Foul times ahead for Egypt's bean staple

Cairo -Egypt's staple bean dish - known as foul - is under threat because of the rising cost of imports and a reduction in domestic production.

Agricultural expert Mohamed al-Borei raised the alarm in Sunday's press, saying the government should start requisitioning land to produce more fava beans.

The cost on the street of the popular foul mesdames sandwich, made with bean stew, salad and spices inside a piece of shami bread, has risen by 25 percent to reach one Egyptian pound (about R1,23).

The rising cost of wheat on the world market has already significantly raised the cost of bread, of which at 400g a day Egyptians are the world's biggest per-capita consumers.

Egypt, for a long time self-sufficient in bean production and even an exporter of the commodity, now imports half of its annual requirement of 550 000 tons of foul that is needed to satisfy the nation's most needy.

Agriculture ministry employee Mohammed al-Nahrawy told the Egyptian Gazette that "we grow 240 000 tons, but most Egyptian farmers have given up cultivating foul because of the diseases that afflicted the crop in the early 1990s".

Borei blamed government policy which promotes wheat and cotton cultivation at the expense of beans.

The deputy chairman of the importers section of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce blames multinationals.

"These companies export the beans to Egypt at inflated prices. This is sheer monopoly and, this time, small traders are not guilty of upping prices," he said, calling for government action to stabilise prices.

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