Human bond with soil may at times be challenging and toilsome as it may well be necessary and rewarding. This is the case in Artvin, a place different than the Black Sea climate-wise and geographically. Agriculture and rural life in Artvin’s highly contoured terrain, settlements with almost no flat land, dry summers lacks most of the amenities which many other parts of Turkey are endowed with. This however appears to be no problem for certain people at all.
Nevin is a lady who insists on “agriculture against all odds.” She tried urban life for a while, but could not do it. She missed the soil, hometown and returned to Artvin.
"I could not do in the city, it is much difficult to me living away from soil."
- Nevin Güner, Farmer.
Nevin is also a woman entrepreneur. She investigated how she could get highest yield from her small holding in Artvin. She first had her eyes on growing beech mushrooms, then found the capital for that venture. Now Nevin is one of the few persons in Artvin who have a greenhouse for beech mushroom farming.
“I heard of the beech mushroom first time on television. Then I decided to do it; and left out no place I would go and no person I would consult.”
- Nevin Güner, Farmer.
The first harvest is still months away, but Nevin and other few greenhouse owners are already pursuing branding.
“The first step will be to establish a union of beech mushroom farmers. All mushroom will be gathered on the same spot and sold under the same brand. The packaging will include recipes.”
- Nevin Güner, Farmer.
Nevin is not the sole person who makes a living on soil despite the harsh conditions of the region. It is possible to come across farmers who found co-financing to establish greenhouses. You see a greenhouse for beech mushroom in one of the villages to which you climb up a pathway.
The farmer family filed necessary applications to establish the greenhouse which were approved. However, due to a severe scarcity of flat land, they could not find a spot to build the greenhouse in the usual way.
This did not deter the family who ingenuously built a retaining wall by the edge of the cliff where they intended to build the greenhouse.
You can see similar examples everywhere in Artvin: strawberry gardens, grapevines which yield five varieties of grapes, and greenhouses that multiply the yield several-fold.
Due to Artvin’s geography, arable plots are too small. To give an example from Yusufeli, a farmer here tries to subsist on a land of one to two quarter acres.
Therefore, the yield and product value are much too important. About half of the field built under the project in the region consists of walnut trees, whereas the other half consists of grape, strawberry and vegetable greenhouses.
The people of Artvin, resolute on not leaving the land, are backed by Ardahan-Kars-Artvin Development Project (AKADP). The project is implemented by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock in cooperation with UNDP, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The overall goal of AKADP is to make small producer and non-agricultural enterprise investments, rural infrastructure investments and support the institutional building activities in the context of reducing rural poverty in Ardahan, Kars and Artvin. The support involves, in addition to providing finance, provision of training to farmers, teaching modern agricultural techniques and facilitating life in the harsh but high-potential larger geography of the region.
Building up momentum in 2014, the project received only 24 applications for co-financing in that year. In subsequent years, the applications multiplied. The project received highest interest from the districts of Yusufeli, Şavşat and Ardanuç. The project finances 70% of the cost of greenhouses in the context of the co-financing program where as the applicant farmer provides the remaining 30%.
Villagers lives have changed positively since the establishment of greenhouses. Harvesting yields regularly both in summer and winter, villagers usually re-apply to the project to build a second greenhouse. A farmer earns approximately 7,000 TL per year on average from a greenhouse. This system is also considerably sustainable. The more revenue a farmer gets from the venture, the more s/he works and teaches family and neighbors. This creates awareness on agriculture in the rural areas of Artvin. This is probably the most enduring and significant output of the project. The increased revenue and awareness has at the same time increased reverse exodus, i.e. from cities back to villages.
By the end of the project, the number of greenhouses built in Artvin will have exceeded 120. The number of vineyards, gardens and greenhouses established is approximately 300 in total. The value generated is more than 2 million TL.
Rural development is something that cannot be expressed in statistics, figures or monies spent. During the 5 years of the project, the experts of UNDP and Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock visited every village, every plot one by one, striving to provide appropriate equipment and obtain the most efficient results. Each application was evaluated taking into account the product yield, market and regional conditions. Training was delivered to farmers which they could transfer to their families and neighbors, and the rural awareness was increased.