Policemen wait to help transfer passengers on a Turkish Airlines plane from Tehran to a hospital for quarantine in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 25, 2020. A Turkish Airlines plane, departing from Tehran in Iran and due to arrive in Istanbul, was diverted to Turkish capital Ankara on Tuesday over the suspicion of COVID-19 infection and passengers onboard have been taken under quarantine. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)
Policemen wait to help transfer passengers on a Turkish Airlines plane from Tehran to a hospital for quarantine in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 25, 2020. A Turkish Airlines plane, departing from Tehran in Iran and due to arrive in Istanbul, was diverted to Turkish capital Ankara on Tuesday over the suspicion of COVID-19 infection and passengers onboard have been taken under quarantine. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

by Burak Akinci

The Turkish government said that the country is not expected to face any major problems for food supply during the coronavirus outbreak, but experts have warned that encouraging domestic production is a must to reduce imports and overcome the crisis.

Turkey’s agricultural sector is facing serious problems for over a decade because of austere policies that have reduced the number of farmers and arable land in the country who used to be largely sufficient three decades ago.

Thousands of villagers and farmers have been pushed to migrate towards big cities and the recession that Turkey was trying to shake off before the COVID-19 pandemic had also a serious impact on the nation’s agricultural production, according to specialists.

Ankara had dismissed the risk of a food shortage in Turkey which has a high rate of infections of over 100,000 people, and has taken serious measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“Due to the measures that we have taken, we do not face a problem in our food supply unlike other countries in the world,” Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said in a statement.

He insisted that the country will continue to produce “even more” in the short and medium term to satisfy the demand.

Experts however are cautious and warned about Turkey’s lingering problem of agricultural shortages as the nation has for years relied on imports instead of local production.

“We have a big production potential but we don’t use it adequately to our needs. We are dependent on imports regarding several crucial products such as soybeans, red lentils, wheat and haricot,” Ali Ekber Yildirim, an expert on agriculture, told Xinhua.

Turkey also imports barley, corn, cotton, sunflower seeds, and paddy to satisfy local demand.

The widespread stockpiling in cities around the world by consumers looking to ride out the pandemic has driven up grain prices, pushing food security up the agenda both for food-exporting countries and the nations that rely on them.

Yildirim said that that the government didn’t announce anything substantial for the sector in the almost 29-billion-U.S. dollar package that it did unveil so far to shield the vulnerable economy from the impact of the coronavirus.

He indicated that procuring food could become hard for import-reliant countries as food security risks fueled by the pandemic are already forcing governments to restrict exports.

“I do not aim to scare people but relying too much on imports and not to encourage our producers could eventually lead to shortages,” cautioned this expert, calling on the government to immediately announce a comprehensive plan.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the world risks a looming food crisis “unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable, keep global food supply chains alive and mitigate the pandemic’s impacts across the food system.”

The organization’s Turkey representative made positive remarks concerning Ankara’s efforts.

“We are welcoming measures taken by the government to help farmers and food-related business operators by postponing tax payments, advancing agricultural support payments (and) providing interest-free loans for investment and operation which are provided for small farmers and processors,” Viorel Gutu told semi-official Anadolu Agency.

Lockdowns and other restrictions to stop the contagion have led to labor shortages in many places, aggravating the hardships of farmers and food industries.

Turkey has allowed farmers and agricultural workers to attend their land through the nationwide lockdown imposed on weekends in big cities.

Nevertheless food prices went up for essential products in the past few weeks.

Turks have begun to feel more severe the consequences of dependency on agricultural imports.

“Oh yes, I noticed that prices have gone up for meat and other items such as rice and flour,” Ahmet Yilmaz, a 38 year electrician told Xinhua outside a supermarket in Ankara’s Cankaya district.

He remarked that with the Turkish currency dwindling since the start of the year and particularly with the coronavirus outbreak, like other emerging markets, new price increases would become inevitable.

The Muslim month of Ramadan, which began on April 24, is also adding to the pressure as people usually buy more than they need.

Food prices rose nearly 2 percent in March only, when Turkey announced its first COVID-19 case.

Turkey is a big exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables but due to export restrictions by other countries, Turkey is expected to face hardships to pay for its food imports, added specialists. Enditem

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