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Iraq has only 190,000 tonnes of rice left for food programme - ministry

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has only 190,000 tonnes of rice available in its coffers for its food rationing programme, the trade ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

The country needs around 1-1.25 million tonnes of rice a year to support the programme.

In March, the trade ministry pleaded for money from the state’s budget to build three months’ supply of strategic wheat and rice stockpiles as Iraq grappled with the spread of the new coronavirus.

The ministry on Saturday renewed its call for more funds, saying the allocations were crucial, despite “difficulties” with the budget, because many Iraqis are “struggling to provide their daily food due to tough economic conditions amid the coronavirus crisis”.

Iraq, a major Middle East wheat and rice buyer, was politically gridlocked after former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was ousted by nationwide anti-corruption protests, hampering efforts to get a state budget approved before the start of the calendar year.

Iraq’s grain board, which falls under the trade ministry, holds regular international tenders to import wheat and rice for the rationing programme, which also covers cooking oil, flour and sugar.

Reporting by Moayed Kenany in Baghdad, Writing by Nadine Awadalla, Editing by Maha El Dahan, Kirsten Donovan