x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rice project's success leads to extension

A rice distribution programme for Emiratis in Al Gharbia that began during Ramadan has been such a success that it is to be continued indefinitely.

Rakan al Murar, right, a spokesman for Al Gharbia municipality, stands inside the rice distribution centre.
Rakan al Murar, right, a spokesman for Al Gharbia municipality, stands inside the rice distribution centre.

A rice distribution programme for Emiratis in Al Gharbia that began during Ramadan has been such a success that it is to be continued indefinitely. The municipality council now oversees the monthly distribution of rice at a subsided rate to six communities, including remote areas such as Delma Island. "This is part of government policy that says that we must ensure the security of food for the people. Policy dictates that the basic needs of people should be met," said Rakan al Murar, a spokesman for the municipality.

More than 3,000 tons of rice have been distributed to families since Ramadan and the municipality has arranged home deliveries in four cities, including Liwa, Ghayathi and Sila. It has also arranged for payments to be made either at the rice centres, municipality buildings or banks in each town. "For the elderly, who cannot travel, this will make it easier. Then there is the distance. In some cases, people still have to drive at least 100km to reach one of these centres, so we try to help them as much as we can."

The subsidised rice had always been available to Emiratis, but they had to travel to Abu Dhabi to collect it. Al Gharbia, formerly known as the Western Region, asked to oversee the distribution after polling its residents and discovering that sometimes it took an entire day to travel to Abu Dhabi and use the service. The programme helps families who cannot afford to pay the increasing price of rice, as well as bidoons, Mr Murar said.

Each family is allotted a number of bags of rice depending on its size, with a minimum of a bag a month. On registration, a family member is able to buy a 40kg bag of rice for the subsidised price of Dh120 (US$33). This compares with an Abu Dhabi market price of Dh300, while shops at Madinat Zayed were selling similar bags for Dh500. The municipality issues each family a card that includes the number of family members. To accommodate growing families, a new family card is issued when a marriage takes place.

Bakheet Mubarak al Mansouri, a resident of Madinat Zayed with nine family members on his card, recalled difficulties in getting the rice before the current distribution plan was brought in. "I would rather pay Dh500 for the same bag of rice here at the supermarket than wait in Abu Dhabi all day, where the system is really overloaded," he said. "I don't want to go there. I can't wait for so long after driving for so long."

At the Madinat Zayed's rice centre - a spacious storage facility with a loading dock - Mr Mansouri first drives his pickup truck to a small counter where he receives a receipt, which he then produces to the distributor. As they greet each other, workers are already loading the back of his truck. "They have done something nice for us," he said. "This is my third visit in three months, since Ramadan. But what is most important is the women at home are happy. They have rice, so I am happy."

Selling rice at a subsidised rate, while food prices continue to climb, is not without challenges. During Ramadan, the rice storage facility distributed 300 bags a day. It is down to an average of 100 bags now, but they are bracing themselves for a rush as the December holidays approach, said Mohammed Tariq Raja, chief officer of the Madinat Zayed warehouse. The storage facility houses 50,000 bags at the moment and while it can hold double that amount, supplies from Pakistan can be a problem.

Even though the municipality buys directly from the supplier, orders have to be placed from 45 days to three months in advance. Current supplies should last for six months - if distribution is carefully monitored. Meanwhile, the municipality hopes to add more staples to the subsidised list. Mr Mansouri has noted that as well as the increase in rice prices, the cost of flour has also gone up. He pays Dh85 for a 50kg bag and hopes the government can subsidise it for Dh40 instead.

"I want some flour too. We are asking for that also." sbhattacharya@thenational.ae