By Caroline Glick, JPost—
In the face of the steeply rising number of coronavirus patients and the breakneck speed of political changes in Israel, few people have stopped to notice that the world we have grown accustomed to living in for the past generation is falling apart. The global village is collapsing under the weight of the pandemic.
How Israel deals with this dramatic turn of events today, and in the coming weeks, months and years will determine both how we emerge from the present crisis and how we manage in the new world now taking form.
Israel’s food supply system is a perfect example of the global changes to being wrought by the virus. In Israel, five basic foodstuffs are produced locally: fruits, vegetables, eggs, poultry and milk. Most grains, sugar, rice, salt, meat and other foodstuffs are imported.
Out of a total agricultural workforce of 70,000, 25,000 are migrant workers from Thailand and another 25,000 are from the Palestinian Authority. According to Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, concerns over the coronavirus prevented 1,500 workers from Thailand scheduled to arrive at the beginning of the month from entering the country. The Palestinian workforce is down to 18,000 and dropping due to the quarantine the PA has placed on its population.
The labor shortages couldn’t come at a worse time. Currently there are a half billion shekels worth of fruit and vegetables ready for harvest. If they aren’t picked in the next three weeks, they will rot on the trees and in the fields.
Three weeks ago, the HaShomer HaHadash organization began getting flooded with calls from farmers for help. HaShomer HaHadash is a volunteer agricultural support organization founded in 2007 to protect Israeli farmers from Arab and Bedouin criminal gangs who extort farmers and ranchers and carry out agricultural theft and sabotage on a massive level.
“These calls were different,” explains HaShomer HaHadash’s leader Yoel Zilberman. “We are used to receiving calls about sabotage, and extortion and sending our volunteers to guard and herd. These calls were about the harvest, the national food supply.”
Zilberman and his colleagues realized the implications of the loss of a harvest for Israel’s food supply and began drawing up a plan to help the distressed farmers. Two weeks ago, Zilberman approached Hanegbi and offered to organize a corps of volunteers to save the harvest. Comprised of the organization’s roster of volunteers, cadets at pre-military leadership academies, youth movement alumni and from twelfth graders, Zilberman’s volunteers would work in shifts in the fields. With government finance, Hashomer Hahadash would provide for all their needs. Hanegbi agreed.
Last week, the government approved an emergency order to organize the corps of volunteers. The first hundred young people arrived in the fields on Tuesday. Operating in compliance with Health Ministry guidelines, HaShomer HaHadash launched a smartphone application called “Sundo” where prospective volunteers can join the operation. Zilberman plans to expand his roll of volunteers to include foreign students stranded in Israel with nothing to do after the coronavirus caused their programs to be cancelled. He assesses there are up to twenty thousand foreign youth in Israel who could potentially join in the effort.
To be sure, this initiative, which will hopefully enable Israel to surmount the coronavirus-induced international labor shortage, is intended to be a short-term fix. All parties to the initiative assume that once the crisis abates, labor flows will return to their pre-coronavirus levels. But there is no way to know whether this assessment is correct. The coronavirus-induced shortage in migrant, agricultural laborers points to a much wider phenomenon that is unlikely to disappear when the quarantines are over.
The coronavirus pandemic won’t destroy global markets. But it will change them radically and reduce their size and scope. In the case of agriculture, the coronavirus has exposed large-scale vulnerabilities in both agricultural import models and domestic production. At the outset of the crisis, cargo ships laden with foodstuffs from China and Italy were laid up in the ports for weeks until port workers and the Health Ministry could develop protocols for safely offloading them. Dozens of shipments were diverted to Cyprus, at great cost to importers.
Who is to say that food supplies in China or other countries won’t be compromised again in the future? And what happens in the event of war? Naval warfare can easily endanger food imports to Israel over a prolonged period. The model of dependence on foreign suppliers needs to be adapted in the face of what we are learning. Continue Reading….