|The rice on the left(رز تجاري) of the picture is commercially sold rice while the rice on the right is PDS(رز الحصه التموينيه)
The Oil for Food Program that commenced in 1996 and under its offices the Public Distribution System (PDS) System was set up to distribute rice, oil, milk powder etc and this still continues. The rice in the right of the picture above is a sample of the rice distributed through parastatal outlets(المبايعه) that charge the recipients 500 ID for receiving the monthly handout for each family member. Initially these food handouts were of great benefit to people as the standard of living was poor however, over the last 7 to 8 years people’s incomes and living standards have markedly improved, even when electricity cuts and poor health standards are taken into account, and both the quantity and the quality of the foods distributed have deteriorated. The food distributed under the program is imported from many places and since 2003 there have been reports of numerous scandals with regard to these imports.
Under the IPD system every Iraqi over 1 year of age is entitled to 3 kg of rice per month but some months they do not receive their rice ration and this is then lost to them. The quality of the rice is so poor that often they will sell it back to the outlet manager at the price of 50 ID per kilo and the money is deducted from the 500 ID /per person charge they must pay the manager for receiving their monthly quota of food under the IPD system .The people sell this inferior quality rice to street traders or outlet managers (المبايعه)for 50 ID per kilo.
The rice to the left of the picture is a better quality rice, (Ahmed rice), that can be bought in the market place for 2500 ID per kilo, or the cost of 50 kilos of government rice. One can easily see the difference between the two cereals with the rice distributed by the program being of poorer quality and badly threshed as many grains are still in the husk. Over 20 years ago, when I and my family lived in Moghadishu-Somalia, this poor quality rice was often all that was available to us but there are now some 40 varieties of good quality, basmati rice available on the open market here in Iraq. It is no surprise that these better quality grains are used in preference to the hand out grain but what happens to the rice that is sold back to the outlet managers and street traders? I have been told that it ends up as animal or bird feed or that it may be taken out of the country and is then imported back in to be redistributed through the network.
Whatever the rice is used for the main concern is that in the more affluent society of today these handouts to every Iraqi are no longer required and the program should be gradually wound down. The logistics and distribution costs of the PDS could be put to better use now but it will take a strong political force to replace these distributions with something else.