Cultivation areas across Turkey have narrowed dramatically over the recent years, while hikes in food prices on a global scale are making it harder to import agricultural products, a former official has warned.
“We have 15.3 million hectares [153,000 square kilometers] of lands under cultivation and 2 million hectares of non-cultivated lands. Thus, some 15 percent of the total cultivable lands stay unused,” said İsmail Kemaloğlu, a former general manager of the Turkish Grain Board (TMO), an agency that oversees the Turkish agricultural product markets.
“If we had produced wheat on those [idle] lands, we would have yielded 6 million tons of grain,” Kemaloğlu told daily Hürriyet while pointing that Turkey’s annual import bill of nearly 3 million tons of wheat is worth up to $750 million.
He also said that 1 million hectares of arable lands – equal to 10,000 square kilometers or roughly 1.3 percent of Turkey’s total area – have been abandoned permanently due to rural depopulation and fragmentation of inherited lands.
These trends have also widened physical distances between cultivation areas and agricultural industrial zones, increasing transportation costs, Kemaloğlu said.
“Taking food prices under control could only be possible through increasing production and managing costs and efficiency in accordance with scale economy rules,” he added.
Russia, one of the top producers of wheat and Turkey’s main grain import market, has decided to introduce export quotas and to impose extra taxes on shipments, said Kemaloğlu, also a former deputy undersecretary of the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry.
“As concerns arising from droughts and the pandemic are still present, agricultural product importer countries with significant supply gaps have now become importers of food inflation,” he added.