Coronavirus as an opportunity for national seed growing

10 August 20208 min reading

Mine Ataman Founder of the Seed Platform

“Protein-rich and fiber-rich products with less gluten and a lower glycemic index will be important in the future. For example, bakery products made of local grains can be enriched with pulses. It is possible to create a bakery food brand offering healthy and trendy food that contains various local fruits and vegetables.”

I saw a pineapple for the first time during domestic goods week activities at school. It was so beautiful with a miraculous form. It was magnificent like flowers in a vase. We have witnessed many other imported fruits and vegetables since then. Once, it was a prestigious thing to eat watermelons in the middle of the winter. Colorful tomatoes and capia peppers brought a new perspective for gastronomy. Supermarket shelves started to showcase agricultural products that we never knew about from distant lands. The global mindset had not fully covered markets yet when the regional mindset started to rise. As local and traditional cuisines gain strength, we met with a new concept called “glocal” with the motto “Think globally, act locally”. And this concept started to shape the gastronomy and redesign its position against agriculture and tourism.

Gastronomy tourism started to rise with many other different concepts during 2019. Countries that are deemed as successful in terms of gastronomy, had a bigger share from tourism expenditures. Turkish Tourism Ministry declared the year 2020 as gastronomy year. As a result, agricultural products and their stories became important for positioning the brands. Peru cuisine, Basque cuisine, Northern European countries’ agricultural policies have also been influential for the rise of this concept. And thanks to the rich agricultural culture of Mesopotamia, Gaziantep is also a strong place for gastronomy in Turkey.

Especially local agricultural products, local cuisines, endemic species, and ancient cuisines were planned to be the most important areas to be featured for gastronomy tourism. There were ambitious goals for tourism in the scope of 2020 gastronomy year. Agriculture and tourism would meet in the same pot to create value for the country. Everything was perfect until the global pandemic of the coronavirus.

The coronavirüs pandemic deeply affected many sectors including tourism. As the transport, hospitality, food, and agriculture sectors are mutually interdependent with tourism and each other, the problems are so widespread. The tourism season may be delayed for 3 or 4 months. National and international flights are all canceled. Agricultural product and machinery exporters have already revised their business goals.

The latest coronavirüs crisis created comprehensive discussions about the future of the agricultural sector. Agriculture is a strategic area because of several factors like increasing populations, unemployment, hunger, carbon footprint, etc. Societies will be tested in the future in terms of their ability to ensure the availability of healthy food for all. Access to food is a vital goal for all governments. Malnutrition is a risk for the future of societies. That is to say, the future of modern states will be closely associated with their food policies.

Therefore, the ministries of Agriculture, Tourism, and Health should develop joint strategies. Using the technology to make a difference in agriculture and making Turkey a hub for high-value-added food products that are coherent with future models of nutrition is only a matter of political will. The coronavirüs crisis may be an opportunity for the future of seed growing and goals of seed growing can be reset.

Why? I was eating my quinoa salad with pleasure and thinking about how the coronavirüs prevented the realization of our dreams. It would be a real pleasure and a profitable business to export our local products to the most remote villages in the world. Now a tiny virus is set to stop us. As soon as the lockdown begins, we started to feel the scarcity down to the bones and rushed to the supermarkets to leaving empty shelves behind. We returned to granaries as if we are in thousands-years-old Hittite tales.

Suddenly I remembered my primary teacher saying proudly that Turkey was among 7 self-sufficient agriculture countries. But this is not an issue for many years since most of us internalized the capitalist motto “it is not important where you produce, the whole world is your market”. That’s why the agricultural industry should be reshaped. Anatolia is the motherland of agriculture and seeds. So Turkey should be repositioned as a country of agriculture. There is no doubt that our inherited seeds and genetic wealth will be the most significant advantage for us to design agricultural products. Turkey’s current genebanks are keeping local seeds which are vital materials for breeders. If Turkey becomes a hub for high-value-added food products that are coherent with future models of nutrition, Turkish bakers will also be in a very advantageous position.

