The Economist reports that Egypt spends around $6bn a year subsidising food for the poorest people in its ~100m population. $2.9bn of this is used to subsidise the staple aish baladi bread. The magazine notes that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent commodity prices surging, and may compel Arab governments to think the unthinkable, as costly wheat will blow up budgets in the Middle East, perhaps forcing subsidy cuts that leave citizens hungry. And across sub-Saharan Africa, higher oil prices will strain budgets that are already creaking under the burden of growing debt. All this, it says, may mean not just hardship, but also unrest, as has happened before.
Meanwhile the price of wheat is now 55% above that in 2010. We may all have to eat cake.
For a sceptical view of the value and cost of Triticum aestivum, see this in Unherd by John Lewis-Stempel who is a farmer and historian. He argues that wheat, historically, comes chained to tyranny. For example:
"Wheat is a slave-master, demanding in its specific and daily needs, not least the endless — or so it seems to us who have ever grown the stuff — weeding. Wheat locked us into a seasonal cycle of planting, weeding and harvesting from which we have been unable to escape ever since. It also made us more sedentary, both in terms of chaining us to static settlements, and becoming less active. Guarding a wheat field from wild boar requires less energy than hunting wild boar; the lineal ancestor of the couch potato was the campfire bum."
"Chemical use in conventional wheat-growing does much for the coffers of Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), but it is turning swathes of the UK countryside into a coffin for nature. Wheat is the cause of more environmental problems than you can wave a baguette at. Although the lobbyists and the apologists of agribusiness insist that pesticide use has declined over the last quarter of a century, this is not the case when it comes to wheat. Between 2000 and 2016, average spray passes (applications) over wheat increased from 5.5 to 6.6, while the active substances in sprays went from 14.7 to 20.5. Actually, forget the mgs, and the ratios. The countryside is doused in chemicals."
"Five wildflowers — “weeds” to some — associated with cereal and arable farming in the UK are now dead and gone due to chemically addicted industrialised agriculture: So, farewell, Lamb’s succory, Interrupted brome, Thorowax, Small bur-parsley and Downy hemp-nettle."
"To save the planet, pastoralism is the intelligent solution. The brain is 60% fat, and omega-rich fat from grass-fed meat is excellent for mental health. The sine qua non of free thinking. Beef and liberty! More meat, less wheat!"
Time to tell the Egyptian government.