Severe droughts dry up dreams of Turkish farmers


Akkuzulu (Turkey) (AFP)

Turkish farmer Hava Keles gazes disconsolately at wilted rotten tomato vines in a field devastated by a series of droughts blamed on climate change.

“My tomatoes, beans, peppers are ruined. My watermelons haven’t even grown. The cucumbers I’ve planted have shriveled on the branches,” lamented Keles, 58, standing in a barren patch of land. Anatolia in Akkuzulu, north of Ankara.

Keles is among thousands of farmers across Turkey whose livelihoods have been ravaged as little rain has fallen to feed their crops in the past two years.

Some experts accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – whose popularity rests on prosperity driven by rapid urban development – of not doing enough to address pressing environmental issues in the country.

But Erdogan promised Turkey would ratify the 2015 Paris Agreement in October ahead of a key UN climate summit next month in Glasgow. Turkey signed the agreement in 2016.

Environmental issues had never been high on the political agenda in Turkey, but everything changed after a summer of extreme weather events, including forest fires on the Mediterranean coast and devastating flooding in the north.

Action cannot come soon enough for indebted farmers like Keles in a country where droughts have spread to more than one territory.

“My husband says to leave the garden. But I can not. I worked too hard for this. What can I do with it now? she asks, despite debts of several thousand dollars.

This summer, farmers in his neighborhood couldn’t dig enough to find groundwater, so they had to look for it in large reservoirs pulled by tractors.

– ‘Serious events to come’ –

Agriculture is a major sector of the Turkish economy, accounting for around 6% of GDP and employing 18% of the workforce.

Turkey is self-sufficient in food production and is the seventh largest agricultural producer in the world, exporting everything from hazelnuts to tea, from olives to figs.

But the country’s wheat imports have already grown exponentially in nearly two decades, from $ 150 million to $ 2.3 billion in 2019, according to the agriculture ministry.

Such figures add to fears that Turkey will shift from being a producer to that of a country dependent on the outside to meet its food needs.

“Turkey has to adapt to a lot of things, especially in terms of agriculture, because severe droughts are coming. What we have seen is nothing,” warned Levent Kurnaz, director of the center for studies on the climate change and policies of Bogazici University in Istanbul.

A fountain in Akkuzulu, Turkey, is left dry due to lack of rain Adem ALTAN AFP

The drought is forcing some farmers to give up while others choose to grow different crops that require less water, leaving the consumer out of pocket as food prices rise alongside the weakening Turkish lira.

Food inflation reached 29% in August from a year ago, and in an effort to ease the pain, Erdogan reduced import tariffs to zero for basic commodities such as wheat. , chickpeas and lentils until the end of the year.

Experts say the government has failed in its water management policies, exacerbating the problem.

Farmers are affected by drastically reduced water levels in dams across Turkey, which also endangers the water needs of every citizen as the lakes dry up.

“We need to build our cities in a way that allows groundwater levels to rise,” said Ceyhun Ozcelik, associate professor in the water resources department at Mugla Sitki Kocman University.

“If we do not take the necessary measures, if the urban infrastructure is not sufficient, then I can say that we will face difficult days in the years to come,” he added.

– ‘Transforming lifestyles’ –

In the west of the country, on the Aegean coast, green olive groves cover the hills of Milas, famous for its olive oil which obtained European Union protection status in December. But the fruit is also in danger.

Ismail Atici, head of the Milas agricultural chamber, said the rain had not fallen at all in 2021.

“If there is still no rain for another month or two, the trees will not be able to nourish the fruit,” he added.

Costs for farmers are skyrocketing.

Ferdun Cetinceviz, 41, who takes care of some 200 cows and cornfields in the mountains, said he was losing up to 40,000 lire a month ($ 4,500, 3,900 euros).

Surrounded by dry, flat land and verdant mountains in the distance, Cetinceviz estimated that up to 50 percent of its crop yield, including maize, was lost this year due to the drought.

Experts accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of not doing enough to address pressing environmental issues in the country
Experts accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of not doing enough to address pressing environmental issues in the country Adem ALTAN AFP

Farmers in Milas used to grow cotton, but it requires large amounts of water, so they switched to corn.

“If I can’t water my crops which my animals also need, they will stay hungry,” Cetinceviz said.

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