Thursday, October 19, 2006

273,000 families live off hazelnuts

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The real number is considerably higher than official figures, says the industry minister

ANKARA – TDN Parliament Bureau

Industry and Trade Minister Ali Coşkun said on Wednesday that 273,876 families worked in the hazelnut sector and were registered as farmers.

In a statement released in response to a parliamentary question filed by Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) deputy Hüseyin Güler, Coşkun said the registered number was considerably lower that the real figure, believed to be around 400,000. Coşkun also said that while thousands of families from the East and the Southeast went to the Black Sea region every summer to work the hazelnut harvest, no official figures existed on their number.

The summer was dominated by a hazelnut crisis, one of the most serious problems the current government has had to face in its four years in power.

Until 2003 the Hazelnut Growers Union (Fiskobirlik), which purchases the excess hazelnut harvest, was state run. The purchase of excess hazelnut production caused it to record an average annual loss of YTL 100 million. After 2003 the union became autonomous and state assistance stopped. Turkey's annual hazelnut consumption is around 70,000 tons. It exports between 400,000 and 450,000 tons, almost 80 percent of global consumption, making it the world leader in hazelnut production. In 2005, it exported hazelnuts to 50 nations, netting more than $1.5 billion (1.17 billion euros) for the state coffers. This year growers will produce around 650,000 tons of hazelnuts, a figure that considerably exceeds current demand. Efforts are under way to increase domestic consumption to 100,000 tons per annum. More than 2 million people in the Black Sea region make their living from hazelnuts, and the plunge in prices is having major social consequences, with smaller growers facing huge debts and even financial ruin. Industry-wide losses are estimated at $2.5 billion, experts say. The recent collapse in hazelnut prices provoked a fury against the government, blamed by many farmers for failing to sufficiently help them. The problem arose because Turkish production outstripped world demand, causing prices to drop over the past year from 6 to 2.5 YTL (3.2 to 1.3 euros) per kilogram.

In July, between 100,000 and 150,000 protesters took to the streets of Ordu on the Black Sea, in Turkey's hazelnut heartland, to protest government policy. Industry representatives warn there is more trouble in store unless the situation is remedied.

After months of wrangling, the government decided to help the producers by allowing the Agricultural Products Office (TMO) to purchase the surplus hazelnuts.

Later, Fiskobirlik and TMO announced an agreement under which TMO will purchase surplus hazelnut production in exchange for permission to use Fiskobirlik storage facilities and will also secure loans enabling Fiskobirlik to pay for its 2005 surplus hazelnut purchases.

© 2005 Dogan Daily News Inc.

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