Remembering a Turkish Environmental Pioneer

© Jennifer Hattam (L) / Buğday (R)
Buğday founder Victor Ananias and a scene from one of the organic markets he helped set up in Istanbul.

When Victor Ananias started talking about organic agriculture in the early 1990s, the idea was largely a foreign one in Turkey. Today, the organization he founded in 1992, the Buğday (Wheat) Association for Supporting Ecological Living, operates popular organic farmers' markets at five Istanbul locations and one in the northern city of Samsun. Through its TaTuTa eco-tourism program, some 70 ecological farms across the country host volunteer workers who want to escape the city and learn about organic farming.

Victor's accomplishments and philosophy made him an inspiration to many in Turkey's environmental community, which mourned his unexpected death this week at the age of 40.

The son of a Chilean father and a Turkish mother, Ananias was born in Switzerland, but grew up in a small town along Turkey's Aegean coast. "I grew up in rural life that had a cycle of its own, where it had its own rituals and everything was celebrated. I spent time among windmills, and observed that plantation and harvest are rituals of life," he told CNN Türk for an episode of the documentary program "Turkey's Changemakers" that aired early last year.

A Holistic Environmental Philosophy
That holistic sense of how the world should work stayed with him throughout his life and informed his environmental activism. When I interviewed Ananias in December 2009 ahead of the disappointing United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, he said:

"It's dangerous to just talk about climate change as the only problem of the world. It's like a fashion -- one year we talk about biodiversity and the next about climate change, it comes and goes. Climate change is a result of unsustainable ways of living."

"People in cities are quite aware [about the issue] but not so much aware of the possible effects on our lives, because they are still buying whatever they want as long as they have enough money. If it's hot, they turn on the air-conditioning, if it's cold, they heat the house. Even if they're poor, they burn some coal," said Ananias, who was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship in 2000 for his work to encourage environmentally sound agriculture.

Turkish People's Connection With Nature
But despite the changes -- drought, unseasonable rainfall -- affecting the farmers with which he worked so closely, and his concerns about the unsustainable intensification of economic production in Turkey, Ananias remained optimistic that people could change their mindsets enough to make a difference:

"The Turkish population is not so far away from lifestyles in nature; we all have backgrounds in nature, if not our parents, then our grandparents in the village, so we know the value of nature and natural cycles. I think the life qualities that have been lost will be quickly acknowledged."

Pointing out that Turkey had the fifth-largest economy in Europe and the 16th largest in the world at the time, Ananias said "the owners of the largest resources have the biggest responsibility" to protect the environment. He called on the government to support the country's rural population in order to maintain its agricultural heritage, but in a sustainable way.

"Turkey could be an example for both developed and developing countries," he said. "Developed countries have killed off their farming [cultures], but Turkey still has its small producers growing the healthy foods that the world is demanding."

* Before his death, Ananias was planning to participate in this weekend's Runtalya marathon in Antalya, Turkey, to raise money for the Buğday Association's TaTuTa farm tourism program. Donations in his name can be made via wire transfer from Turkish bank accounts as described on Buğday's website.

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Tags: Activism | Agriculture | Farmers Markets | Farming | Organic Agriculture | Turkey

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