WFP supports Iraq in modernising its Public Distribution System

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of Iraq have launched an initiative to digitise the national public distribution system (PDS).

The first phase of digitisation will reach nearly 1.3 million people in and around Baghdad and Dohuk.

The PDS is Iraq’s biggest social safety net, providing food entitlements to almost the entire population in Iraq of 39 million people.

WFP is providing technical support to the government as it starts using identification technology and a citizen database to reduce processing time, improve service and maximise resources.

“The initiative guarantees the most efficient use of government resources and ensures that the intended citizens receive their food entitlement,” said WFP Country Director and Representative in Iraq Sally Haydock at the launch in Baghdad. “We’re using digitisation to better serve Iraqi citizens through this key social safety net.”

With WFP’s support, the government will move to a digitised system where citizens’ data is safely encrypted and stored, and where security is enhanced using fingerprints or iris scans. This will allow the government to identify and remove duplicate records as well as conduct biometric verification at the time of food collection. The new system replaces the current paper-based system.

WFP is also designing a mobile application, myPDS, that people can use to collect their entitlements as well as to update their family information about births, deaths and marriages – at their convenience, using personal smartphones.

“The ministry is working on updating data as we put in place technology-based solutions that address people’s needs,” said the Iraqi Minister of Trade Mohammed Hashem Al-Ani.

WFP is partnering on the initiative with the Iraqi Ministry of Trade. Modernising the PDS is one of the priorities of Iraq’s National Poverty Reduction Strategy (2018 – 2022). WFP’s partnership with the ministry dates to the early 1990s when WFP established a database for the PDS.

(Source: WFP)

By John Lee.

Reuters reports that Etihad Food Industries is looking to sign one- or two-year raw sugar importing contracts with large trading firms after its current contract with Alvean runs out in November.

Haidar al-Noumany, Commercial Director, told the news agency that Etihad imported 1.047 million tonnes of raw sugar last year for its Babil-based sugar refinery. Most of this came from Brazil, with around 25,000 tonnes from India.

The company produced 1.03 million tonnes of sugar in 2016, selling 940,000 tonnes, mostly to the Iraqi market, with 60 percent of that going to the Public Distribution System (PDS), Iraq’s food rationing programme. The company claims a 99.5 percent share of Iraq’s white sugar market.

The plant is expected to double its capacity with an expansion starting next year, which will enable exports to countries like Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

The company’s nearby vegetable oil refinery is expected to start production in March, reaching full capacity of 3,600 tonnes per day within six months. It will produce mostly sunflower oil, competing with Turkish vegetable oil, but also soybean oil, palm oil and corn oil.

It will need to import crude vegetable oils, with two 35,000-tonne cargoes already purchased from Cargill.

(Source: Reuters)

By John Schnittker, Chief Economist at Schnittker Associates, and former Ministry Advisor at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

With much of Iraq’s wheat production coming from Northern Iraq and nearly all of Iraq’s water resources flowing through areas under ISIS control, Iraq’s food security may be facing a severe threat.

Iraq has about two thirds of this year’s wheat crop harvested, but this will not be adequate without additional imports, aside from the questions and logistical problems that are implicit given the current security and political crisis.

When and if the wheat harvest is completed in coming weeks across northern Iraq, around half of Iraq wheat crop will be in areas now under ISIS control. The remainder of the wheat crop will be stored in Ministry of Trade sites across southern Iraq. Iraq’s wheat production is blended with imported wheat, milled into flour and distributed as part of Iraq’s food ration or Public Distribution System.

Security concerns will likely severely impact the movement of wheat from storage sites to flour mills and ultimately to Iraq’s Public Distribution System (PDS) recipients. Regrettably those most in need of the PDS ration will be most affected. Imported wheat, used for blending with Iraqi wheat to improve both quality and appearance will also be affected, as it seems unlikely that the Ministry of Trade will be able to continue trucking shipments under current conditions into areas north and west of Baghdad. The potential exist that Iraqi citizens dependent upon the PDS across northern Iraq will face disruptions unless current situation is resolved.

The Euphrates and Tigris rivers enter Iraq in Anbar and Ninewa provinces respectively. Both of these provinces are under ISIS control. Dams on both rivers create the circumstances where the release of water can be severely cut back of cut off. It is also the case that water from both rivers can be diverted and stored before it reaches the major cities of Central and Southern Iraq.

Summer irrigation requirement s across Iraq are very high and could be disrupted. Drinking water will take priority over irrigation if water supplies are affected. Summer rice and vegetable crops stand the highest chance of facing irrigation water restrictions.

Water and wheat are the lifeblood of Iraq, ISIS control of the major rivers and dams and much of this season wheat crop has the potential to better define what currently is at stake.

By John Schnittker, Chief Economist at Schnittker Associates, and former Ministry Advisor at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Iraq’s first tender to purchase wheat on the international market since mid-May 2013 reflects that despite a record wheat crop Iraq remains a major importer of wheat and flour products. Iraq’s 2013 wheat crop of nearly 4.0 million metric tons will satisfy only around 60% of Iraq’s appetite for wheat and flour.

The bulk of Iraqi wheat production is purchased by the Ministry of Trade and utilized in Iraq’s Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS is Iraq’s “safety net” food program that distributes flour, rice, sugar and vegetable oil to Iraq’s citizens.

Despite Iraq’s newfound oil wealth millions of Iraqis remain either food insecure or vulnerable to food shortages. Iraq is also a major importer of flour, primarily used by commercial bakeries.

The current tender is for a minimum quantity of 50,000 metric tons and specifies wheat from multiple origins, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Romania, Kazakhstan and Germany.

Offer prices must be submitted by Sunday September 22. Currently wheat from the Black Sea region is priced more competitively than either US or Canadian wheat, and Black Sea wheat also enjoys an ocean freight advantage. Little Australian wheat is currently available as their harvest is still 3 months away. Both price and quality factors will influence the purchasing decision.

Iraq has also announced that the blending rate of domestic wheat will be increased to 60%. Imported wheat is blended with domestically produced wheat to improve both the baking characteristics and the overall appearance of PDS flour. A lower percentage of imported wheat may cause some concerns, but Iraq has shown significant progress in recent years in improving both the quantity and the quality of its wheat production.

Iraq can be expected to tender on a somewhat regular basis over the next 9 months, as annual wheat import requirements appear to be around 1.8 million metric tons.