Robert Walker discusses how the future leader of Egypt will face the daunting task of feeding a country heavily reliant on food subsidies.
Today, the world asks "Who will rule Egypt?" Tomorrow, the world will ask, "Who will feed Egypt?" For regardless of which leader or faction emerges triumphant in the Egyptian power struggle, the new leadership will have to feed a population that is heavily dependent upon food subsidies and imported grain for its survival. And that will be a daunting task.
There was a time when Egypt was the breadbasket of the civilized world. The Roman Empire was long sustained by Egyptian wheat. Today, Egypt imports about half of its wheat, corn and other staples, and spends about $15 billion a year in food subsidies.
Few nations are as dependent on food imports as Egypt. It is, in fact, the world's largest importer of wheat. It's no coincidence that the current turmoil coincided with a surge in wheat commodity prices. Food inflation was far from the only reason people took to the streets, but it was a contributing factor. Food prices in Egypt have risen 17 percent in the past year, and in a country where 40 percent of the population lives near or below the poverty line, that's no small matter.