Egypt is looking to import large quantities of rice this month as farmers refuse to sell the government their crops despite a plentiful harvest and an extreme shortage of dollars that should make buying from abroad a last resort.
Egypt's 2016 rice paddy production is estimated at 5.1 million metric tonnes versus annual consumption of about 3.95 million tonnes, a United States Department of Agriculture report this week stated.
Farmers have, however, refused to sell their crops to the government, arguing that 2,400 Egyptian pound ($270.27) per tonne state-mandated price is too low. That has forced up local prices and made supplies at local outlets scarce in recent weeks.
Egypt's state grain buyer GASC will on Wednesday hold an international purchase tender for at least 100,000 tonnes of white medium-grain rice, the start of a government campaign to purchase 500,000 tonnes of the grain.
The tender comes despite an acute dollar shortage that has sapped the country's ability to purchase from abroad and forced its central bank to ration dollars for essential commodities, the result of a 2011 uprising that chased away tourists, foreign investors and their hard currency.
Unlike wheat, sugar, and other staple commodities which the North African country imports to meet demand that outstrips local production, its bountiful rice crop far exceeds domestic needs. However, the price dispute means it has to import.
"Farmers don't want to sell because in the previous years they saw that they sold cheaply and then prices increased and they didn't profit," said Mostafa al-Naggari, head of the rice committee of Egypt's agricultural export council.
"In the free market (the price of rice) is around 2,900 Egyptian pounds ($326.58) and the government is offering 2,400, so there is a huge gap," Naggari added.
Temporary rice shortages and price spikes have become common since the government failed to purchase stocks during its 2015 harvest, an omission that allowed speculating traders to buy up and hoard the country's entire crop, sending prices soaring upward until the state called for tenders.
"The farmers are keeping in mind everything that happened last year…they sold the crop very cheap and the traders made a lot of money. This year the farmers want to store it," said one rice trader.
Wednesday's tender may be tactical, traders said, a shot across the bow to farmers holding stocks in hopes that they will release them to the market.
Prices fell by roughly 10 percent since the government announced its purchase tender last week, but this could jump back up if the tender isn't completed, the rice trader said.
"I don't think they will even buy….but the farmers are waiting, and if the government doesn't book every time, they will increase the price again," he said.