CAIRO

- For decades, Egyptians have echoed old sayings and proverbs that link independence in political decisions and the possession of food and bread, among which is "he who has his strength owns his decision", "and he who eats from his axe has his decision from his head."

However, throughout those decades, they never felt a danger to the loaf of bread due to wheat supplies that never stopped. Even in the 1967 and 1973 wars that Egypt fought against Israel, wheat supplies from abroad were not interrupted.

Overnight, the situation changed and the loaf of bread in Egypt was threatened by Russia's war on Ukraine, as Egypt imports 80% of its wheat imports from them.

Because of the war and the increase in the prices of all commodities and food crops, the price of the tourist loaf increased by rates ranging from 20% to 50%, and raising the price of the five-piaster “ghellaba bread” is around the corner.

Large sectors returned to ask the question: Why do we not grow enough areas of wheat to meet our needs?

Experts and specialists started talking about traditional and non-traditional solutions "outside the box" in order to find a solution to the wheat crisis in Egypt.

Are potatoes the answer?

Among those who thought outside the box was Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Sattar El-Meligy, a professor of plant pathology, who wrote an article on the “For Science” website - which is the Arabic version of the “Scientific American” website, one of the most important scientific journals in the world, and the website is funded by the Egyptian government – ​​stressing that Egypt, being one of the largest wheat importing countries, can solve this crisis, which has exacerbated by using potatoes in making bread.

Al-Meligy added in his article, "Wheat is not the only crop from which bread flour is made, but it can be mixed with other crops or completely dispensed with in the manufacture of bread, and there is a significant percentage of people who are allergic to gluten, which is found in wheat and barley, so they use other sources." Gluten-free for baking.

He pointed out that among the crops from which bread is made in the world are rice, potatoes, bananas, cassava, and other crops.

El-Meligy reiterated that most peoples of the world do not depend on wheat flour as a primary source for making bread, as in Egypt, and many of them use potato bread, which is made in multiple and delicious ways and can be easily made at home, as he described it.

"We can use potatoes in our meals as a substitute for at least half of our bread consumption," he added, noting that Egypt spent in 2019 $4.67 billion, or nearly LE73 billion, on importing wheat to become the largest importer of wheat in the world.

He stressed that the average price per ton of imported wheat in 2021 amounted to $330 per ton, while the state buys it from the Egyptian farmer at the equivalent of $364 per ton, and therefore the import cost is lower than the cost of local production.

According to El-Meligy's article, the nutritional composition of a 150-gram potato "grain" exceeds what a loaf of local bread with the same weight provides in terms of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Potatoes are superior to wheat in many things, including that the productivity of an acre of potatoes ranged between 15 to 17 tons per acre (Getty Images)

Egyptian experience

If Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Sattar El-Meligy had called in his article for making bread from potatoes in order to save Egypt from the global wheat crisis, then the local media had talked about a previous Egyptian experience in making bread from potatoes.

The Seventh Day website published a video-documented experience of the owner of one of the subsidized bakeries in the New Valley Governorate (about 730 km from the Egyptian capital Cairo) in producing the first loaf of bread made from potato dough, an experiment that the governorate is looking to disseminate at the level of all subsidized bakeries in the governorate to support and encourage non-violent ideas The new valley governor agreed to support the idea by allocating an area of ​​land for planting potatoes.

The newspaper stated that there are a number of steps taken by the citizen with the experience of making bread from potatoes in order to produce a loaf of bread, half of it from wheat flour and the other half from potatoes. Then cut it into discs ready to be baked in the oven at a certain level of temperature in order to produce a loaf of bread that tends to yellow in color and taste good and has a high nutritional value.

Potatoes are superior to wheat

And about the superiority of potatoes over wheat in the manufacture of loaves of bread, Dr. Ezzat Mohamed Abdeen, head of research at the Department of Bread and Pastries at the Food Technology Research Institute, revealed that he had carried out a series of researches over 10 years, in which he obtained a patent registered with the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt about the manufacture of loaves. Bread from different ingredients as alternatives to wheat. Abdeen told Al-Ahram Governmental Gateway that his idea is to make a loaf of bread consisting of 5% rice flour and 10% barley flour, to which is added 35% of potato flour as a minimum, and the rest (45%) of wheat.

He stressed that these ingredients will not affect the natural properties of the loaf and its nutritional content, but will make it better in all aspects, he said.

Abdeen pointed out that Egypt produces 7 million tons of wheat and consumes 17 million.

The researcher stressed that potatoes are superior to wheat in many things, including that the productivity of an acre of potatoes ranges between 15 to 17 tons per acre, while the productivity of an acre of wheat does not, in any way, exceed 3 tons, and its cultivation takes 6 months, while the potato crop takes only 3 months.

Regarding its shortcomings, Abdeen said that the most important shortcomings of potatoes are their inability to store more than 3 months, and they are not stored in refrigerators. Its alternative is small potatoes, which are produced secondary to potatoes and the cassava plant, which is similar to potatoes, but its roots are deep in the soil, and one acre produces 30 tons of it and its cultivation is spread throughout North Sinai, and its cultivation can be expanded in new and reclaimed lands.

The price of a loaf of bread increased by 20% to 50% in Egypt after the Ukrainian war (Al-Jazeera)

Abdeen noted that the loaf produced with a mixture of wheat and potatoes has a shelf life of up to 4 days, and does not become moldy due to the strong water retention of potatoes, and its taste and texture are good.

Why does not Egypt expand the cultivation of wheat?

Among the most frequently asked questions now in Egypt is the old question that has persisted for decades: Why does Egypt not expand the cultivation of wheat to achieve self-sufficiency?

Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Sattar El-Meligy emphasized in his article on the “For Science” website that thinking about producing wheat needed for Egypt in the desert land is just a dream that cannot be achieved, and he attributed this to the scarcity of water and arable soil and the high costs of production that stand in the way of expanding the cultivation of field crops such as wheat In the desert.

He added that in light of his personal experience with wheat cultivation in Saudi Arabia for more than 30 years, it is not possible to rely on groundwater in traditional agriculture;

For many reasons, the most important of which are the high cost, the rapid spread of pests and the salinization of the soil so that it becomes uncultivable after 10 to 15 years.

This is what the former head of the Desert Research Center, Dr. Ismail Abdel Jalil, said, who confirmed, in his meeting with the “Without Ban” program broadcast on Sada Al-Balad channel, that the statement that Egypt is the world’s food basket contains some inaccuracies, because this statement was launched at a time when the country was It is rainy, but the amount of rain that falls on Egyptian lands now is modest compared to other countries, and it is not possible to predict the date of rain and coordinate it with wheat production.

Abdul Jalil called on citizens to turn to alternative crops for wheat in the bread industry, including the quinoa crop, which provides 50% of wheat's water needs.

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