Turkey witnessed a heated debate over the fate of its olive trees this week during voting on a production reform draft in parliament. Although some provisions were left out by the government amid severe opposition from various parts of the society, a number of key provisions remained the same the extent that “olive trees will no longer being subject to legal protection,” according to opposition groups.
Most importantly, we may be talking about the irreversible destruction of a culture as well as age-old olive trees on the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts of Turkey.
After four to six years of growth, an olive tree begins to assume its mature shape. From now on, as it grows toward maturity, the plant looks just like a larger version of its present condition. Even after the tree reaches its maximum height, it continues to bear fruit and produces new growth for up to and over 1,000 years, if well cared for. In this vein, olives are like “memories” of these lands, in addition to its economic and nutritional contributions.
The Article 9 of Law No. 3573 on “Olive Improvement” of Turkey states that olive groves are expected to have no more than 15 trees for each decare.
According to the law, establishing any industrial facility other than one for olive oil production is prohibited on olive production lands and on areas within 3 kilometer of those lands.
Amid heated debates at parliament by opposition parties and olive producers, the government late on May 31 withdrew a motion that called for the delisting of groves of one decare and those with fewer than 15 olive trees as “olive groves.”
However, as the draft regulation still left out restrictions on industrial and mining facilities in such areas, the opposition parties and the olive producers strongly objected to the move.
The parliament commission decided to establish an “Olive Grove Preservation Board” to supervise investments on olive oil groves and prepare reports on investment demands.
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 Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry can permit industrial construction if it deems it to be for the “public good,” if an alternative area for the investment cannot be found.
The ministry can also transfer its authority to the governor’s office of the related province in order to permit investments.
According to opposition parties and sector players, olive groves are no longer under legal protection.
The Friends of Olives Association (Zeytindostu Derneği), which has kicked off a campaign to save olive trees in Turkey with the slogan of “Don’t touch my olive tree,” said in a statement on June 1 that the revised version of the draft was far away from what the sector had actually wanted.
If the existing draft passes through parliament, it will be possible to establish any mining and industrial facilities on olive groves if a “public interest” can be imputed, the association noted.
Protection boards that will be headed by governors will be able to provide all the permission necessary, as long as the potential investor vows to pay 4,000 Turkish Liras per olive tree to be cut down.
According to the association, the government implied that there had been a consensus over the draft, adding that this was definitely the case.
Although Turkey ranks second in the world in terms of olive trees with 170,000 units after Spain, it is not even among the top five producers due to a number of problems with low productivity and other structural issues. Turkey needs to protect these ancient or younger trees and this culture and to raise the country’s olive and olive oil productivity, rather than cutting such trees down.