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Gökçeada takes a step toward agritourism

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/3/2009 12:00:00 AM | ŞAHİKA TEMUR

A European Union-supported project has succeeded in boosting organic agriculture on the Aegean island of Gökçeada.

A European Union-supported project has succeeded in boosting organic agriculture on the Mediterranean island of Gökçeada in the Aegean Sea.

Officials also said they will take further steps to make Gökçeada into an agritourism center in the near future.

Gökçeada Municipality has teamed up with local and Italian entrepreneurs to adapt organic farming into tourism activities in a project called Learning Organic Life on the Island.

The project, supported by Brussels-based ANCI Ideali, was launched jointly with Mandas Municipality on the Italian island of Sardinia within a new project titled Promoting Civil Society Dialogue between the European Union and Turkey.

At the culmination of the two-year long project, Gökçeada Mayor Yücel Atalay and Mandas Mayor Umberto Oppus met with reporters in Istanbul last week to discuss ways to encourage organic farming on Gökçeada.

Atalay said the project would provide a strong basis for Gökçeada to develop and protect its natural assets.

“The municipality has envisaged a growth model giving prominence to the island’s alternative economic activities. This project offers a basis to reconstruct the island by protecting its natural richness for the next four decades,” he said.

The mayor said the project offered an important opportunity for local enterprises to benefit from Italian producers who have been engaged in organic farming on Sardinia since 1970.

The project is also important for the financial future of Gökçeada, Atalay said. “The tourist season is 60 or 70 days at most on Gökçeada. Thus, it is difficult for the island to have a skilled labor force. We should diversify [our] economic activities,” he said. “Agritourism is tailor-made for the business activities on the island.”

Oppus said that the project clearly showed the importance of cooperation between islands in the Mediterranean. “Small or large municipalities in this region should establish a basis to cooperate [regularly],” he said.

[HH] Economic diversification

Priority should be given to the diversification of business activities on the island, according to Oppus. “Both Gökçeada and Sardinia have more attractions than other tourist destinations. Gökçeada has organic olives and olive oil, while Sardinia has organic wine and olive oil,” he said.

“Gökçeada also has many attractions like sea, nature and organic farming, like Sardinia. Taking joint steps is more important than individual efforts,” Oppus said.

Project coordinator Ebru Anes said the main goal was to contribute to improving relations between Turkey and the EU on a municipal level. “We aim to bring different communities together and integrate them,” she said.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Oppus said the farming project was very important for Turkey’s EU ambitions.

“It gives us an opportunity to learn about Turkey and its people. It has removed all of our prejudices against Turkey’s integration. At this stage, the question of whether Turkey should be a member in the EU has been removed,” he said.

The project offers a useful cooperation model, not only for relations between Turkey and Italy, but also among all islands in the Mediterranean, he said.

The Gökçeada project is an example for all enterprises in Turkey, said Hasan Doğan, head of the Gökçeada Agriculture Directorate. “The project has been in progress since 2002,” he told the Daily News.

“Its scope has expanded greatly. We first started producing organic oil and olive oil. Today, we have 400 producers engaged in organic viniculture [wine grape growing], organic animal breeding and organic vegetable gardening,” he said.

İlhan Yalçın, an entrepreneur from Gökçeada, said he planned to produce and sell organic cheese after the transition period finishes in February.

“I have 200 goats on my diary farm. I will produce cheese using organic milk in February. We are also going through a transition period in organic husbandry,” he said.

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