Turkey’s rural areas are home to one-third of the country’s 65 million people, a number that erodes with each passing year as small-scale farmers find it impossible to support their families off the land. Tens of thousands of villagers annually join extended families in Istanbul, Ankara, Ismir, and other urban centers, a migration that places excessive demands on municipalities to build homes, educate a newly urbanized workforce, and provide basic infrastructure upgrades in garbage collection, sewer systems, and so on. Istanbul now absorbs millions annually, a result of internal migration from rural areas.
Two main pressures fuel the migration: the phasing out of state support to farmers, and the phasing in of the European Union.
The likely absorption of Turkey into the European Union has meant that the agricultural sector must adapt quickly to align with EU demands. New regulations on organic food already apply to export products such as beef and honey, which are routinely rejected by EU inspectors because they do not meet member-country standards. While the framework for organic certification is in place, the adoption of the production methods required for certification poses a longer-term challenge, as farmers must abandon pesticides and fertilizers now disallowed by the EU. These new requirements will have beneficial results for the environment and for the health of consumers, of course, but they require a deft response on the part of farmers, who lose income in the short-term.
Climatic conditions in the eastern part of the country, where one-third of the people earn a living through farming and cattle breeding, make farming especially difficult. Parts of Anatolia experience long winters, allowing only one harvest per year as opposed to three or four in the western regions. The average annual income in the East is, at the very most, half that of the western region. Fuel costs to heat homes and barns during the long winters are an additional burden for villagers in the east.
As Nazmi, who has lived on a farm since childhood, observes, farmers in Turkey do not have a recent history of working well together to solve problems that impact them as a group. The mentality of dependency on the “state mother” further quells action at a village level. Farmers acting singly are stymied from achieving economies of scale that can be acheived by working together to design, produce, and market quality organically-grown products. Furthermore, the lack of a communication infrastructure, even a loose one, to facilitate information sharing has contributed to quiet acquiescence under worsening circumstances rather than inspired, spirited reform.