More and more people in Iraq are being affected by food insecurity, a senior official has said.
Reduced domestic agricultural production, inflation, unemployment and a crumbling system of subsidized food distributions have hit poor people the hardest.
“There is still a big percentage of Iraqi people who can’t secure enough food. With unemployment running at 18-20 percent they can’t buy what they need,” said Muna Turki Al-Mousawi, head of the state-run Centre for Market Research and Consumer Protection, adding that about 20 percent of Iraq’s 25 million people live below the poverty line.
Domestic agricultural production - already affected by reduced rainfall - has also been hit by a lack of government support and lax controls on cheap food imports, with which farmers cannot compete in some cases, she said.
On 31 August, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Iraq had its worst cereal harvest in a decade and that its wheat harvest was set to fall to one million tonnes, from an average of 3.5 million tonnes per annum over the past decade. Domestic rice production also fell from an average 500,000 tons a year to an estimated 250,000 tons this year.
Iraq imports more than 80 percent of its food needs, al-Mousawi told IRIN.
The crumbling subsidized food distribution scheme which was set up in the 1990s and designed to supply basic food items to poor people as part of the UN oil-for-food programme is making matters worse. At least 60 percent of the population depends on the subsidized food, according to Iraqi Trade Ministry figures.
There are quality and distribution problems: “We have comments on the quality of the food items. And it never reaches the families in time or in sufficient quantities. Some of its items are only distributed 8-10 months a year,” she said, contrasting the current situation with that prior to 2003 when “there was a kind of stability with regard to food security nationwide as there was control of imported food and government support to agriculture.”
Government support for farmers?
After 2003, she said, the borders were opened to random imports without real scrutiny, and government support for farmers diminished, adversely affecting domestic production, which could not compete with cheaper imports.
“The government has realized these dangers over the past two years and started to support the farmers and impose restrictions on food imports, and yet we are still far from the self-sufficiency we had, as we are only producing 20 percent of our food needs,” she said.
Three draft laws which aim to protect local production and regulate imports, if approved, could dramatically improve the situation, al-Mousawi said.
Abdul-Zahra Al-Hindawi, spokesman for the Iraqi Planning Ministry’s Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT), estimates that about 23 percent of Iraqis live below the poverty line, meaning they earn US$66 a month or less.
“One quarter of the whole population is not a small percentage. It needs a lot of thinking and economic strategies to help change this reality and improve it,” he said.
COSIT is set to present a national five-year anti-poverty strategy to the Cabinet by the end of November.
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