Poverty and unemployment are rife in Erzurum, a city where the weather is so inclement that Turks use the expression "as cold as Erzurum" to describe somewhere particularly bone-chilling. But one local farmer saw in these difficulties a lucky circumstance -- the chance to go organic.
Since poor farmers in the eastern Turkish city couldn't afford to buy chemical fertilizers, they couldn't use them on their land, Nazmi Ilıcalı told the CNN Türk news crew filming an episode of the new weekly series "Turkey's Changemakers." In addition, pests and their eggs were unable to survive the minus-50 degree Celsius temperatures the area endures in winter, eliminating the need for pesticides.
Introduction To Organic Farming
Though the local farmers were already essentially growing organically, the concept was unknown in the area until Ilıcalı attended an agricultural fair in the capital city of Ankara in 1999, hoping to sell some of his surplus potatoes. There he met a group of Germans who had come to Turkey trying to buy organic potatoes. "This is how I was introduced to organic farming," he said.
Ilıcalı researched the subject and successfully applied for organic certification. With his own fortunes on the rise, the former literature teacher started going from village to village to spread the organic gospel. Eventually he gathered 633 farmers to found the Eastern Anatolian Farmers and Breeders Association in 2003 and got a grant from the United Nations Development Programme to pay the registration fees of farmers who couldn't otherwise afford to get certified.
Selling Organic Flour To Istanbul
This was just the start of a string of successes for Ilıcalı, who was featured on the second episode of the Sabancı Foundation-sponsored CNN Türk show as a person who works "in pursuit of a better tomorrow." The farmers in his association started getting higher yields thanks to their better understanding of when and how to use fertilizer and irrigation, and their organic products drew higher prices on the market than their old crops had.
Some time later, Ilıcalı explained, "the municipality of Istanbul wanted to start producing organic bread. They sent letters to the agricultural boards of 81 cities in Turkey, asking for a list of good organic producers. Eighty responded negatively, saying they did not have anyone." Only Erzurum was able to reply in the affirmative. With more help from the U.N., the farmers built their own factory to process wheat into flour to supply a five-year agreement with Turkey's largest city.
Organic Milk Factory In The Works
Today, Ilıcalı's organization has 3,000 members in 12 cities, growing organic wheat, barley, potatoes, cabbage, cereals, and legumes on 200 million square meters of land, and "Organic Nazmi" has been named an Ashoka fellow by the U.S. organization of the same name and is finishing setting up an organic milk factory.
"This is achievable everywhere," he said. "Everybody can do this as long as they do not forget they are responsible to the land where they were born and fed."
English-subtitled episodes of "Turkey's Changemakers," which highlights people contributing to social and human development in Turkey, are available on Facebook.
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