March 13, 2019 / 9:36 AM / 7 days ago

UPDATE 1-Egypt plans increased rice cultivation in effort to cut import bill

(Adds quotes, details)

CAIRO, March 13 (Reuters) - Egypt’s Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday it would grow about 1.1 million acres of rice in the 2019 season, up from 800,000 acres last year, in an effort to reduce the country’s import bill.

The North African nation began importing rice, a crop it typically had in surplus, in 2018 to save water.

Cairo increased fines for illegal rice cultivation last year and decreed that just 724,000 feddans could be planted. A feddan is roughly one acre.

That marked a sharp drop from the officially allotted 1.1 million feddans for 2017 and the 1.8 million feddans grains traders believe were actually grown that year.

“The increase in acreage is to decrease the rice import bill and stabilise its price,” Ahmed Ibrahim, a media official at the Agriculture Ministry, told Reuters.

Rice cultivation had been slashed in an effort to conserve vital Nile river resources as Ethiopia builds a $4 billion dam upstream that Cairo fears could threaten its water stocks.

Egypt’s state grain buyer GASC has issued three international purchasing tenders since last year. (Reporting by Momen Atallah Writing by Maha El Dahan Editing by Dale Hudson and Louise Heavens)

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