Farmers struggle as export bans, Russian quota force Turkish tomato prices below cost

Turkish tomato farmers have been financially struggling as exports bans and a Russian quota on the fresh produce have forced the price of the fruit below costs. With long-term loans pending, producers risk bankruptcy and expect state aid to help them stay afloat.

A tomato farmer is seen in his green house in this file photo.

Serpil Kurtay / DUVAR

Tomato producers in Turkey's Mediterranean Antalya are being victimized by an export ban and a Russian quota on the fruit, as the excess supply causes prices to fall below cost and creates losses for farmers. 

"We need exports to restart as soon as possible, and for the Russian quota to be eliminated. We want the interest crossed off our loans, along with a restructured payment plan," said a joint statement from farmers in Antalya and Aegean Muğla, addressing Ankara.

The state issues export bans on multiple goods throughout the pandemic to help control prices, and ensure food safety in Turkey. 

Moreover, Agricultural policies under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have minimized state aid to farmers over the years and left them to fend for themselves against rising costs for fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides.

Most recently, farmers were compromised by political tensions after Ankara shot down a Russian fighter jet in 2015, which led Moscow to first eliminate all produce imports from Turkey, a policy that has since been modified to include an import quota.

Trade relations between Moscow and Ankara are inconsistent at best, Antalya Agricultural Chamber Chairman Vural Şahin noted and said that this problem needs to be resolved between the two countries' leaders.

"They buy stuff when they want, issue a quota when they want and lift it when they feel like it. We may be selling tomatoes to Russia but we import numerous goods from natural gas to healthcare," Şahin added.

The chairman also noted that Ankara could learn from Russia's agricultural policies, as Moscow is projected to expand their production, and are able to compensate for imported goods they've cut back on since 2015. 

"We need to learn from the Russian market. Otherwise, farmers will quit production as costs increase, and we will be condemned to importing tomatoes," the chairman noted. 

Farmers in Turkey are already in debt for long-term loans, and the entire industry risks collapsing if the state doesn't cooperate," Şahin added.