Turkey needs to reform its agricultural policy - expert

Turkey’s agricultural problems stem from wrong government policies and can be solved by incentivising small farms, alternative and more environmentally friendly production technologies, said sociologist Dr Sezai Ozan Zeybek, a research fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Germany

Agriculture in Turkey has been hit by a fall in the lira by about a third this year, raising the price of fuel and imports and in turn leading to higher prices for consumers. Food items make up about a quarter of the basket used to calculate inflation, currently at an annual rate of 25 percent.

Turkey has also been shaken by outbreak of anthrax, leading to heated debates on imported meat

Turkey has become dependency on food imports has increased substantially over the last decade. In the first half of 2018, Turkey’s wheat imports increased by 38 percent, corn imports by 96 percent, and sunflower imports by 13 percent compared to the same period last year.

The Turkish government has in the past decade tried encourage agriculture by establishing large-scale irrigation schemes, providing cheap credit to farmers, and subsidising the inputs. But all these costly programmes have failed to stabilise farmers’ incomes and food prices.

In Turkey, small farms dominate the agriculture and livestock sectors in the country, while the Turkish government's policies are geared towards supporting bigger farms, said Zeybek, whose research focuses on biopolitics, food security, meat production and animal husbandry and forestry in Turkey.

“The farmers are becoming more and more dependent on multinational agricultural companies for their seeds, fertilisers and equipment. The agricultural water is misused. All of these indicate potential risks for the future of food production in Turkey," Zeybek said. 

A far-reaching law on seed use in Turkish agriculture, adopted by the parliament in 2006, has also made Turkish farmers more dependant on multi-national agriculture companies. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has extensively encouraged the use of certified seeds over the last decade and as a result seed production of both public and private companies has significantly increased. 

The Turkish farmers are now are forced to produce using seeds created in laboratories by multinational companies regardless of the social construction, climate, eating habits, season and diversity of local communities, Zeybek said.

“The farmers are not allowed to produce or sell their own seeds. This is not free competition. Today the Turkish farmers cannot even produce animal feed without paying the multinationals first,” he said.

In the 1970s and 1980, Turkey witnessed waves of immigration to large cities, which was partly related to the dominance of small ownership in agriculture. This trend, which continues though with a lower pace, has also affected the percentage of agriculturally productive land, as cities getting larger have swallowed the fertile lands in formerly rural areas. 

The Kurdish conflict, on the other hand, has played a role in decreasing meat production, as during the 1990s many Kurdish farmers were forced to leave their villages, due to armed clashes between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “ 

“There was a serious decline in cow/sheep population in Turkey during that time,” said Zeybek. “Most of those farmers didn't return to their villages. According to data from the Farmer Registration System, in the last 15 years, 620,000 farmers have left their land. Including the family members, the number is over 2 million."

In the case of meat, Zeybek said the government should focus on importing high-quality livestock to kick-start farming, rather than trying to stabilise meat prices in the market through imports.