Podcast 88 - Can organic agriculture sector in Southeast Anatolia be competitive?

Dec 16, 2013

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UNDP Turkey: This is the New Horizons podcasts of United Nations Development Programme Turkey. In this part, we will talk about a project which aims to improve the competitiveness of organic agriculture sector in the Southeast Anatolia Region in a sustainable and socially equitable manner. Our contributor is Bülent Açıkgöz, the Project Manager of Organic Agriculture Cluster Project. Welcome.

Bülent Açıkgöz: Thank you.

UNDP Turkey: We would like to start with a technical question. How can a sector’s competitiveness be improved in a sustainable and socially equitable manner?

Bülent Açıkgöz: In many developing countries, economic development is not the only target. It is expected that development should guarantee intergenerational equality. Therefore, it is envisaged that public and the private sector which are the main actors of development should consider social, economic and of course environmental values in a balanced manner in the processes of planning and implementation. Competitiveness can be seen as a holistic effect of all factors, policies and institutions which determine a sector’s, a region’s or a country’s level of productivity. There are many factors that determine the level of competitiveness. The most important factor, I think, is the sustainable use of resources. If resources are used in a sustainable manner, in parallel to that development and competiveness can be improved. Now, countries and regions are integrating green growth, green economy, green workforce to their development agenda and substantially those concepts are integrated to policies of development and competitiveness.

UNDP Turkey: In brief, we can say that it is possible. It is possible to improve competitiveness of a sector in a sustainable and socially equitable manner.

Bülent Açıkgöz: Definitely.

UNDP Turkey: Southeast Anatolia Region is one of the most socially and economically distressed regions in Turkey. A considerable portion of the economic output of the Region is derived from agriculture and trade. Although the region is endowed with favourable factor conditions, most of the manufacturing activities in the region are concentrated in the lower value-added segments of the manufacturing value chains. Organic agriculture is a high value-added field, because organic goods is rising sector. Why is organic agriculture a high value-added sector for the region? Why is the organic agriculture sector chosen as the focus of this project?

Bülent Açıkgöz: As you have told, organic agriculture has a great potential to be a niche product in terms of being high value-added. But if we take a look at the past, a technical support study has been undertaken with the help of UNDP.  In this workshop, GAP regional development administration and UNDP has put forward a development agenda. This agenda aims at sustainable development parallel to GAP and UNDP’s vision. Competitiveness is a crucial element in this perspective.

UNDP Türkiye: What are the competitive advantages of this region?

Bülent Açıkgöz: As you mentioned, the values that our region can present is, apart from conventional development models, infrastructure, industrial reconstruction, so to say, apart from classic state intervention, an agenda that supports new sectors, “niche sectors”. In this framework, organic agriculture is one of the outstanding sectors. Others are ecological agriculture, ecological tourism, energy and energy efficiency and other concepts in this sense.

UNDP Türkiye: In a broad land where modern agriculture methods, agricultural pesticides and other methods that we may not know can be used for producing enormous amounts of products, so why is organic agriculture, which is a risky method, is seen as an advantage?  

Bülent Açıkgöz: Organic agriculture and product is a procedure, a policy field that has an increasing demand and consumer profile. In the world, the demand for organic products is rising for the past 25-30 years, especially from the west, from Europe and America continents and countries. The region has productive and wide agricultural lands. Besides, with GAP, there are new investments in irrigation and new fields are opened to agriculture. In this region, pesticides are not much used and the region has many virgin soils.  There is a transition process from conventional to organic agriculture and this takes a couple of years.

UNDP Türkiye: Renewing of the soil maybe.

Bülent Açıkgöz:  Renewing of the soil, clarification from the residual and for the soil to regain its organic property. In this sense, considering the virgin productive soils of the region and the fact that the transition to organic is fast is one of the advantages of the region. So it is added to development agenda as a niche sector. Another issue is that the organic products can rot faster due to lack of pesticides. There is an international cargo airport so that procurement can be easy and fast in the region.

UNDP Türkiye: Where is this airport?

