The ruling party is counting on farmers' support

Turkish agriculture feels economic pain ahead of polls

GMT 08:42 2015 Wednesday ,03 June

Arab Today, arab today Turkish agriculture feels economic pain ahead of polls

Turkey's agriculture sector
Cubuk - Aarb Today

Turkey's agriculture sector, a key pillar of the domestic economy, is increasingly feeling the pinch in a troubling development for the ruling party that is counting on farmers' support in this weekend's legislative elections.

On a cattle farm in the district of Cubuk outside Ankara, Ozkan Ilhan surveys his 500 cows with pride but declares that the future of the sector is in danger under the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"Our economy is not going well at all. The AKP is not coping, it is carnage. If that continues it will be the end of the agricultural sector in our country." he says.

"We are obliged to import agricultural products from abroad."

Such attitudes are bad news for the AKP which has smashed the opposition in Turkey's last three parliamentary elections and is seeking a two-thirds majority this time so it can make changes to the constitution.

Opinion polls have suggested support for the AKP may be on the wane and it could poll close to 40 percent, compared with the 50 percent it took in the 2011 elections.

Traditionally conservative, Turkish farmers helped the AKP come to power almost 13 years ago and their support has helped the Islamic-rooted party to mainatain its grip ever since.

But now with growth dipping under three percent and unemployment on the rise, the AKP is finding its support eroding and farmers have been among the first to vent their frustration.

Farmers and agricultural workers complain of a lack of policies aimed at helping local producers as well as an increase in charges.

For the first time, the price of fuel oil, which is widely used in the agricultural sector, has been a major election theme with the opposition promising to push prices down to 1.5 lira ($0,56) per litre from 4 lira.

The head of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu told AFP that 2.7 million hectares of agricultural land have been allowed to go fallow under the AKP's rule.

"It's lamentable," he said.

- 'Farmers the first victim' -

The agricultural sector is of huge importance for the country, employing one in five Turks. But there is immense room to improve its productivity and efficiency and it only accounts for nine percent of GDP.

And even if there have been improvements in mechanisation, it remains well behind European production levels.

Turkey is obliged to import quantities of food that it can produce itself, including barley wheat and cotton.

"We must all accept that Turkey is a major producer even if it is importing for the needs of a population of 76 million people," said Ali Ekber Yildirm, a journalist that specialises in agricultural affairs.

But he added: "One after another, state enterprises have been privatised. Prices in the sector are fixed by multinational companies. These companies have become quasi-monopolies in a strategic sector."

He said that in general the Turkish leaders in Ankara pay little attention to what farmers have to say.

"They know that most of them will vote for them under all conditions. They think they have them in their pockets for the elections."

Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker has vehemently defended the government's record, saying that since 2010 it has handed out some 10 billion lira in subsidies for agricultural producers.

"This has never been done before in Turkey. This shows our particular interest in our agriculture."

But the boasts are far from impressing everyone.

"These subsidies go mainly to people close to the ruling party," says Abdullah Aysu, a farmer from the Ankara region of Haymana who leads a trade union for farmers and pushes to give them greater rights.

"Farmers are the first victims of an economy that is on the way down and are then obliged to give up. Some 1.5 million farmers left their farms since the AKP came to power in 2002. One farmer in two has gone bankrupt."

He added: "Our catastrophe will be that of the consumer."
Source: AFP

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