Turkey's indebted farmers calling it quits as they struggle to survive

As Turkey's agriculture debt reaches record highs, many farmers are calling it quits. Local farmers feel unsupported by the government that is focused on importing agricultural products rather than producing them. As a result of the tremendous debt many farmers are facing, many have started to sell their land to construction companies, and have stopped farming all together.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English

Turkey's agricultural import-export deficit has hit 30 billion dollars under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) while the debt of farmers has increased 72 times during the same period according to an opposition lawmaker.

“These are not statistics we came up with ourselves. They come from the government’s own Farmer’s Registration System (Çitçi Kayıt Sistemi - ÇKS). According to this data, there were, in 2002, 2.8 million registered farmers. Today this number has dropped to 2.1 million,” agricultural machinery engineer and main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) deputy Ayhan Barut told Duvar English.

“There was 27 million hectares of arable land in the early 2000s, today this has decreased by over 3 million hectares due to bad government policies.”

Farmers’ debt increased radically

“During the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) our agricultural imports total about 110 billion dollars, while our exports have been around 80 billion dollars, leaving a deficit of 30 billion dollars. Our debt has increased by 72 times from 2.5 billion to over 180 billion,” Barut pointed out.

“They manipulate the numbers. For example, they import flour and make biscuits with them. They add the final product as an agricultural export. They use any exchange rate and currency that fits their creative accounting. If it looks better, they use euros, if it fits better dollars or liras,” the deputy noted.

Pointing to the dependence of imports on agricultural products he stated that “Turkey has become dependent on imports. In cotton alone we imported 960,000 tons, worth 2 billion dollars in a single year.”

Lessons from COVID-19 pandemic not learned

“The COIVD-19 pandemic showed how important food production is. But when we ask our minister why we import so much as an agricultural country he answers, ‘We have the money!’ This should not be the answer. There should be lessons learned from the recent developments;”

Regarding the corruption in the system and the increasing problems farmers are facing Barut issued a warning, saying, "Everyone is talking about food inflation. Prices are skyrocketing, but it is not the farmers who are making the profit. Both the consumers and the producers are suffering. The people in the middle are making the money. This system and relevant laws have to be changed."

‘Everyone is trying to sell their land’

“I come from a centuries old farming family, but we haven’t farmed for at least ten years. Why should we? It is like beating a dead horse,” a farming land owner from Central Anatolia told Duvar English under the condition of anonymity.

“My family and everyone in the area is building apartments or trying to sell their land to construction companies, even to the state Housing Development Administration (TOKİ). It is much more profitable. Only a few small land owners are still farming and they are struggling to survive,” he added.

Farming is no longer worth it

“I didn't plant anything in three years. Fertilizers are very expensive, electricity and water are other high expenditures we can’t cope with. It is neither worth our efforts nor the time and money we spend,” Hürol Yaşar, a farm land owner from Antakya’s Samandağ district told Duvar English.

“The last time I planted crops was 3 years ago. I lost about 25,000 liras in the end. 20 to 30 percent of land owners that I know stopped farming and those who are continuing are not doing it for profit, but because they have nothing else to do or it is a family tradition,” he concluded.

Government promotes imports rather than production

“The government promotes importing agricultural products rather than producing them. Until 15 years ago we were a self-sufficient country in terms of food. In recent years, the size of arable land that is not being used for production has exceeded the size of countries like Belgium,” Adana Province Agricultural Engineers Association (ZMO) chairman Feyzullah Korkut told Duvar English.

Regarding the immense debt of farmers he said, “There is not a single farmer in our area that doesn’t owe money to the bank. Foreclosures on farmer’s properties, machinery, and tractors increase every day. Especially small farms don't receive any help from the government, such as debt restructuring, amidst the pandemic conditions."

‘Warning bells are ringing’

He concluded with a warning, saying, “Climate change is an impending danger. Droughts and water shortage have become a serious problem in Turkey. The warning bells are ringing. We have to protect our farmers, land, and water sources. Unfortunately, we don’t see that happening. They continue to build on farming land all across the country."