Bülent Açıkgöz: In Urfa, the Urfa shipment airport. It is named as GAP airport. Besides the airport, organization models are also important. Because organic agriculture requires organization. In small lands, you cannot get closer to scale economy. Therefore bigger lands and many farmers are organized...

UNDP Türkiye: Is an advantage.

Bülent Açıkgöz: Exactly.

UNDP Türkiye: The infrastructure and sectors like transportation is favourable. The soil is also qualified and a high value added area is chosen. That explains why the region is chosen. To our audience, you can share your opinions about this program on twitter with #YeniUfuklar hashtag. This is a project that is executed by UNDP and GAP regional administration to promote organic agriculture to gain a competitive status. The competitiveness is between both domestic, regional countries and at a global level. The long name of the project is Organic Agriculture Cluster Project. We mentioned it at the beginning. What is meant by cluster?

Bülent Açıkgöz: The locomotive of the conventional economic development models required the direct intervention of the state with policy decisions, incentives or huge infrastructure investments. But in our days, in new economical orders or development models, this classic infrastructure based and state-made models gave their place to a process that is more inclusive, private sector incorporated, if state is involved, different state institutions are embodied, civil society, universities and academia working together. The cluster is actually a development model parallel to new development paradigm that brings different actors together, has acceptable, accessible vision, all of the actors like academia, state institutions, private sector and civil society to give effort to reach this same vision.

UNDP Türkiye: You started to this project in 2009. You mentioned a little but you have a focus on cotton. You talk about the organic cotton production lately. Can organic cotton be produced? If so, how can it be beneficial to us and why did you focus on this subject?

Bülent Açıkgöz: Cotton is the agricultural production that involves the most residual pesticides. We see cotton as the raw material of a lot of products, for example in textile, chemistry, sometimes in food in small amounts. In conventional way, cotton is a product that is produces by huge amount of pesticides and chemicals. Especially in the latest era, the consumer profiles expect to get rid of this product with many residuals.

UNDP Türkiye: When the non-organic, conventional cotton reaches us as clothes, does it still have the residuals of pesticides?

Bülent Açıkgöz: Of course it does.

UNDP Türkiye: That uncovers what it is meant by non-organic tag on clothes.

Bülent Açıkgöz: Definitely. The advantage in being organic is it is clear from residuals and especially it is critical to produce. Because those chemicals not only indulged on the cotton, but also poisons the soil and other products are affected through the underground irrigation system.

UNDP Türkiye: So there is two focus points. On one side you address to sectors that are in demand, food or textile. Organic clothing is gained importance especially in baby and children’s wear. Secondly, you find a sustainable environment and lastly, increase the competitiveness level in the region.

Bülent Açıkgöz: It is beneficial to say that, sustainability is very crucial for our project. After it is completed, we foresee that some mechanisms will be founded in local level. Cluster communication system is one of them. One organization is very critical, which is organic agriculture consultancy and publishing centre. This is an initiative supported by the Ministry of Development and GAP administration. It is an office that will provide information, training and consultancy on business development, techniques to related actors. Besides, just like our project, it will support new initiatives in cluster.. This office will be probably founded in first quarter of 2014

UNDP Türkiye: Very nice. On the other hand, you completed a very significant project on organic cotton. And our audience and related people can get information about it too from that office in the beginning of 2014. Thank you, Bülent Açıkgöz for joining us today.

Bülent Açıkgöz: I thank you.

UNDP Türkiye: Our contributor was the Project Manager of Organic Agriculture Cluster Project Manager Bülent Açıkgöz. We come to the end of the New Horizons brought to you by UNDP Turkey. This program has been recorded at the studio of Radyo ILEF of Ankara University Communications Department. You can follow our program on iTunes and Soundcloud under podcasts, on FM frequency in İstanbul, on Açık Radyo (Open Radio) on internet, on nearly fifty Police radios, on MYCY radio from Cyprus and also on university radios in our broadcasting network and on tr.undp.org.  Our user name for social media is undpturkiye. Hope to see you soon, good bye!