In just weeks, Covid-19 has changed the world and transformed it from a hyper-connected global village with no boundaries and restrictions into separated closed islands, prioritizing their own security and wellbeing over their universal commitments.
As the pandemic worsens and countries across the globe impose lockdowns and close their borders, there is a growing fear that food markets are going to be affected by logistical constraints, labour shortages and greater prices. In fact, global trading system has proven its vulnerability and is expected to decline 13% to 32% in 2020 as a result of COVID 19 pandemic according to the World Trade Organization.
Farmers around the globe are calling for a “land army” of workers to replace the shortfall in labour force. The importers are also struggling because of the decision of some countries to reduce their exports in order to fulfil their domestic needs in addition to the decrease of production in some factories and delays of shipments. Not to mention the local growing pressure of empty shelves which pushed more people to rush to supermarkets to buy and fill in their cupboards. All of the above are factors that are damaging global food security.
COVID-19 is a global situation and everyone is facing similar challenges. While most of the countries strongly rely on imports for their food security, very few (due to specific circumstances) found themselves in a pretty close situation years ago.
How did they survive?
Perhaps, there’s a bright side for economic sanctions after all. Countries that faced such measures have adapted to change over the years, either by exploring new supply chains, localizing food production or even by shifting the taste of the public.
Countries that faced sanctions and blockades in the past years are the most immune in times of global crisis. These countries have adapted to change and survived the disruption of trade of food products.
For instance, agricultural and livestock sector in Iran has been expanding long since the US imposed sanctions in 1979. The volume of domestic production increased significantly ever since and limited access to external markets for exports has made Iran partially immune to whatever is happening outside by having surplus of food products.
Likewise, Venezuela after fully depending on its oil production and importing more than 80% of its food, turned to food production and alternative sources for supply after the sanctions. Now its agribusiness projects are sky-rocketing while cutting food shortage in the Latin American country.
Qatar’s experience has been remarkable. As you may know, Qatar is poorly suited for agriculture being one of the hottest deserted countries and top ranked for water scarcity in the world. That makes trade vital to feeding the nation that relies on importing over 90 per cent of its food supply.For a long time, Qatar fully relied on its Gulf neighbours as main trading partners until the day the blockade was imposed and Qatar found itself as an isolated island.
the blockade imposed on Qatar has pushed the country to adapt, survive and
prosper by re-engineering its import and export routes, producing local food in
exceptional ways and
building strategic reserves in food supply ranking the first in the World Food
Security Index in the MENA region and 13th globally. In fact, food
production in Qatar has grown by 400% since the blockade was introduced.
For instance, now the country is self-sufficient in dairy, having previously relied on imports for 72% of its supply. With more than three years of air, land and sea blockade, coupled with a recent pandemic, Qatar has proven to be resilient.
As noted above, Iran, Venezuela and Qatar are better positioned to respond in times of crisis as a result of the countries’ adaptation to their realities and forced behavioural change in response to the imposed sanctions and blockades. We should take a moment to reflect and learn from the lessons these countries have to offer. One sure thing is that imposing blockades is no longer monopolized by politics, it is a reality enforced by other factors whether through another pandemic, natural disasters or asteroids invasion. We should always be ready for the next global crisis.
Adam Haydar, LLM
International Trade Researcher