Turkey: International cooperation necessary to boost agricultural productivity

AL? ASLAN KILIÇ | 06 October 2008, Monday

‘The whole world needs to put agriculture at top of agenda’

The deputy leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) Turkey has stated that Turkey possesses some great advantages in agriculture, despite the major problems that remain in place in the sector, but that the country needs to cooperate with other nations in order to realize its full potential in the agricultural sector.

DSP Deputy Chairperson Tayyibe Gülek, in an interview with Today’s Zaman, said Turkey is unable to take advantage of its potential in agriculture due to the enormous problems in the sector. “There can, of course, be cooperation with other nations and joint projects carried out in this field. We could bring in technology from nations which have know-how on the agricultural front and put that technology to use here. We can use this kind of cooperation so that we will be able to take advantage of what is actually some of the world’s most fertile soil,” she noted.

She emphasized that it is a mistake to sell agricultural land to foreigners. “There are nations in our region of the world which have very rich resources. The Gulf nations, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, all of these countries know that Turkey possesses fertile lands. They could strike up partnerships on the condition that their goods are exported here. But we are very opposed to the sale of our agricultural lands to foreign entities, which is why we have an urgent need to take notice of this problem and deal with it,” she said.

Gülek noted that agricultural cooperation based on the sharing and transfer between countries of information and technology is in fact helpful for the entire world, adding that more attention has to be paid to finding solutions to problems in agriculture before a crisis hits. She pointed to global warming as a source of considerable concern.

“The agricultural sector is of primary importance for the entire world. And Turkey is in a comparatively advantageous position as far as this sector goes. Due to the incredible fertility of our soil, we really don’t have problems in this area. We have many advantages, and in terms of the sheer variety of our plants and species, we are really one of the world’s most wealthy nations. But in view of the fact that food and agriculture issues are now becoming subjects for concern on a global basis, we have an urgent need to start examining this topic more closely in Turkey. We need, in particular, to keep this topic from getting mixed up in the daily political agenda. If the right things are done on this topic, everyone wins,” she said.

Gülek, who has conducted a series of seminars and meetings on the topic of how to deal with the Turkish agricultural sector, even turning information from these events into a book to be distributed to various organizations, answered questions from Today’s Zaman recently on this subject.

Our nation seems to waste a lot of time on useless topics when in fact there are so many important problems waiting to be solved. Why is it that we can’t seem to focus on the real agenda, which would increase the wealth of our society?

There is a political atmosphere currently which has, over the past few years, become more and more tense, more and more polarized. We are very sad to witness this. Actually, it is quite clear what needs to be done: increasing globalization, strengthening trade relations and making the best use of the Internet and other information tools. The projects necessary to raise the prosperity levels and boost the economies in nations like ours are not ones which require the discovery of anything new. It is already clear what needs to be done, and in fact, it couldn’t be any clearer. But for whatever reason, it seems to never be the right time; instead we lost time, people engage in demagogy, and all sorts of empty fights take place. As a party, we have always focused on the importance of a culture of compromise. We are a party which places importance on coming together as one, taking into account everyone’s views on what needs to be done for the nation and doing this with compromise. The societal agreement on the changing of Article 34 [on the right to hold demonstrations] of the Constitution is one example of this.

The past year has seen incredible amounts of tension within the Turkish political arena. I wish this had not been the case, but it was. In fact, our leader did everything he could to try and prevent it, but unfortunately, the tension still emerged and it is still being experienced. We hope that everyone takes a lesson from this past period and that we can focus more now on projects and agendas which work to raise everyone’s wealth and well being.

As the DSP, you have organized a series of symposiums and conferences, also composing reports on these meetings, on the agricultural situation in Turkey, as well as animal husbandry and our water resources. What was it that prompted you to push these subjects to the head of the agenda?

First of all, we believe that these are all critical subjects for Turkey. We travel around the country and can see the problems that people are having. Agriculture is a sector that encompasses a full third of Turkey. It may not appear so critical when you view it from Ankara, but the minute you leave that arena, you observe it. The most important fact right now is that the agricultural sector is shrinking. And so is its share in the gross national product. So people are flowing into the big cities, with no job skills, no career goals, and this creates its own kind of social problem. It is not right to have an entire section of people transformed into being dependant on social aid. As it is, unemployment is already high in our nation, and now a whole other group of people are flowing into our poorer city neighborhoods.

In short, we have observed that this is an urgent topic for Turkey. It has been the complaints and the problems of this segment of people that has pushed us to bring this topic to the top of the agenda.

