VICTOR ANANIAS

Turkey,

Victor Ananias is raising awareness about the benefits of organic food, one part of his larger effort to encourage environmentally sound agriculture by increasing public awareness, changing consumer tastes, altering marketing and advertising strategies, improving farming practices, and reshaping community and business development in Turkey.

This profile below was prepared when Victor Ananias was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.

INTRODUCTION

Victor Ananias is raising awareness about the benefits of organic food, one part of his larger effort to encourage environmentally sound agriculture by increasing public awareness, changing consumer tastes, altering marketing and advertising strategies, improving farming practices, and reshaping community and business development in Turkey.




THE NEW IDEA

Recognizing that food, health, and environment are closely related, Victor is cultivating new respect for the environment and for simple, natural ways of living, eating, and farming. Drawing on his family background and from his travels, Victor establsihed Bugday, "wheat" in Turkish, the first all-organic health food store, restaurant, and environmental and cultural center of its kind in Turkey. Bugday provides information about organic food production to people ranging from village farmers to agricultural policymakers to lay people. Victor has established systems for certifying and marketing locally produced organic food and other products, and is striving to preserve traditional, environmentally low-impact methods for growing food.




THE PROBLEM

When Turkey turned a free market economy in the 1980s, foreign products flooded into the country, creating a widespread perception that imported means better. Many Turks abandoned traditional ways in favor of foreign ones. The surge of consumer culture brought fast food restaurants and shopping malls.

Commercialization has had major effects on villages and farmlands. Agribusiness introduced artificial hormones, chemical fertilizers, and genetically engineered seeds into the rich, fertile land of Anatolia. Farmers have readily adopted these new methods and products because of the quick financial returns they promise, while overlooking the long-term hazards for the environment and for consumers. The resulting land erosion and mineral depletion are severe. Owing partly to the hasty adoption of agribusiness farming techniques, Turkey annually loses an estimated 8.75 million tons of precious minerals and organic matter from its soil. Scientists have predicted that by 2010, 85 percent of Turkey's arable land will turn to desert.




THE STRATEGY

Victor combines education, outreach, and the development of new markets for organically grown foods. At Bugday's two offices, one in Istanbul and one in a rural town near Bodrum, volunteers produce a bimonthly publication, distributed nationally, that contains articles about local products, organic and sustainable farming techniques, environmental issues, vegetarian and vegan recipes, Eastern meditation and spiritual practices, and a range of related topics. Professionally designed and produced, the magazine offers an engaging vision of organic food and culture. To help cover production costs, Victor has persuaded national and multinational corporations to sponsor environmentally sensitive advertisements that feature endangered species and natural settings. The magazine has a circulation of four thousand.

Bugday reaches out to the public through its volunteers and paid staff, who attend local and international meetings, fairs, and community workshops. Their seminars feature guest presenters, including organic producers, market owners, food production companies, and even the Minister of Agriculture. Victor regularly appears on TV and radio programs to publicize the importance of growing, selling, and consuming organic products. Collaborating with farmers and processors to preserve traditional farming techniques and uphold organic standards, Victor and his staff are careful to protect the quality of the products, which carry the Bugday name.

Victor develops markets for organic goods by establishing partnerships with health food stores throughout Turkey. Partners may use the Bugday name, which certifies that only organic products and locally produced goods are sold. Victor believes strongly that all consumers should have equal access to healthy organic food, and he has set up health food stalls in the traditional open-air markets. Bugday has integrated the production and marketing of indigenous products into its business plan. One Bugday project involves 300 families in manufacturing traditional clay cooking pots, which are sold in health food stores and local markets throughout the country, along with information on how they are made and instructions for use.

Plans are underway to develop a center for hosting and training the owners of organic and health food stores, environmentalists in Turkey and abroad, and culinary and agricultural professionals. The center will include food and lodging facilities for participants and will be constructed using traditional, natural building materials and techniques.




THE PERSON

Victor spent the first six years of his life in Germany with his father, a dentist from Chile, and his mother, a Turkish ceramic artist. His family then moved to Bodrum to grow organic foods, grind their own wheat with a traditional windmill, and live self-sustaining lives. At eighteen, Victor travelled to Chile and Europe, working in vegetarian restaurants and spiritual centers.

When he returned home, rural Turkey had changed tremendously with the introduction of television, discos, and new housing developments. Victor wanted to sell brown rice, organic vegetables, and sea salt, but no one would give him retail space. Because he could provide English translation, he offered to help a local farmer sell products to English-speaking tourists in exchange for space to sell organic products. This was the first of a long series of consultations and strategic alliances with shopowners and farmers to promote healthy organic foods and local products.




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