Turkish agricultural self-sufficiency a great opportunity: Analysis

Turkish agricultural self-sufficiency a great opportunity: Analysis

Soner Kistak
Turkish agricultural self-sufficiency a great opportunity: Analysis

Readers who attended Turkish public schools during 1980s would remember being frequently told Turkey was among the top 10 self-sufficient countries in terms of food security. Indeed, food security is an important measure of a country’s sufficiency and strength. It is a crucial area that directly concerns a population’s basic needs particularly during difficult times. We all witnessed the difficulties that Qatar faced when its large neighbor, Saudi Arabia tried to deprive it of their food supply through a blockade last year for instance. Put differently, food supply is not just another economic activity; it is a fundamental part of any viable economy.

While our country used to be self-sufficient in the 1980s, we seem to have focused relatively less in food security in the last couple of years. According to the 2017 Global Food Security Index, Turkey only ranks 49th in the overall scoring. The top 10 ranking countries include the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, and France. However, one should note that Turkey scores much better in the “Natural Resources & Resilience” component at number 38. There are many reasons for this relative deterioration in Turkey’s self-sufficiency, ranging from social factors to technological developments, from increasing prosperity to urbanization. It is true that Turkey has become a more urban and modern country in the last three decades. The cost of this social shift has been reflected in a decrease in agriculture-related employment. The younger generation prefers the service sector and office based jobs to farming ones. Moreover, Turkish R&D efforts seem not to  have put enough emphasis on increasing productivity in the agricultural sector.

Table: Selected countries from the 2017 Global Food Security Index (Source, The Economist)

Rank   Country              Score/100

2         United States      84.6

3         United Kingdom  84.2

6         Netherlands        82.8

7         Germany             82.5

19       Israel                   79.2

31       Greece                71.9

49       Turkey                 61.1

The power of R&D in agriculture is best seen in the commercial success of two European countries, namely Belgium and the Netherlands. Despite their small territorial size (about the size of our Konya province), the Dutch are the largest European suppliers of agricultural goods and the second worldwide food exporter after the U.S. They are also increasingly exporting high-quality agricultural materials and technology. This export segment (according to the Dutch government) now represents 10% of their exports, which is a proof of a deep know-how and consistent innovation capabilities. The Dutch also seem to be more ambitious in terms of global food leadership. For example, the “Dutch Agenda” put forward by their government in 2017 aims to make the Netherlands the global leader in healthy sustainable foods in the next 5 to 10 years. The country’s famous Rabobank has been financing some agricultural start-ups to help them achieve this goal.

The main driver for the Dutch success in agriculture is the extensive use of technology (Agtech). The components of this usage range from robotics to big data, from biotechnology to smart irrigation, from supply chain management to smart packaging. It can would certainly be a valuable learning experience if Turkish agricultural researchers could thoroughly examine the Dutch success, and investigate how we can re-apply this to the Turkish context.

In sum, Turkey already has the infrastructure with a very fertile land, a nice climate, and an available labor force. Therefore, if our country was to apply technological developments more effectively in agriculture, the short-term gains are likely to be huge in terms of exports and food self-sufficiency. Furthermore, a potential expansion in agriculture might also help decrease youth unemployment. Finally yet importantly, agricultural technology would enable Turkey to meet the United Nation’s 2030 agenda objectives and development goals.

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