We set up a number of meetings last year on this topic, thinking that we were already late in addressing it and noting that the people in power are quite distanced from these problems. Later, we turned the results from these meetings into a book. We had a series of meetings in which experts with very different views attended and at which we had some very colorful arguments.

Listening to the various experts, it became clear that we were talking about the serious neglect of a deep wound, about lack of planning, lack of programs and lack of communication. We realized we had to do more before it was too late.

The opposition in Turkey is often criticized for wasting too much time on pointless arguments. You are, however, dealing with deep-seated problems such as agriculture. Is there a particular reason for this?

First of all, as the DSP, we are a party that embraces the idea of constructive opposition. There are many subjects that can be criticized and debated, but we want to work on concrete subjects. I support the idea of debating things that can be backed by firm data and can be argued about among experts.

We have projects that concern other areas, too, such as the economy.

Seeing farmers who are unable to buy anything after their harvests is perhaps what drives us, gives us this desire to do something. Let’s not worry about who warned that this would happen, let’s just do something! This nation wants politicians who will lead on these problems. There are experts in Turkey who work on many dimensions of the agricultural problems and questions we have. All we have done is brought them together and then produced a report based on their findings and work. You need to make connections with experts in the area so that you know what the most serious problems are that need to be dealt with.

There are other important subjects, but in Turkey, agriculture is the primary economic link in many of our provinces. It is a topic over which we need to be assertive from the perspective of our population and from the perspective of our potential, and of course because it is an area experiencing serious problems, we are focusing on it now.

I suppose there is a difference between being an agricultural nation and being a nation of agricultural industry. Which one of these variations are you focused on?

For many years now, we have not been making the most out of our export items, starting with products such as hazelnuts and citrus. And because we have fallen behind with these export products, we have turned our attention toward importing.

When you are a good, productive agricultural country, your industry that is based on agriculture also develops, especially if agriculture is supported by sets of policies which help the nation take advantage of this sector. Our goal should be to become more productive, to produce more agricultural products. To be able to use the newest technology and systems in creating the most fertile and productive agricultural sector possible that will bring forth fruits and vegetables which can be exported with ease and which are safe and meet agricultural standards. At this point, just to give an example, Spain is exporting some of its own agricultural technology.

Agriculture of great importance to EU

What makes agriculture and animal husbandry so important for the EU?

Despite the fact that only 10 percent of France’s population works in agriculture, as a sector, agriculture is responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s gross national product. This is a very considerable contribution when compared with the percentage of the population which works in agriculture. It is also, in France, a sector which is much more influential in politics and which reacts quite strongly to various things. They are organized to the point of being able to block whole roads when policies they don’t agree with are enacted.

So, of course, this is important for the EU, since its own protected sector is being affected. The sheer size of Turkey’s agricultural sector is clear for all to see. For the EU, agriculture is a sector that has received incredible amounts of monetary investment. During the first expansions, Spain, Greece and Portugal all entered the EU under very advantageous conditions. There was recently more in the way of EU expansion, with large nations like Poland entering the EU.

The EU as an institution is one that needs to be constantly developing, evolving and adapting to new conditions. For the EU, agriculture is of critical importance as a sector. I think what we need to do is sit down with the World Trade Organization and discuss and debate subjects related to agriculture, related to export, related to import. But first and foremost, there are some problems that we need to deal with on our own.

We have been left out for now, and there is nothing to be done about that, but the reforms that need to be done are not for the EU anyway, they are for ourselves. Let’s give our agricultural sector the attention it deserves and turn it into a much more productive sector. And let’s enter the EU in the condition we deserve.

Do you agree with the opinion that the agricultural sector has risen to the level of importance that it could potentially trigger a third world war?

It is truly incredibly important because there are 1 billion people in the world who are going hungry. Actually, the real problem derives more from an imbalance in distribution than from production itself. In addition, the threat of global warming is increasing. In the last hundred years, the temperature has risen an average of 1.2 degrees, but in the coming hundred years, it faces the risk of rising another 2.5 degrees.

This will all, of course, affect our food and water sources. We can find alternatives for everything else, but since we can’t get along without food and water, these are topics of the first degree of importance.

From the perspective of our nation, while until recently we were a nation able to be self sufficient, we have fallen into the position of importing many goods now. This all derives from a disruption in balances, not from our actually not being able to produce things on our own.

We have witnessed in recent years, as a direct result of all of this, momentary and drastic fluctuations in the prices of foodstuffs. But the most important factor currently is drought and the decrease in production due to global warming. The whole world needs to come together and make this a top item on the agenda. These are problems which have already announced their arrivals. These are topics that we need to focus on in peace before they become the reason for warfare.

Every faction of society and every nation in the world, from rich to poor, needs to focus on these questions.

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