Egypt Confounds Wheat Thieves With Hi-Tech U.S. Storage

A move to store Egypt’s wheat in state-of-the-art warehouses monitored by a control centre in Cairo could end losses from theft and waste, cutting its $3 billion bread subsidy bill, an executive at the U.S. firm designing the project said.

By automating and centralising monitoring and access the new system is designed to save Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, $200 million annually. Theft is rampant at open-air sites, contributing to post-harvest losses estimated at 40 percent.

“Just bringing the wheat indoors and putting a roof over it drastically reduces how much wheat is spoiled,” said Peter Blumberg, vice-president at Blumberg Grain.

“Much of the new technology here helps to monitor it once it’s already inside and safe from pests and the elements.”

Blumberg Grain, a family-owned food storage firm based in Florida, signed a $28 million contract with Egypt last December to modernise storage at 93 sites.

Three warehouses were completed last month and the rest should be ready for next spring’s harvest, Blumberg said.

At the inaugural storage site in Alexandria, Blumberg showed how the new equipment feeds data to a “command centre” in Cairo, allowing the ministry of supply to monitor the site.

Farmers will weigh their wheat on a machine that processes it before the wheat is weighed again by another one and stored in the warehouse.

The farmer receives a paper receipt, while a digital copy is automatically sent to the command centre, leaving little room for human error or fraud, Blumberg said.

In the current system wheat is stored in the open-air protected by just barbed wire. Farmers say those sites are exploited by corrupt officials and smugglers.

“There’s no problem with storage at ports like Alexandria, but if the government can monitor what’s going on in places the ministry of supply never visits, that would be a significant improvement,” one trader said.

Source: Reuters