Mar 28 2019

Erdoğan’s growth policies drain Turkey’s rural population and agriculture - Bloomberg

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s growth policies based on consumer spending and infrastructure projects has led a massive population shift with 2 million people leaving their agriculture jobs to move to urban areas, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. 

The share of the workforce employed in farming has almost halved, to 15 percent, during Erdoğan’s 16 years in power, while an area of arable land the size of Holland has been taken out of cultivation, Bloomberg said. 

The shift has evaporated Turkey’s self-sufficiency in agriculture, a competitive advantage the nation was once so proud of, and Turkey now ranks 48th, below Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among 113 states included in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Global Food Security Index.

The meltdown in Turkey’s agriculture production has hit the lives of Turks as their purchasing power slashed in 2018 with lira losing almost one-third of its value in one year. 

Turks have begun to feel more severely the consequences of dependency on agricultural imports as the economy entered a recession in the final quarter of 2018 and food prices had risen by more than 30 percent annually by January. 

In response, Erdoğan declared a war against what he calls “food terrorists”, people he accuses of hoarding and overpricing, and the government opened stores in Turkey’s urban areas providing consumers fruit and vegetables at prices lower than market rates. As of Thursday, five big supermarket chains also started selling cheap produce supplied by the state.

Yet his policies have come to haunt Erdoğan facing a significant challenge from the opposition parties as local polls on March 31 approach, while the winds are also turning against him in rural areas where he so far has enjoyed immense influence, Bloomberg said. 

“The government has left the agriculture sector to its fate,” Bloomberg quoted Nuri Karaca, a 71-year-old farmer from Bursa who is also the head of a local association of meat producers, as saying. “He cares more about his voter base in the slums of large cities than citizens in farmlands.”

Erdinç Sarı, a farmer and a loyal supporter of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said it was time for a change, adding that he would vote for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mustafa Bozbey in Bursa on Sunday. 

According to Sarı, the 1,500 lira ($274) subsidy he receives from the government annually only covers 10 percent of what he spends on fertilisers alone. “I have two kids; one son, one daughter,” he said. “I don’t want them to become farmers like their dad.”