By Gokhan Ergocun and Tuba Sahin
ISTANBUL / ANKARA (AA) - After a difficult period for all humanity in 2020 due to the global COVID-19 crisis, experts project worse problems in the coming period, including famines related to climate change and the pandemic.
In 2020, the problems related to the pandemic, such as the lack of seasonal workers, caused food production interruptions, and several countries begin to implement more protectionist policies in agriculture and food to provide food security for their citizens.
While large wheat producer countries, such as Russia, limit or ban wheat exports, some other countries, including China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, increase their wheat stocks.
Besides the ongoing issues, climate change and drought also continue to threaten agricultural production globally.
David Beasley, the UN World Food Program's (WFP) executive director, said in November that the world will face famines of biblical proportions in 2021.
"The impact on food security has been catastrophic. Pre-COVID-19, analyses found the number of people facing severe food insecurity was expected to exceed about 17 million people out 29-30 million people in 2020," Beasley noted.
- Wheat's importance
Speaking to Anadolu Agency ahead of the World Soil Day, Nov. 5., Eren Gunhan Ulusoy, the head of the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) Eurasia, said the global climate change undoubtedly affected the agricultural sector closely.
Problems due to global climate change, especially the shift in the precipitation regimes, cause fluctuations in agricultural production from time to time in Turkey, he underlined.
"We have seen once again that wheat is a strategic product. After the pandemic broke, countries started to stock wheat," Ulusoy highlighted.
While Pakistan does not import wheat before, it has been buying wheat during the pandemic period, he said, adding: "China will import 7 million tons wheat to strengthen its stocks. The country will close the year with 163 million tons of stock -- which is half of the world wheat stock."
Saying that Egypt and Saudi Arabia also continue their large amount of wheat purchases, Ulusoy stressed that all these purchases increase wheat prices.
"Turkey is not independent of global developments. All these processes concern us closely," he said.
The pandemic process has once again shown the importance of licensed warehousing, he stressed, noting that licensed warehousing plays a crucial role in food safety.
Licensed warehouses store safely and economically agricultural products under the insurance protection. This service makes agricultural products exchangeable stocks and increases farmers' incomes.
He said: "Increasing the capacity of licensed warehousing ensures our food safety in several situations, such as disruptions related to epidemics or foreign trade, not only for our farmers, traders, industrialists, but also for all our people."
Therefore, agriculture is an extremely critical sector for the development of Turkey, and it will continue to develop rapidly, he added.
"There will be a decrease next season in yields due to the climate conditions because the October-November period was dry," he stressed.
- Flour market
"It seems that we will continue to talk about the pandemic conditions especially for the first quarter of the next year," he noted and said: "Our industry has completed the necessary preparations in terms of both raw material, production, packaging, and packaging capacity."
The sector aims to close 2020 with the export of over 3 million tons, the Turkish flour industry, which has been the largest flour exporter globally for the last seven years, will complete this year as the leader by a long way, he told.
Saying that Turkey's agricultural lands are divided by inheritance and people continue to migrate to urban areas from villages, he said increasing wheat cultivation areas is a temporary solution.
He added: "It is necessary to realize a digital revolution in agriculture to increase productivity in the medium and long term. Three tons of wheat per hectare are produced in Turkey.
"This figure was around 4.5 tons in Europe and even up to 6 tons in some regions. The world average is 3.4 tons. We should increase the production efficiency in existing areas by applying more effective methods."
- Pandemic shows the importance of agricultural production
Viorel Gutu, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's sub-regional coordinator for Central Asia and representative in Turkey, said Turkey is an extremely rich country in terms of the diversity of agricultural products.
The country is also among the world's largest producers and exporters of many products such as fruit varieties and nuts and it is the seventh-largest country in the world with agricultural production, he recalled.
Some 50% of Turkey's lands are agricultural fields, and 77% of these lands are used for cereals and pulses, he noted.
"But we have seen decreases of agricultural land in Turkey, although the yield in agricultural production is increasing in certain product groups, large losses of agricultural land may cause future food security problems," he underlined.
The Turkish government takes measures to prevent misusage of agricultural lands for sustainable development, he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the whole world, showed the importance of the continuity of agricultural production and supply chains, he noted.
In the pandemic, Turkey, thanks to its agricultural production advantages, had timely and effective political interference and ensure the continuity of production and supply chain and prevent accidents and food supply problems, he stressed.
- Prolonged droughts can lead to famines
Touching on water and food security, he said the limitation of water resources and the change of precipitation regimes negatively affect food and agriculture, and raising restrictions and problems related to water threaten food security and nutrition.
"Therefore, there is a need for urgent measures for the sustainable and equitable use of water," he underlined.
Long-term famines due to climate change is a problem that requires much more comprehensive, coordinated, multi-stakeholder, and long-term actions, he said.
"We will face drought as an inevitable consequence of climate change, the Mediterranean basin, including Turkey, is also one of the vulnerable zones," he underlined.
The temperature increase in the basin will cause unexpected storms, severe weather events, heat waves, forest fires, seasons without precipitation, and resultant losses in biodiversity and agricultural yield, he noted.
Turkey uses more than 70% of their water resources for agriculture, the prolonged droughts will cause a decrease in agricultural production, he said.
Severe and prolonged droughts may lead to famines and some serious threats to food security, he added.
He also said Turkey's Environment and Urbanization Ministry prepared an action plan against climate change.