4.5 million tonnes of wheat from local farmers this year, state media said on Sunday as the most populous Arab country struggles to ensure supplies.

Economic turmoil and a weakening local currency has made it harder for the government to import wheat, a sensitive issue in the North African country as rising food prices have sparked unrest in the past.

Earlier this month, the cabinet said Egypt's strategic stocks of wheat had fallen to 2.207 million tonnes, enough to last 89 days. This compares with 2.292 million tones reported in end-February.

The government plans to spend 11 billion pounds to buy up around 4.5 million tonnes wheat from local farmers this year, state news agency MENA said after a cabinet meeting.

In total, Egypt expects local wheat production to rise to between 9 million and 10 million tonnes, MENA said, without giving a time frame. That would be well above the record production of 8.523 million tonnes reported in 2009/10.

Egypt needs to import half of its wheat needs to feed its population of 84 million people.

The Egyptian pound has fallen 8 percent since the start of the year as concerns deepen about the state of the country, hit by political infighting and unrest two years after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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