* Stocks at 2.207 million tonnes
* Enough to last 89 days
* Wheat imports down sharply this year
(Adds trader, local harvest, details)
By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, March 13 Egypt's strategic stocks of
wheat have fallen to 2.207 million tonnes, enough to last 89
days, a cabinet report said on Wednesday, as the top global
importer struggles to ensure supply through an economic and
Economic turmoil in the North African country has made it
harder it to arrange payments for wheat imports, with the pace
of purchases having tumbled since the start of the year.
While stocks have fallen, the government also upped its
projection of the local harvest to more than 9 million tonnes -
a number that would exceed the current record of 8.523 million
tonnes in 2009/10, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture
The Egyptian cabinet's forecast for its upcoming harvest is
also above the USDA's crop estimate of 8.5 million tonnes,
released last week.
International traders say that even with a brightened
harvest outlook, the country will need to buy further
significant amounts to maintain minimum stock levels prior to
its harvest being ready for consumption.
"The total strategic stocks of local and imported wheat have
reached 2.207 million tonnes, enough for 89 days until June 9,
2013," the cabinet said.
It added that this amount would rise when shipments from
deals already agreed arrive. When these amounts arrive it will
add an extra 479,000 tonnes.
The current stock levels compare with 2.292 million tonnes,
or 95 days cover, reported on February 27.
Egypt's state grain buyer General Authority for Supply
Commodities (GASC) bought around 235,000 tonnes of wheat on the
international market between Jan. 1 and Feb. 20, roughly a third
of what it purchased in the same period a year ago.
Egypt normally buys strategically to ensure that it has
wheat stocks equal to at least six months' consumption in its
silos. It relies heavily on imports to feed its 84 million
people; half of the wheat they consume is imported.
"This is lower than they historically have carried in the
past," a European trader said, commenting on the new figures.
Shipments expected from the United States in the coming weeks
will help maintain the current levels, the trader added.
"However, I think Egypt's private buyers or GASC need to buy
an additional 800,000 to 1 million tonnes of wheat for shipment
before the end of May when their local crop becomes readily
available, to keep an adequate level of stocks."
The weak Egyptian pound has pushed up the cost of wheat
imports paid for in dollars. The pound has fallen more than 8
percent since the end of last year as concerns deepen about the
state of the country, hit by political infighting and localised
Food supply is a politically-sensitive issue in Egypt, where
rising food prices are being passed on to struggling consumers
and shortages have provoked unrest in the past.
(Additional reporting by Sarah McFarlane in London; writing by
Sylvia Westall; editing by Veronica Brown and Keiron Henderson)