LONDON, Aug 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Families in rural Iraq will get access to urgently needed cash to invest in farming via a new money transfer programme on mobile phones funded by the Belgium government, the United Nation's food agency said on Wednesday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the cash-for-work programme will benefit over 12,000 farmers in more than 30 villages by providing a secure means of receiving funds to restart or expand agricultural activities.
The move comes after years of conflict has destroyed or damaged harvests across Iraq where about 12 million people depend on agriculture. This has left about 3.2 million of Iraqi's 38 million people without regular food.
Fadel El-Zubi, FAO representative in Iraq, said the workers and families involved in the programme are from households with no other income source, including women who are often the sole breadwinners, and people with disabilities.
"The use of mobile technology will streamline the safe delivery of cash transfers to participants, who are some of the most vulnerable people in the country," he said in a statement.
The payments are facilitated by FAO in partnership with mobile telecommunications group Zain, which has operations in eight Middle Eastern and African countries.
Participant names and identity numbers are pre-registered with the company and they receive a free sim card.
Once they complete a certain number of days of work, they receive a text message with a security code and can then collect their wages from certified money mobile transfer agents.
El-Zubi said the programme would encourage Iraqis displaced by conflict to return home and resume farming with the FAO seeking $74.5 million to assist 1.39 million people this year.
"Providing income opportunities is critical in rural areas affected by conflict," El-Zubi said.
"FAO's aim is to support people to get back on their feet as quickly as possible, and reduce their reliance on food assistance."
Sarah Bailey, an expert on emergency cash transfer programming at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) thinktank, said giving people money was giving them choice.
"Increasing peoples options to invest, to meet their families' needs, to send their children to school, that's all extraordinarily positive," Bailey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reporting by Eloise Reader, editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith.
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