Hazelnut controversy heats up politics
Tuesday,August 1, 2006
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
The government discussed its hazelnut policies yesterday amid mounting criticism from hazelnut producers and the political opposition that its strategy is responsible for a record decline in nut prices, impoverishing hundreds of thousands of producers.
No statement had emerged from a Cabinet meeting that tackled, along with other issues, the hazelnut controversy, by the time the Turkish Daily News went to press.
Criticism peaked when some 100,000 demonstrators, bussed from nearly 40 provinces, gathered in the Black Sea province of Ordu on Sunday, blocking the Ordu-Samsun highway for several hours in protest of the government's hazelnut policies.
They shouted slogans against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his advisor, Cüneyd Zapsu, who is involved in the hazelnut export business and is currently chairman of the board of directors of the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council.
Critics claim the government's nut policy is shaped according to Zapsu's personal business interests and that Zapsu and Prime Minister Erdogan, who backs him at the expense of alienating hazelnut producers, are responsible for record-low prices for hazelnuts this year.
Political tension reached a critical point in July when a fight broke out between the government and the Association for Hazelnut Marketing Cooperatives, or Fiskobirlik. The association failed to announce a base price this year and made no purchases from producers due to the economic hardship it is currently facing.
Fiskobirlik's failure to pay producers has intensified a decrease in the wholesale price of hazelnuts, since desperate producers are hardly able to sell their product at sufficiently higher prices elsewhere. Prices currently stand around YTL 2.5 per kilogram, down from YTL 7 just earlier this year.
The government has made it clear that it is not responsible for Fiskobirlik's failure to buy hazelnuts from producers. Industry and Trade Minister Ali Coskun has repeatedly assured that the government has no intention of paying the debts of Fiskobirlik.
In a speech in Ordu in June, Erdogan, responding to a call on the government to seize Fiskobirlik's assets and repay its debts, said the government had already paid YTL 2 billion to write off Fiskobirlik's debts but asserted that it would not do so again.
“Go and knock on Fiskobirlik's door,” he had then said.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal, in a meeting last week in Ordu, blamed Erdogan and Zapsu for the miserable situation the hazelnut producers are in and pledged to work with advisors who would look at the issue from the perspective of the interest of the producers, if his party comes to power.