Organic Agriculture's Growth Spurt in Turkey


Organic cherries at the 100% Ecologic Market in Istanbul. Photo via Buğday.

Earlier this year, we wrote that Turkish organic growers remained optimistic despite the down economy. Now some new data, recently released in English, shows that their cheery forecast was justified -- their industry is indeed on the rise.

Between 2004 and 2008, the number of organic farmers and the total organic acreage in Turkey increased by 25 percent, while the total amount of organic production grew by nearly 50 percent, according to the report "Organic Agriculture is Expanding in Turkey."

Released by the Center for Economic and Social Research at Bahçeşehir University, which previously looked at coverage of environmental issues in Turkish newspapers, the report covers the period since the country's Organic Agriculture Law was created. (The previous year, in 2003, the agriculture ministry also set up a Division of Alternative Production Techniques; the two developments have made data on organic agriculture more readily and reliably available.)

From 8 Crops To 207
Organic agriculture in Turkey started out with just eight crops being grown in the country's Aegean region. According to the latest numbers, 15,000 farmers (including those in transition to organic) now grow 207 organic crops on 165,000 hectares of land in 65 of Turkey's 81 provinces. While the Aegean is still the top organic-producing region, the new growth has been particularly pronounced in the eastern parts of the country. Cotton has knocked apples down the list of top crops, jumping from 1.5 percent of total production in 2004 to 6.2 percent in 2008 as a result of "increasing demand for organic products in the textile sector." The production of grains and feed crops is also on the rise.

"The diversification of the crop pattern and the increasing share of grain and cotton imply an expanding domestic market for organic[s]," write report authors Ulaş Karakoç and Barış Gençer Baykan, who also note that the average land area on which organic production is carried out has decreased from 16.6 hectares to 11 hectares due to more small-scale farmers entering the field.

Local Flavors, Grown Organically
In 2008, the top organic crops were cotton, wheat, apples, grapes, and maize, followed by two staples of the Turkish diet, tomatoes and olives. Growers in many parts of the country are also starting to switch their traditional crops -- such as hazelnuts and tea in the Black Sea region, and apricots and lentils in the central province of Malatya -- over to organic production, showing a promising adaptability.

However, the researchers note, "comparing the current situation of organic farming in Turkey with the latest data from the world and the European Union" shows "there is a long way to go" in terms of reaching the country's potential for both production and market development.

Worldwide, some 32.2 million hectares of agricultural land are managed organically by 1.2 million producers in 141 countries, chiefly in Oceania, Europe, and Latin America. Among individual nations, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil are the top producers. In the 25 countries of the Mediterranean region, "5 million hectares of arable land ... are cultivated organically by 140,000 farmers." Neighboring Greece, with one-sixth the land area of Turkey, has 23,000 organic farmers.

Some Parts Of The Country Lag Behind
Of particular interest to the researchers are Central Anatolia and Thrace/Marmara, two large growing regions in Turkey that have seen little evidence of the organic boom. In the Thrace/Marmara area, Baykan notes, "pressure of industrialization on agricultural fields, lack of experience, and lack of infrastructure in exporting organic products" may each play a role, as may a mismatch between the regions' traditional crop patterns and demand for agricultural products.

Given the continued flux in the industry, and the wide variations region-to-region, the researchers prescribe individual assessments of each province's potential productivity and markets and conclude that "it is necessary to define the suitable areas for organic farming with local participation, to support the organic farms locally in the transition period, and to develop marketing opportunities for organic products and organic markets." Though that may seem like a tall order, the combination of farmers seeking new niches for economic security and the national pride in the country's rich agricultural heritage may just make it a feasible one.

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Tags: Agriculture | Cotton | Farming | Fruits & Vegetables | Turkey