Board established to oversee Turkey’s olive groves amid opposition criticism

Board established to oversee Turkey’s olive groves amid opposition criticism

ANKARA
Board established to oversee Turkey’s olive groves amid opposition criticism

A parliament commission, founded to discuss the contentious “Production Reform Draft Law,” has decided to establish an “Olive Grove Preservation Board” following the removal of a controversial article that would ease the path to industrial activities on protected olive groves. 

The commission accepted 42 articles of the 76-article draft law in a late night session on May 31, where heated debates have been taking place for three days.

The newly formed board will supervise investments on oil groves and prepare reports on investment demands.

The board will be composed of nine members from related ministries, university agriculture faculties, chambers of agriculture, chambers of commerce, and exporter associations.

However, a member of the board from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it would be unable to protect olive groves. 

“Olive groves are no longer under legal protection. That has been ended. It is the same for meadows,” CHP Bursa deputy Orhan Sarıbal said in a June 1 press conference attended by the other CHP members of the commission.

A proposed article, which called for the extracting of groves of one decare and with less than 15 olive trees from the legal definition of olive grove, was removed from the draft on May 31.

Other articles ban accommodation and tourism facilities from being built on olive groves, and the draft law includes a provision for industrial investments including mining. It stated that any industrial facility that produces chemical waste, dust or smoke that could harm olive trees cannot be built within 3 kilometers of olive groves. 

However, an article also states that the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock can permit industrial construction if it deems it to be for the “public good,” if the alternative field for the investment cannot be found. The ministry can also transfer its authority to the governorship of the related province in order to allow investments. 

CHP members have described the provision as “a death warrant.”

“They are dragging the nation to exporting insecure food in a completely insecure environment. Of course we are resisting this,” Sarıbal said.

“We cannot understand what the ‘public good’ would be ... Yesterday in the hall there were olive and olive oil producers, as well as representatives from sector unions and producer organizations who came to speak. But they were taken out,” he added.

The first proposal for the zoning of olive groves was introduced to parliament in 2012. Since then the government has reintroduced it eight times but it has always been outlawed by the Council of State. In 2014 the issue was brought to the agenda by a mass demonstration of people from Yırca in Denizli province, where more than 500 trees were cut down by a construction company in a controversial immediate expropriation decision.

“Despite our relentless objections, our efforts and the efforts of all non-governmental organizations, academic boards, producers and thousands of signatures, they are destroying olive groves,” Sarıbal said. 

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chair Kenan Tanrıkulu also noted that the government had tried to change the olive protection law many times before.

“They are trying to open olive groves and meadows to zoning. The reform package has everything in it but it is a patchwork,” Tanrıkulu said.