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Technology, investment to boost Turkey’s agricultural sector

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With significant domestic and international investment, Turkey aims to become a leading player in the global agricultural sector.

Already an agricultural powerhouse, Turkey is launching high-tech projects to automate farming practices and expand sustainability in the sector. Infrastructure projects, underpinned by foreign investment and international financing, will further bolster the industry.

The world’s 7 th 1 largest food producer, Turkey is currently a major exporter of wheat, sugar beets, milk, poultry, cotton, tomatoes and fruit such as apricots. Its agricultural sector accounts for around 6 percent of GDP, and employs 18.3 percent of the workforce, or just over 5.17 million people, according to TurkStat (PDF, 7.8 MB)2 .

Over the past two decades, the industry has provided livelihoods for 3.5 million farmers in co-operatives or associations. Output has surged during this period, with annual wheat production of over 2 million tons, 3.5 million tons of maize and 6 million tons of grain. Production of oilseeds, tomatoes, tea, grapes, oranges, lemons and livestock has also expanded.

Agricultural exports soared 378 percent between 2002 and 2018, while the industry grew by an average of 2.5 percent annually during the period, according to Turkey’s Investment Office 3.

There is room for improvement from an already strong base: The Economist Intelligence Unit's Food Sustainability Index 4 ranks Turkey 58th globally in sustainable production, while the same report notes that policy response to food loss and water scarcity also need to be more robust.

Agri-tech projects

As the country looks to feed a population of 80.8 million, which is growing at 1.5 percent annually on average, the industry is adopting new, innovative methods.

The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey 5 (TUBITAK) is funding a number of university-level projects for students to inject cutting-edge technology into the agricultural sector. These include a Wheat Warehouse Automation Project, which allows farmers to store grains and make direct sales with customers; deploying artificial intelligence to improve egg quality; and using microalgae to refine waste water into a clean resource.

TUBITAK's 6 space department is also exploring precision agriculture and the expansion of sustainable practices in the sector through satellite farming and site-specific crop management.

In April, the government launched a Digital Agriculture Market to connect farmers with customers and allow them to enhance their income.

“This project is a milestone in planned agriculture, aiming to cover 10 percent of Turkey's fruit and vegetable production at the first stage,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.

In the first phase, the virtual agricultural market will trade in vegetables, fruits and legumes, plus sector inputs like livestock, fertilisers, medicine and seeds.

"Turkey is among the few countries in the world in terms of vegetable and animal production. In agriculture production it is ranked first in Europe and 10th in the world," the minister said, noting that its strategic geographical position allows Turkey to reach 40 percent of the global population.

This will allow the country’s farmers to tap into a U.S.$1.9-trillion global agricultural economy, the minister added.

Foreign investment

The country’s New Economy Program, launched in September 2019, aims to boost key sectors such as agriculture and encourage mega-infrastructure projects through foreign investment and international financing.

The agriculture-focused, state-owned Ziraat Bank 7 has provided TL137.7 billion (U.S.$20.1 billion) in loans in an effort to ensure the country remains a net exporter of food, according to government sources.

Last year, around 347,000 producers and companies engaged in the agricultural sector received TL31.4 billion subsidized loans at reduced interest rates from the bank (PDF, 3.6MB).

The bank also offers crop production credit, livestock loans, aquacultural credit, agricultural mechanization loans and support for modern irrigation system, in its role as the country’s biggest loan provider to the agriculture sector.

Other Turkish financial institutions are also stepping up with overdraft accounts that mature at harvest time, fast-tracking payments from the Turkish Grain Board and agricultural working capital loans, and other products and services that are tailor-made for farmers and those involved in the agriculture sector.

Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said it has committed over €2.6 billion (U.S.$2.9 billion) to Turkey’s agricultural sector, including all the steps required to bring agricultural goods to market: production, processing, packaging and distribution.

The bank 8 has also developed an innovative tool for loan officers in Turkish commercial banks, which has helped them efficiently approve and disburse 460,000 agricultural loans worth another €2.6 billion (U.S.$2.9 billion).

New irrigation infrastructure

Efficient use of water is a challenge the country needs to address, especially in light of droughts in recent years attributed to climate change.

“With its agricultural lands, which cover about one-third of 78 million ha surface area, Turkey needs to pay attention to irrigation systems,” according to a report by The Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC) (PDF, 7.8 MB)9 .

“In Turkey, the potential irrigable area is 8.5 million ha. As of 2019, Turkey aims to reach 6.6 million ha out of this potential to be equipped with irrigation infrastructure. Currently, 2743 irrigation facilities are in service.”

To boost production, the ministry has identified 30 agricultural basins where data on climate, soil, topography and land use have been evaluated for over the past three years.

The country’s South Eastern Anatolian Project, or GAP, is being leveraged to develop more sustainable agriculture in the country. The project 10 covers 75,000 square kilometers and nine provinces in the Euphrates-Tigris river basins and Upper Mesopotamia plains. The GAP region comprises 10 percent of Turkey’s geographical area and 20 percent of irrigable land.

Turkey aims to become one of the world’s five biggest producers in the agricultural sector by 2023, raising agricultural GDP to U.S.$150 billion from a current level of around U.S.$32 billion, according to its Vision 2023 plan.

Continued investment, both domestically and internationally, and adoption of new technologies will help Turkey reach that target.