Turkey presents roadmap for climate-friendly agriculture

The government is accelerating its efforts in the fight against climate change. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry focuses on climate-friendly agricultural initiatives and food production, with an emphasis on ecosystem protection.

Climate change is high on Turkey’s agenda as the global phenomenon has raised average global temperatures by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) over the centuries. It also aggravates natural disasters which, in turn, caused economic losses amounting to $210 billion last year. The agricultural sector accounts for about 60% of these economic losses.

As a water-stressed country, Turkey is prioritizing practices to reduce agricultural water loss, as projections show a 17% decline in water resources per person in 2040 due to increased population and climate change.

The ministry is already implementing a series of measures, particularly in water-stressed basins where farmers are encouraged to turn to crops that require less water and favor agricultural production methods that respect the environment.

Over the past decade, incentives and training provided to those working in the agricultural sector have helped to increase the country’s cultivable land 42-fold to 642,000 acres, while the size of the area suitable for organic production is increased to 964,000 acres, more than double previous levels. During the same period, the government also paid more than $150 million (TL 2.6 billion) to farmers who suffered yield losses due to climate change-related factors.

The ministry is also cooperating with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO) and implementing measures agreed at a workshop on climate change and agriculture. The workshop paved the way for new incentives and, based on consultations with FAO officials and academics, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry covered half the costs of all irrigation projects drip and sprinkler irrigation presented to the ministry last year.

Under the European Union’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Rural Development Assistance (IPARD) programme, the government plans to allocate loans totaling 14 million euros (14.6 million dollars) between 2021 and 2027 to environmentally friendly projects, including rainwater harvesting, windbreaks, agriculture, and water and wind erosion protection practices.

An action plan will serve as an umbrella for the practices that are being tested in the northern province of Bolu as part of a pilot project.

The ministry will also implement an ecosystem compliance strategy against climate change in steppe ecosystems. It will provide incentives for modern pressurized irrigation methods.

Training programs of “farmers’ schools” in rural areas are also used by the ministry to teach farmers how to use water efficiently in irrigation and how to save it. In addition, the ministry will help develop new seeds that are resistant to drought, cold and disease.

Located in a semi-arid and water-stressed climatic zone, Turkey aims to take more measures to optimize its use of its limited water resources, as a climate crisis threatens the country of more than 83 million inhabitants. Dry seasons have become longer in the country and have started to affect larger areas as their impact is felt by more people. Increasing water supply and reducing demand are essential in this new era. The State Hydraulic Company (DSI), a public body, is at the forefront of efforts to boost supplies, with new dams, hydroelectric plants and reservoirs. Beneath the surface, they are working on subterranean dams as part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s action plan for “artificial enhancement of water sources”. So far, 41 projects have been launched for underground dams in Izmir, Manisa, Çankırı, Konya, Bursa, Eskişehir, Antalya, Kütahya, Balıkesir, Nevşehir, Kayseri, Niğde, Malatya and Kayseri provinces. Some are complete while others are under construction. By 2023, the government plans to complete the construction of some 200 underground dams. Underground dams help collect rainwater below the surface to raise the groundwater level and protect its quality and quantity. Although dams cannot be built everywhere as they need appropriate geographical and topographical conditions to store water, they have the dual benefit of storing water both above and below the surface. They are also cheaper in terms of construction costs and land expropriation. In addition, they offer lower water evaporation rates than surface dams. Their construction focuses on the alluvial valleys and they can meet the drinking water and irrigation needs of the small villages and towns that surround them.

Experts claim that climate change coupled with the misuse of water resources has led to a water shortage problem in Turkey. The country was on high alert after a long dry spell last winter raised fears of water shortages, particularly for the metropolis of Istanbul. The rains that followed eased concerns, but the risk of a future drought remains. Authorities have prepared several plans and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assured the public last year that water management plans extending to 2071 had been prepared.

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