Organic Growers Optimistic Despite Economic Crunch
Produce for sale at the '100% Ecological Market' in the Mediterranean city of Antalya. Photo via NTVMSNBC
The global financial crisis has hit Turkey as hard as anywhere else, with sales and production numbers down in many industries and a big rise in unemployment predicted for the year. But one group is still feeling downright optimistic: the producers and distributors of organic food.More than a quarter of Turkey's population is still employed in agriculture, growing 40 million tons of fruits and vegetables each year, along with with grains, livestock, and other products. Organic food makes up a small portion of that total production, but the market has increased more than 30 percent since a few farmers near the Aegean city of İzmir began growing a handful of foods organically in 1996. Turkey produces some 200 types of organic food in at least 50 parts of the country, employing more than 15,000 people and producing $200 million worth, mostly exported to Europe. Though the domestic market is far smaller, it too is seeing growth.
"In the past there was a perception of organic food products as elite, but today this prejudice has been lifted," Özge Çiçekli, secretary-general of the İzmir-based Ecological Agricultural Organization, told the English-language newspaper Today's Zaman, echoing the trend that has been observed in the United States in recent years. "The existence of things such as organic food bazaars in some neighborhoods has contributed to the elimination of this perception."
The price gap between organic and conventional food products is reportedly falling, and organics are popping up at supermarket chains, gas-station mini-marts, and a growing number of outdoor organic markets. Organics' best consumers are still "families with children" and people who are "sensitive to environmental and health issues," said Batur Şehirlioğlu, who coordinates the ecological markets sponsored by the local environmental group Buğday. Lack of awareness is a barrier, as is a lack of trust in certification systems, Şehirlioğlu added. As they are elsewhere in the world, the farmers' markets are seen as a way to build that trust by letting consumers and producers meet.
They are also a opportunity to remind people that "organic" isn't a strange and foreign concept, says apricot farmer Hasan Karaman: "Organic agriculture isn't something new, it's merely the farming techniques that our grandfathers used sixty to seventy years ago." Via: "Nature’s diversity strengthens organic sector despite crisis," Today's Zaman
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