Impact of COVID-19 on food security and agriculture
• Iraq is vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 due to pre-existing vulnerabilities, including poverty, dwindling natural resources and ongoing displacement due to past conflicts.
• The collapse of the global oil market in April has also had serious implications for Iraq’s capacity to import food. Approximately 90 percent of the Government’s income derives from oil revenue. The Government built the state budget under the assumption that oil would trade at USD 56 per barrel. Therefore, there are concerns relating to the funding of Social protection programmes.
• While the full impact of COVID-19 on food security is not yet known, the measures in place to control its spread have exacerbated the effects of the ongoing humanitarian situation.
• From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Iraq has exempted agricultural stakeholders from movement restrictions, allowing them to continue production and transport of agricultural goods. However, challenges facing the development of major value chains remain and unless the constraints facing agricultural supply chains are addressed, food security and job opportunities will be affected.
• Until now, food and non-food items have been allowed into the country and Iraq’s major trading partners continue to export as normal. However, since Iraq imports roughly 50 percent of the country’s food, this import dependency leaves Iraq vulnerable to food shortages or major price increases. The Government of Iraq has emphasized the need to boost strategic food reserves and closely monitor global food trade trends. It has also placed tariffs on 25 agricultural products to protect local production and improve self-reliance.
• COVID-19 containment measures, including lockdowns and restrictions on movement between governorates, have highly affected certain livelihoods such as day labourers and workers employed in the construction, hospitality and food industries, thereby increasing the adoption of negative coping mechanisms.
• Mounting fiscal pressure has already begun to place stress on the nation’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which provides food entitlements to almost all of the country’s population. This programme has been fundamental in ensuring household’s basic nutrition requirements, especially amongst displaced populations. Iraq primarily depends on imports to fulfil the basket of food entitlements under PDS. Although local wheat production will meet PDS demand for 2020, the Government only has 190 000 tonnes of rice in reserve, enough to cover only two distribution cycles.
• In an attempt to support vulnerable households affected by the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs established a one-time financial relief package called the Minha programme, where approximately 11.6 million people will receive a one-time cash transfer of IQD 30 000 (around USD 25). The Ministry has also expanded its regular social protection programming compared with previous months, allocating USD 328 million to the programme and increasing the caseload to 1.3 million pre-registered households.