A sustainable model in the Aegean: Coal mine field converted to organic olive plantation
Erdal İpekeşen AYDIN
A company that bought coal mines near Aydın’s Kuloğulları village in 2007 has converted the area into an organic olive grove with more than 13,000 trees.As the Turkish government gave its blessings to energy and construction companies to build new facilities anywhere across the country, felling trees and plundering nature to erect coal plants, mines or tourism complexes has increasingly become the norm in recent years.
The 6,000 trees felled by a construction company to build a power plant in the middle of an olive plantation in the Aegean coal capital of Soma – taking advantage of a new law that vows to ease expropriations for such projects – despite locals opposition and an ongoing litigation - caused a nationwide uproar against the toll that government policies take on the environment.
The vast plunder of natural areas in the country can give way to despair, but an exception proving the rule exists in the agricultural province of Aydın, on the Aegean coast.
There, the situation is the exact opposite of what happened in Soma: A company that bought coal mines near Aydın’s Kuloğulları village in 2007 has converted the whole area into an organic olive grove with more than 13,000 trees.
The olive oil produced in the field is said to be one of the most exquisite varieties in the region, already winning first prize in a competition in Italy and bursting onto the list of the 500 best olive oils of the world.
“We are very happy to see such a meticulous and conscious olive production in our country recognized by the world,” says Ömer Aydıner, the owner of the Ankara-based Aydıner Company.
The company launched the unique idea to exploit not the underground resources, but rather the soil of an old coal field. The secret of their success is assistance from agriculture experts from Ankara University, whose help was decisive in choosing the best type of olive for cultivation and pollination. The best areas to plant the trees were also determined by experts, while caper plants were used to prevent the erosion of the land that had been damaged after years of coal exploitation.
What's more, no pesticide has been used – and the owner has a veteran farmer to thank for that. Dursun Ertürk uses a “beaked method” – namely turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens- to fight against bugs that could damage trees. The company is also planning to produce organic poultry from the animals used to keep pests away. Invasive plants are cleaned (actually, eaten) by sheep, while turtles, fish, geese and ducks have been released into ponds that formed in parts of the underground galleries that had collapsed due to flooding.
The olive plantation has also become one of the main economic resources of the village, particularly during the harvest period, which is done by hand with a local workforce.
Few examples like Aydıner exist elsewhere. The current model seems to be one of simply letting companies with close ties to the government dominate multi-million dollar tenders.
But the olive plantation in Aydın shows sustainable development does not always mean betting on producing more energy for development based on energy-consuming projects, but rather making better use of resources through methods that are favorable to the environment.