Ancient seeds are widely discussed including people that do not know the subject thoroughly. But we can easily say that a real opportunity is there for local varieties. Do you know why?

ANATOLIAN BREAD FOR WORLD MARKETS… Protein-rich and fiber-rich products with less gluten and a lower glycemic index will be important in the future. For example, bakery products made of local grains can be enriched with pulses. It is possible to create a bakery food brand offering healthy and trendy food that contains various local fruits and vegetables.

If you need an underlying story for the brand, you can easily create it with the inspiration of the history of Mesopotamia or twelve-thousand-year-old grain, seed, and bread legacy of Anatolia. The new brand to be created can be positioned to the homeland of the wheat Anatolia. It can offer values like health, history, mythology. It can be promoted in global markets with Turkish tea. And this brand can offer products like bread, snacks, crisps and it can target gastronomy devotees and youth.

NEW GRAINS FOR THE BREAD OF THE FUTURE This industry should work on the bakery products brand while seed breeders try to create high-value-added agricultural products which that brand needs. Food factories should be near to farmlands and a joint strategy should be developed.

Seed breeding is the future for food production.

We should develop food of the future with local agricultural products that are compatible with the geography. The functional food market has gained prominence each year. We were trying to develop bread for Mars a few years ago but now we have to work for sustainable food production for the Earth to overcome the challenges we will have to face.

THE BREAD OF FUTURE… The bread of the future is the staple food to be consumed during difficult times. Protein-rich and healthy bread will be important for dietary trends in the future. Fibrous bread types that are enriched with several grains are both healthy and nutritious. Shelf-stable bread is easier to stockpile. We can consume this when we need to self-isolate ourselves for longer periods. This should be rapidly discussed as soon as the coronavirüs pandemic becomes more contained. The bread of the future should be produced by factories of the future.

I believe that fully automated factories should be built to produce frozen bread with 100% sourdough. Many next-generation bread producers have had to go out of business these days. But traditional bakers are still working and they have a certain production capacity. Some bakeries are not fully automated. Industry 4.0 bakeries should be on the agenda of the industry. Technology will ensure more hygienic production circumstances. Sourdough bread is vital for the health of our children. Sourdough bread is still expensive since they are produced by artisan bakers. But bread factories can produce this type of bread and offer it for an affordable price. I think this is a public health issue.

OUR CLOSEST FRIEND: BREAD Now we are well aware of the significance of grains. Even people that are shy away from bread, rushed to the supermarkets to stockpile flour, pasta, and pulses. This is not only the case for Turkey. Throughout the world, most demanded products are flour and grains during the coronavirüs pandemic. This showed how modernized we are, grains, and bread is our closest friend despite some experts’ misinformation campaigns.

Now, agricultural policies are as strategic and prominent as national security. Being self-sufficient in terms of the food supply is a strategic factor. If borders and closed and relations with other nations are cut, health and food supply become vital.

Today we feel comfortable because our grain stocks are full. We feel comfortable because we have national seed breeders to produce our seeds if border gates are closed to all trade activities. We have already completed seeding activities. We are going to harvest. If we were not strong in agriculture, food shortage would be the case for Turkey.

Is this enough? No way! Now it is time for strategic planning.

FUTURE OF THE AGRICULTURE IS THE SEED FUTURE OF THE WORLD IS AGRICULTURE… We have to define some topics for the agribusiness to work on as soon as possible. • The National seed breeding sector should be restructured. • Goals of seed breeding should be set. • The production industry should be supported by agricultural technologies • Agricultural production and food production should be planned conjointly. • The infrastructure should be developed for high-value-added agricultural products that fit into dietary models of the future • Access to food issue should be planned inclusively since healthy nutrition is a fundamental human right • Financial issues should be solved before projects are implemented • Cooperation possibilities of the agriculture industry with defense, technology, trade, health, and education should be planned. The discourse like “let’s sow ancient seeds”, “bake your bread at home” or “don’t eat Israeli tomatoes” will not help us to prepare for the future and to overcome the upcoming virus pandemics, nutrition problems or economic issues.

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