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The Future of Agricultural Policy in the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Prof. Bülent Gülçubuk

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a global wave of panic, and left many worried about their future. The pandemic has unleashed significant concerns about food shortages and insufficiency of domestic food supply chains. The outbreak made it clear that nothing is more important than survival, for which access to food and adequate nutrition plays an essential role. Most countries and societies are now debating on the self-sufficiency of domestic agricultural production, food and water supplies. The obligation to take decisions under uncertain circumstances has prioritized the importance of the supply-demand relations in domestic and international markets. In the near future, more protectionist policies will emerge, and self-sufficiency will be the main priority. Therefore, these protectionist policies will require governments to analyze the world better.

If timely and inclusive measures are taken, the agriculture and food industries will be the least affected industries by COVID-19. In fact, Turkey may not even face any major problems in agriculture and food industries, provided the country can utilize its present resources and potential rationally. To achieve this, bureaucrats, decision-makers, and labor unions have to act together about food supply and logistics, and design a plan based on the supply and demand relations.

The largest agricultural producing countries are also among the most affected countries by the ongoing pandemic. China, the United States, Spain, Russia, Italy and France are globally the most important agricultural producers with a significant volume of foreign trade. Therefore, the extent to which these countries are affected as well as the ways in which they cope with the pandemic will impact the agriculture and food industries at the global level.

Countries that heavily export agricultural goods from these countries may look for other trade partners, and/or they may concentrate on self-sufficiency. Because of the pandemic, the largest exporting countries have imposed export restrictions to secure food supply for their domestic demand. This situation may make countries embark on different quests and experience with unusual policy implementationsin the future. During the process, countries have taken different measures to deal with the problems caused by the pandemic. Among these measures, the supply ofagricultural and food products, the continuity of their transportation and distribution as well as the continuity of value chain in agriculture and food, the promotion of local production and food, the maintenance of labor supply, and data sharing based on supply-demand relations come to the forefront. Turkey, like many other countries, has taken some measures regarding the agricultural and food production and food supply during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In this era of a global pandemic, hundreds of thousands of seasonal agricultural workers are at risk. The particularly disadvantaged standing of these workers in the pandemic calls for the development and implementation of special policies on food security and human rights for these workers. Due to the pandemic, these policies are more crucial than ever. Irrespective of the outbreak, if policies that prioritize the sustainability of agricultural production will be implemented, improving the conditions of agricultural workers and providing legal protection for them should be the starting point.

Agriculture and food are essential for everyone. They are crucial for the collective future of all life on earth, not only today but also in the near and distant future. Every country has to take permanent measures and implement policies in consideration of potential viral outbreaks, pandemics, natural disasters and climate change. Turkey has to revise its agricultural policies in line with its national interests and domesticproduction. To ensure food security and sustainable agriculture, it is now time for more protectionist and self-sufficient agricultural policies that take rights-based development at the center and prioritize nature and humans.

(The policy report isavailable only in Turkish.)