Dried beans crisis

Dried beans crisis

Over the weekend, while one of every two people I know was suffering from the flu, I lent an ear to the Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker on the television.

The figures Eker, in his third term in the ministry, pronounced were quite striking. With 62 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural product, Turkey is first in Europe and seventh in the world.

The agriculture minister said, “It was a record in 2013 with 22 million tons of wheat production since the start of the Republic.” There were record breaking figures also in corn and sunflower production. Another record is mentioned in animal husbandry with 17 million tons of milk production.

Agricultural exports in 2013 are $16 billion.

“Turkey is an agricultural country. We should not neglect the values we possess. Let us not forget we have had wheat in our fertile soil for 12 thousand years.” He is referring to the wheat spikes that were recently found in the Göbeklitepe digs.

As a matter of fact, we have always been hearing about the wheat kernels that have been found in various parts of Anatolia belonging to different civilizations.

I want to remind the 9,000-year old wheat found in the Çatalhöyük excavations, the 2,000-year old red wheat found in the antique city Sagalassos near Burdur.

In a visit to Burdur a few years ago, I learned the 2000-year old wheat was still being harvested.
I salute the agricultural records of 2013, but what about the “dried beans crisis” we are at the heart of right now?

According to “dried beans” stories that have found their way to media pages, almost as much as the corruption incident that has shaken Turkey, the price hike in these legumes was also breaking records.

“Dried beans and pilaf” are among Turkey’s national dishes. Be it in Istanbul or any other city in Anatolia, a popular restaurant frequented by shopkeepers and craftsmen will strike you with its skillfully cooked dried beans in a magnificent tomato sauce and pilaf accompanying it.

Again, the “piyaz” prepared with boiled dried beans and onions is the indispensable companion of another “national dish,” the “köfte,” or meatballs.

It is a fact that when the price of dried beans hiked to 17 Turkish Liras a kilogram, many families were unhappy.

As much as I listened, Eker did not refer to the “dried beans crisis.” In his previous statements, he had said they would lower customs taxes because of the sharp price hike of the dried beans, consequently facilitating importation.

Agriculture experts harshly criticize Eker in this respect. Some say lowering the customs tax for dried beans would mean another blow to the already troubled legumes producers, while others criticize him for the ministry’s lack of medium and long-term agriculture policies.

As a matter of fact, the production of legumes has gone down 50 percent in the past 10 years in Turkey. While we were producing 2 million tons of legumes 10 years ago, today this figure is down to 1 million tons.

Legumes are an important food source for Turkish people. Just as the Turkish people would not give up the dried beans it is consuming 250 thousand tons annually, it cannot give up its chickpeas and lentil either.

If we go back to agriculture experts, the biggest reason for the increase in the price of dried beans is the drop in production and the increase in prices in exporting countries such as China, Argentina and India.

Experts are saying the Food agency of the United Nations, the FAO has been warning for five years that food prices would go up, “Countries that took these warnings seriously adapted their agriculture and food policies accordingly. Turkey is one of the countries that did not listen.”