Miroslav Karakashev, Head of Agricultural Market Mechanisms Department with State Fund Agriculture, in an interview with the Focus Radio.
Host: EU’s food programme was officially launched in Sofia today. Socially disadvantaged people will receive products under the Charity Programme. Mr Karakashev, what is the main idea of this programme?
Miroslav Karakashev: This is the fifth consecutive year of implementation of the Charity Programme in Bulgaria, in collaboration with the State Fund Agriculture and the Bulgarian Red Cross. This is one of the programmes, which is entirely financed from the EU budget, more specifically, with funds from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund. Its purpose is to support EU residents in need, including Bulgarians, with food commodities. Every EU member state, which is a participant in this programme, receives food supplies for its socially disadvantaged citizens, if I may say so, with accordance to the EU legislation. This aid is gratuitous, as for this purpose State Fund Agriculture launches public procurements for choosing food suppliers. They supply 28 regional stores, property of the Bulgarian Red Cross, on the territory of the entire country.
Host: You mentioned that this project would be of help to socially disadvantaged people. What are the criteria for determining the people, who have the right to receive such assistance?
Miroslav Karakashev: The specific criteria are well-defined in Regulation ¹18 from 2007, by the Minister of Agriculture and Food, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, and the Minister of Healthcare. I can specify them exactly the way they are written and published. This concerns individuals supported under the regulation on conditions and order for grants for heating; the second category includes adoptive mothers, who have received aid for raising their children before turning the age of 1, including individuals entitled to receive monthly allowance over previous years for raising a child with physical disadvantages. This year, we included three additional categories for supporting individuals. These are families, who received a one-off payment for covering part of their expenses for their children for the start of the school year; individuals who take care of people with physical disadvantages and who took part in last year’s “Personal Assistant” campaign, which is part of the national programme for assistants of physically disadvantaged people. The last category concerns individuals, who last year received one-off assistance in accordance to article 16 form the Regulation for enforcing the Social Assistance Act. These are specific individuals, who have accidentally fallen into poor financial, educational or health state. For this year, there are a total of 308,000 people in need on the territory of the country.
Host: Where will be the exact location of the centre, from which people can get their food products?
Miroslav Karakashev: There are several centres on the territory of Sofia Municipality. For more specific information, you should probably ask the Bulgarian Red Cross, because they are our partner with regards to the implementation of the programme. All the logistics, related to the food distribution, is being organised by the Bulgarian Red Cross. To be more specific, today there will be food distribution in Sofia’s Strelbishte residential district, at 15 Zlaten Rog street, I believe.
Host: What kind of food products will the people in need receive?
Miroslav Karakashev: In connection to the implementation of EC’s charity plan for 2012, State Fund Agriculture realised three public procurements, in the range of which 15 positions were included, namely 15 food products. These food products will be distributed in two tranches. The present tranche, which is planned to end in the beginning of October, will include nine products: flour, rice, spaghetti, pasta, waffles, starch, biscuits, sugar and beans. The same products will be additionally distributed in the second tranche, which will start being distributed towards the end of October or beginning of November. But in addition to these products, there will be jam, sunflower oil, lentils, potato mash, honey, coffee made from chicory, which is famous as Inka in Bulgaria.
Host: What is the exact route of the mentioned food products?
Miroslav Karakashev: This is a very long process. State Fund Agriculture, as I told you, organises public procurements and chooses contractors and suppliers, predominantly, over 90% of them are Bulgarian manufacturers and traders. The food products are produced in the EU. Most of them are produced on the territory of the country. When chosen from the public procurement of State Fund Agriculture, the contractor deposits bank guarantees for 110% of the products’ value. The contractor also makes a commitment to deliver these products respectively in all 28 regional stores, property of the Bulgarian Red Cross. Subsequently, the Bulgarian Red Cross has its own logistics schemes, allowing all food products to reach the most distant centres – to reach villages and small towns on the territory of the country – to reach the socially disadvantaged groups in the most distant settlements.
Host: Are you aware of the fact, that usually most people are sceptical about the quality of food products and their expiration dates. Are there any grounds for this claim?
Miroslav Karakashev: No. All I can say, and assure you of, is that there are many layers of control with regards to these food products. Firstly, I would like to say that during the very implementation of the public procurements, State Fund Agriculture sets very high criteria regarding to the quality of food, as a requirement to potential contractors. The criteria are in accordance to the Bulgarian national standards, with technical requirements towards the products, which are included in the public procurements’ documentation. We talk about between 10 and 15 technical specifications and requirements regarding each particular product. As all parameters – form 10 to 15 – must be examined in an authorised laboratory. We are talking about the highest possible standards on the territory of the country. As for the expiration dates – there are no problems with that, because all products, which are about to be distributed by the end of the year, have valid expiration dates by the end of 2013, or 2014.
Host: You mentioned the first tranche would end towards the beginning of October. Today, in the capital, you mark the start of the programme. Does this mean that the realisation of the programme will start simultaneously everywhere in Bulgaria?
Miroslav Karakashev: Yes, of course, the implementation of the programme starts simultaneously on the territory of the entire country, with small differences of a day or two, in certain regions. The first tranche is stipulated to start and end almost at the same time everywhere in the country.