Everybody agrees that the food crisis and the threat of hunger will be among the impacts that have been, and will be generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries are taking precautions regarding their agricultural production for the food needs of their people such as putting restrictions on the international agricultural trade.
Bekir Pakdemirli, the Minister of Agriculture and Forests, has declared that they have taken measures to maintain continuity of vegetative production and food supply in the forthcoming period under the COVID-19 pandemic and added that “in order not to have any interruption in the planting of summer plants and to include all arable lands into the process, farmers in 21 provinces will be granted 75% of the seeds they are going to plant by the Ministry. Of course, if the farmers agree to plant the certified companies’ seeds.
Those 21 provinces announced by the Minister are Adıyaman, Afyonkarahisar, Ağrı, Aksaray, Bingöl, Çanakkale, Erzincan, Erzurum, Kars, Kayseri, Kırıkkale, Kırşehir, Konya, Muş, Nevşehir, Niğde, Samsun, Sivas, Tokat, Uşak, and Yozgat. The products contained in the support package have been announced to be wheat, barley, dried bean, red lentil, sunflower, and rice.
Is it possible to prevent the food crisis by supplying seeds to the farmers in 21 provinces, as claimed by the Minister, to ensure continuity of vegetative production? Looking at the food need of Turkey and the agricultural capacities of the named provinces, we can easily understand that this is not possible. Because, not only the farmers in these provinces, but the farmers in the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Marmara, the Thrace, and the Black Sea regions of Turkey as well have, over the centuries, played an active role in the supply of the food need of Turkey. They have fed their families, their regions, and the big cities.
The provinces that produce a major part of summer vegetables and fruits of Turkey are left out of the list announced by the Minister. In the Marmara region, only Çanakkale is named in the list and other provinces are left out. Many provinces in the Black Sea region are left out as well. In the Thrace region, where the farmers implement crop alternation approach to grow wheat, sunflower, and rice, none of the provinces is included in the Minister’s list. Moreover, the seed planting of many products is about to start in these regions. Looking at the whole picture, we can conclude that the precautions that the Minister has asserted to have taken “to maintain continuity of vegetative production and to secure food supply during the forthcoming period under the COVID-19 pandemic” are far from meeting the food needs of people.
In addition to the certified seeds granted to the farmers in 21 provinces, one other measure listed by the Minister is that they will open public lands to agricultural production. However, the Minister has not given any clue as to whom the public lands will be allocated to cultivate; i.e. will the public cultivate the lands, will the lands be divided among the small farmers in the related regions, or will they take the advantage of allocating the public land to the companies that will be established as fostered by the logic of Agriculture Based Specialty Industrial Zones? It is not clear. If these public land pieces are allocated to the to-be-established companies for cultivation, this will accelerate corporate control of agricultural production, it will hinder people’s access to healthy food and will lead to a deepening of the food crisis.
The Minister’s package of measures to fight against COVID-19 includes another decision which envisages the sale of fish, like sea bream and sea bass, at affordable (!) prices in big markets to support the public health with an aim to comply with the decision made by water products producers, chain markets operating nationwide, and wholesalers that volunteer to participate the campaign under the coordination of Directorate of Fishery and Water Products.
One of the products that is subject to international food trade is fish. This fact places the fish farms and big fishing companies on top of the list of the bodies that are negatively impacted by the restrictions on international trade of agricultural products. Turkey is also home to a good number of fish farms run solely for the export market and they already have been negatively impacted by the current conditions. What has gained suspect is that the Ministry has made this decision not to contribute to public health but to protect the companies (especially considering the treatment of the fish in these farms with an overload of antibiotics) that are already and/or will be in a bottleneck.
The measures presented by the Minister as supposed to meet the food need of the people are far from meeting the need and, just on the contrary, will lead to the food crisis in the upcoming period as it will basically serve to fortify the food supply system imposed by big companies.
To meet the food needs of the people, we as Çiftçi Sen say that;
- The solution to the crisis of food and dependency on corporations and international sources is the food sovereignty.
- Local and centralized governments should contribute to establishing the food sovereignty, they should promote small farmers’ leading the peasant farming with their local seeds in their lands in an ecological way, and should offer more support for such farming.
- The basic requirements for healthy food and agricultural production are clean soil, air, and water. Investments, such as power plants, that pollute the soil, air, and water should be immediately stopped to prevent further ecological damage; precautions to promote biodiversity should be implemented; the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas of 2018 should be secured and implemented.
- The scope of the supports should be widened, and farmers in all regions and all sorts of agricultural production should be included in the scope. Supports should not be limited to seeds only; seed support should also be extended into other regions as strengthened with input supports and financial supports to ensure uninterrupted production. Guarantees should be placed that the products will not be underrated. The base price policy should be adopted.
- To secure that the people, not only the people in big cities but the entire population, have access to food at affordable prices and to avoid any food shortage, farmers operating in the vicinity of big cities should be protected under special support programs and local production should be supported.
- Interprovincial transportation is forbidden as part of the quarantine prohibitions, which makes the process difficult for small farmers to convey their products to the local markets. It is easy for big markets and food companies to convey their products to the market using the transportation companies. This should not result in the big companies’ having the full control of the food system; local and central governments should exert special efforts to ensure that the small farmers can convey their products to the local markets, and should take the precautions required to reduce health risks of both the producers and the consumers as imposed by the consumers’ right to access healthy food.
- Producers need seasonal agricultural workers in both planting and harvesting stages. Considering this labor requirement, local and central governments should establish sites where accommodation, hygiene, and health conditions of the seasonal agricultural workers are secured.
- If the intention is to promote the fish consumption solely to strengthen the immune system of the people and to contribute to the public health, water products cooperatives that have been closed for quarantine reasons should be rendered operational with all required measures taken, coastal fishing should be supported, captains and crew of small fishing boats should be allowed to fishing with all measures taken, and ultimately, the local and central governments should offer the support needed to have the catches of fish find the way out to the public.
- Official regulations should be processed to ensure that catches of anchovy, sardines and the like are not used as fish-feed in the fish farms but are offered for the public’s consumption.
The potential food crisis cannot be defeated if countries continue to back the seed companies up, to grant the lands to be plundered by the capital owners and to endeavor only to solve marketing difficulties of the fish farm companies whose mode of production results in marine pollution and damage of the marine ecosystem. The only way to defeat the food crisis and to meet the people’s need for food of high nutritional values goes through the Food Sovereignty.
To be able to consume healthy products, not to starve, and to foster the hope:
Food Sovereignty, Now!
9 April 2020
FARMERS TRADE UNION
Ali Bülent ERDEM