Turkey is a unique country where in one region you can go swimming and some kilometers ahead you can climb a mountain. I don't think there is another country like Turkey in all of Europe. Adding to these qualities everywhere is green and the food is organic.
In recent years Europeans have an obsession for organic food. We in Turkey tried to tell them years ago that the food we consume is organic as they listened to us disinterestedly and looked down their nose upon us. We actually had learned the chemical fertilizer from the Europeans.
From Edremit we speed toward the slopes of the Kaz or Ida Mountains. Climbing 609 meters from sea level we reach Hanlar and Gülsüm Ana's Place. We eat fruit preserves, butter, honey, goat cheese, “gözleme” stuffed with cheese and chopped wild spinach and drink milk. Everything is organic.
Enter olive oil:
From İzmir to Edremit, everywhere is olive orchards. Unfortunately, we human beings spoiled the unbelievable beautiful view with ugly buildings among these orchards. Without any doubt, municipalities and the people who elected these municipalities are to be blamed for this ugliness.
One olive tree produces olives seven years after it has been planted. This is a miracle of nature. Olive trees live for 3,000 years. Olive is money. You cannot waste anything from an olive. The olive is squeezed and its oil is produced. The residue is called “pirina,” whose oil is refined and sold. It is used to produce pharmaceuticals, soap and cosmetics.
Our next stop is the Cunda Island in Ayvalık. All restaurants serve savory dishes cooked in olive oil. In front of the Tariş Olive Oil Plant there is a sign that says, “Even for apple polishing we use olive oil.” It may sound like an exaggeration, but not too much. All the world has understood the usefulness of olive oil. Maybe we owe this awareness to the Italians. Spain is the number one olive oil producer in the world, but the Italians have done a perfect job of introducing olive oil to the world.
Over 20 percent of the world's olive oil production is exported. Around 60 percent of it belongs to European Union countries. Approximately 80 percent of world olive oil production belongs to EU countries. Turkey's olive oil production totals 140,000 tons. This is one-seventh of Spain's production. There are 100 million olive trees and 500,000 families earn their money from olive-related production. In Turkey, per capita olive oil consumption is one kilogram, which is one-third of Europe's consumption.
Turkey's aim is to increase the amount of consumption to two kilograms. The Ministry of Agriculture's aim is to raise Turkey to second place of world olive oil producers. This is a good target. But the legislation number 4572, which regulates the work of agricultural products cooperatives, doesn't introduce positive aspects to the sector. Unfortunately, a concrete system for these cooperatives has not been set up. Cooperatives in the EU have played an important role since 1981. Today 32,000 cooperatives out of a total of 125,000 in EU countries are active in the agricultural sector. They create 55 percent of agricultural earnings, 65 percent of marketing and 50 percent of exports.
The Aegean trouble:
EU countries produce 80 percent of world oil production and consume 70 per cent of it. Therefore, olive oil is a very important commodity for them which they guard with special legislations. According to experts there are 10,000 pages of acquis communautaire in Brussels. In the EU agrarian budget the rate of support given to the sector is nine percent.
In EU countries the price of olive oil which is sold through cooperatives is not initially set. When sold, the money is being paid to the producer. Producers' financial needs are being met by banks through low rate interest credits.
Olive oil producers in the Aegean region are in trouble. But they are not the only ones -- all producers in the agricultural sector in Turkey are in trouble. We have to admit that here in Turkey we have failed in our agriculture lesson. There is an olive oil working committee in Parliament. It has drawn up an olive oil report recently. We have to read it very carefully. I propose you read the olive oil report jointly written by Product Development Manager Işıl Çillidağ and Public Relations Manager Zehra Uğur of Tariş Zeytin and Zeytinyağ Birlik.
TDN regular columnist Mithat Melen is a member of Parliament on the ticket of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. The TDN welcomes perspectives of representatives from all parties.