An attack on mansaf
The government is planning on severely cutting back it’s subsidies on livestock feed. Rises in the costs and the fixing of the price of this feed is expected to cost the treasury 160 million dinars per year. In order to cut this cost, the government wants to give cash payments to owners of small numbers of sheep and goats, and cut the subsidy of the feed. This would eliminate government support of cattle and poultry, as well as support of large stocks of sheep. Moreover, the proposed cash payments for the small owners would not cover the difference in feed costs which will result from the lifting of subsidies.
Naturally, livestock owners are furious, and today they demonstrated in southern Amman, cutting off the main highway between the capital and Aqaba. Police have now reopened the highway.
Jordan is largely a pastoral country, both in nature and in society. Thus, raising livestock in rural areas is a major source of income. The carrying capacity of the land has long ago been exceeded by the numbers of livestock that are being raised, requiring additional feed to sustain this industry. Lifting of subsidies will raise the cost of doing business, driving many herders to abandon this profession. Costs to the consumers are expected to rise dramatically. Thus, aside from the economic argument, it is imperative to look at the social costs of this decision. We are looking at more unemployment, more migration to the cities, more smuggling and other crime and more anger. There are definitely important security implications for this decision. Of course, this is not the first time that this government has taken such a callous approach to the ambitions and needs to rural areas, but the effect of this decision is more widespread because it affects a larger number of people.
Jordan imports massive amounts of meat at cost that far lower than that of the local meat, which is largely viewed as being superior in quality. Local lamb costs over 6 dinars per kilogram, which is over double the cost of imported meat. No decent mansaf can be made other than with local lamb baladi meat. The same goes for jameed (dried yogurt) made from sheep and goat milk. Thus, the issue has sentimental value as well.
In principal, I am one to believe that economic activities should comply with real market conditions. However, in this case I have reservations about this development. It should be pointed out that agricultural activities in the US and in the west in general enjoy substantial government subsidies, because food security and stabilization of rural communities are desirable goals. The same should apply here, despite the fact that we are quite far away from being self sufficient in food production. Another point is that the costs of meat and poultry and especially of dairy products will rise, which may have implications on public health as people cut back on dairy products. The most important point is that successive governments have mostly failed in providing economic opportunity to rural areas in the country. When enough reasonable opportunities are created, then an attack on the traditional income sources might be considered.