The UN Oil for Food programme, initiated in 1996, has resulted in the population of Iraq becoming dependant on imported food while the country’s agriculture has declined through lack of interest and investment. The result of this combination is that agriculture has been ignored and the country has low agricultural output and a very low level of food security. This cannot be allowed to continue when food prices across the globe are increasing, transport costs are rising as are the risks posed by food safety and, without exception, all experts in the field agree that steps must be taken to remove the country’s dependency on imported foods.
The cessation of the Oil for Food handouts to the population of Kurdistan and Iraq in general would result in the population seeking home produced food products and lead to an increase in farm profits, agricultural incentive and output. In effect, the end of the Oil for Food handouts to the general public will result in willingness, at all levels, to increase agricultural development, investment and output.
The KRG receives 17% of the budget of Iraq’s government for the Oil for Food handouts, a sum that could be used to redevelop the agricultural sector. However it would be a mistake to abruptly cease all subsidised food handouts and divert the funds to agricultural development, while expecting the public to accept the sudden rise in food for costs. The alternative is to wean the populace off their dependency on the subsidised food by a slow, staged reduction in subsidies that can be achieved by using a system of food coupons for food items such as 1.Pulses, 2.Poultry& Eggs, 3.Sugar, 4.Rice, 5.Tea, 6.Oil, 7.Milk (for children), 8.Washing powder, 9. Pasta, 10.Meat.
Families, (or individuals), would be required to register for food coupons that can be exchanged for food at shops and supermarkets in the neighbourhood that have been appointed as participating stores. The coupons are issued for the amount of each food that the individual/family is entitled to each month and these coupons can be exchanged at the registered shop/supermarkets for the food. The shopkeeper or the store will be reimbursed for the food cost by presenting the coupons to the banks and the incentive to shops to participate in the scheme will be a bonus of an additional 10% of the food costs as cost for handling the programme.
The number of coupons issued will depend on the family/individual’s circumstances, e.g. income, pregnancy, number of children under 5 or 10 years of age. Provision of milk for infants and meat for a pregnant woman should be considered.
The amount of food coupons allocated to a household should be in relation to the total income and will be reduced, on a sliding scale, as the family income increases.
Where the total household income is below 300,000 ID the present level of subsidised food will be allocated. Where the income is up to 500,000 the allocation is reduced to 80% of current level as shown in table below.
Income ID/Family % support out of 60US$
Up to 300,000 100%
The 100% will be equivalent to 60 US$. The amount will be reviewed biannually, taking into consideration the rate of inflation, the budget, health and the agriculture sector.
What foods are removed from the different increment levels will need to be determined and will no doubt be in relation to the cost and its nutritional value e.g. poultry meat will be available at all levels.
The advantage of coupon system is:
• People will receive what is required in the household and there will be no waste.
• The cost and manpower needed to maintain the huge number of outlets currently spreading all over the country will be reduced. The outlets are always accused by the people for irregularities and mishandling.
• The coupon is equivalent to money and could be exchanged in the banks for 90% of its value.
• The system will cut the import of inferior quality foods, and stop the ever increasing scandals connected to the Food-for-Oil programme over the last 16 years.
• This system will reduce the pressure on the Ministry of Trade. Imports, for the time being, will be covered by traders and the quality could be monitored by the Ministries of Trade, Agriculture and Health and by consumer protection organisations.
• The bulk import of food by the government will stop. Most of the big scandals in recent years, in Iraq, have been in connection to the bulk import of food items by the government with concerns raised over quality, origin, validity, commission received by civil servants, storage and transport. These entire headaches for the government will be reduced drastically on the implementation of a coupon system.
• Throughout Iraq, small vendors in the streets and alley ways are a common sight as they use loudspeakers to announce that they will buy from the public their unwanted Food-for- Oil handouts for less than half their value. This is the first stage in organised, illegal activities. Who is organising this illegal activity, how large is the enterprise and what happens to these goods is unknown. The coupon system will close these illegal and immoral activities.
Other suggestions in Arabic, Kurdish and English will be more than welcome and I hope that this will lead to action.