Sunday, June 22, 2008

Drought - Turkey (Mardin) JUN

The southeastern Anatolian region, which cultivates a large portion of Turkey’s crops, has suffered from drought over the last few years, leading to a serious decline in the country’s total annual harvest.

According to recent studies, because of the drought in this region, total wheat production in Turkey is expected to decrease by 20 percent and barley production by 30 percent in 2008.

Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) Chairman Şemsi Bayraktar told Sunday’s Zaman in a phone interview last week that precipitation decreased by 15 percent between October 2007 and May 2008 across Turkey, adding that this drop was 44 percent in the southeastern Anatolia region. For him, this figure simply means that grain production in the region will be halved in 2008.

Precipitation has decreased by 18 percent in the eastern Anatolia region and 15 percent in the Mediterranean region in the first six months of 2008 compared to the same period last year, according to the State Meteorology Affairs General Directorate (DMİ). Bayraktar said the drought in Turkey is not restricted to the southeastern region; rather, the entire country is lacking in sufficient precipitation for a good harvest. Turkey’s agriculture chambers recently conducted a study to analyze the effects of drought at the level of provinces. According to this study, the rate of loss in grain production in 2008 to date has been 90 percent compared to the average production of provinces including Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Batman, Hakkari, Muş, Siirt, Şırnak, Gaziantep and Elazığ. The rate was 60 percent for lentil production.

Bayraktar said these provinces provide 13 percent of Turkey’s wheat, 16 percent of barley and 86 percent of lentils, adding that there has been close to a 90 percent decrease so far this year in the grain production of the southeastern region, which means there will be a decrease of 2.5 million tons in Turkey’s total wheat production.

Similarly, lentil production in the southeastern Anatolia region, which alone fills 86 percent of Turkey’s total lentil demand, also declined by 60 percent in the first half of the year. Considering that the average annual lentil production is 340,000 tons, a loss of 250,000 tons is a significant number.

“The government supplies the seeds, but the farmers do not have a penny to sow them in their fields,” said Şanlıurfa Chamber of Agriculture Chairman Halil Dolap, describing the situation of the farmers in the region. He said the government’s recent action plan to finish the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) should be taken into consideration within the context of increasing production in the entire Southeast. “This is also a national action plan like our struggle against the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party [PKK] terrorists. We need to solve our problems in cooperation.” Dolap said the steps the government had taken so far for their region were very important yet insufficient since although the government suspended loan repayments to public banks, 80 percent of the region’s farmers had borrowed from private banks, which are not so eager to offer postponement of payments for indebted farmers.

The barley production in the southeastern Anatolia region has declined by 90 percent in 2008 over the previous year, indicating that Turkey’s total barley production will be 1.4 million tons less. Similarly, Turkey’s total lentil production is also expected to go down by 250,000 tons as the production of this crop dropped by 86 percent in the first five months of 2008 in the southeastern Anatolia region compared to the region’s average production. A dramatic consequence of this was seen when the price of barley doubled this year, increasing from YKr 30 to YKr 60 per kilogram.

The cattle and sheep breeders in the region reacted against this increase, saying if barley prices continue to rise they will no longer be able to feed their cattle or sheep next winter. Cattle and sheep breeding is a major source of income among the farmers of the Southeast, and barley prices thus have tremendous significance for them.

Soil Products Office (TMO) President İsmail Kemaloğlu said they expect Turkey’s total barley production to be 6 million tons this year, which means it will need to import this grain during 2008. Turkey’s average annual barley production has varied between 8 and 9 million tons during the last decade. Noting that Turkey’s quota for wheat imports is 800,000 tons, Kemaloğlu said: “However, now is not the right time to import wheat as the wheat harvest season is continuing. We are negotiating with the US, Kazakhstan and Russia about it.”

Bayraktar said considering the drought in the central and southeastern Anatolia regions, the total production losses for 2008 are expected to be around 20 percent. “The 150 percent rise in fertilizer prices and over 30 percent increase in diesel prices drive the production costs of wheat. The farmers’ cost to produce one kilogram of wheat is YKr 61, and we want the TMO to set a price ceiling for these basic production inputs.” As a magnifying effect to this dramatic situation, wheat prices are also declining significantly, to slightly over YKr 50/kilogram. Worse than that, it is expected to drop even further as the harvest season starts, and this is simply a huge loss for the farmers.

As farmers suffer more from weak harvests, especially in the Southeast, Bayraktar said, everybody should learn their lessons from 2007’s drought and the government has to devise some ways to compensate for farmers’ losses. “The government has to determine how much the farmers will lose and act rapidly to cover these losses so that the farmers can survive. There should be no discrimination based on regions or products in delivering these benefits,” he further suggested.

The decrease in grain production in the world and in particular in Turkey is expected to increase the prices of grains this year and in following years; however nobody expects Turkey will have a supply shortage in grains, at least for 2008. Despite this fact, the prices may increase more than expected due to speculation. For this reason, according to Bayraktar, the TMO should follow a policy to protect both the producers and consumers. - Source

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