Ongoing debris removal work in 11 earthquake-affected provinces has put food safety on the agenda, as experts warn that dumping building rubble on or near farmlands can cause unprecedented harm to not only food crops but also the environment.
The dumping of debris at the site or around agricultural lands will cause irreversible problems, while the danger will not only be limited to agricultural lands, it will also affect water resources and biodiversity, they warned.
It could set off a chain of problems that will negatively affect food prices, exports and labor, starting with sustainable food production.
The 11 provinces affected by the earthquake account for 20 percent of Türkiye’s crop production. According to Greenpeace, the total amount of rubble is 100 million tons.
Baki Remzi Suiçmez, the president of the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers, confirmed reports that some of the rubble had been dumped in riverbeds and agricultural areas.
Noting that as many pesticide dealer shops were also destroyed in the quakes, Suiçmez warned that pesticides under the rubble would become toxic in their current state.
“If the pesticides under the rubble are not removed and mixed with the general rubble, they will become poisonous when they come into contact with rainwater,” he said. “If they are not collected in certain places and stored differently, we can see serious environmental problems.”
Hüseyin Demirtaş, the president of the Turkish Farmers’ Association, said food safety is under threat.
“Spring is the most productive time for planting fresh vegetables and fruit seedlings,” he said.
“Production urgently needs to be protected and revitalized so that agriculture and livestock farming can resume. The situation will ultimately fuel food inflation and affect exports.”
According to Gözde Sevinç of Greenpeace, biodiversity and wildlife in the region is at risk.
“We have not witnessed any segregation on-site during the removal of the debris,” she said.
“It is important that the whole process is carried out transparently so as not to cause further destruction. The social and environmental costs of debris removal can be very high.”
Suiçmez said urgent measures should be taken to ensure the continuity of agricultural production in the earthquake-hit provinces.
“The irrigation season is about to start, and the damage to the canals is not clear,” he said.
“There are tractors and machinery under the rubble. Long-term support and loans should be given here in the agricultural sense. If people leave the area, they will have no chance of returning. There should be an agricultural development plan. Otherwise, the loss of crop and livestock production in the region could have a devastating effect on the region and Türkiye in general.”
Demirtaş noted that the lack of agricultural workers also constitutes a major problem.
“There are no people left in the region, there are no farmers for the harvest,” he said.
“Even in nearby provinces, farmers cannot keep up with their own work, and it is not possible for workers to come from other cities. At the moment there is a labor problem in the citrus harvest, the produce is rotting on the branches. The fruit must be collected and kept in cold storage, otherwise, the situation will get worse.
By Gamze Şener,