Ethan Arpi

Fighting Poverty with Organic Agriculture

organic agricultureToday, the Asia Times published an interesting piece on Nazmi Ilicali, a farmer in Eastern Turkey who has made organic agriculture the centerpiece in the fight against rural poverty. Mr. Ilicali’s efforts have gained him international attention and just last year he was honored by the prestigious Ashoka Entrepreneur Trust. Below I have provided some of the most interesting excerpts from the article:

Why organic agriculture?

He explains why, ironically, the poverty of this area makes it perfect for starting organic farming projects: “The earth in this area is especially suitable, because the local population is so poor that for years they have been unable to afford chemical fertilizers. The climate is good for organic agriculture, too. The frost and cold here even kill the eggs laid in the earth by insects, and because of that there is no need for pesticides – we have a totally chemical-free soil.”

Getting the movement off the ground

“After doing extensive research, I decided that organic agriculture was the only investment with good potential in the east of Turkey. But I also knew that any efforts would have to be made in an organized way. When I first became involved three years ago, I brought 633 farmers together, and the European Community gave me the financial support to set up the Eastern Anatolian Farmers and Livestock Keepers Union. Now we have 3,000 members, and are still gathering members like an avalanche gathers snow.”

More than just farming

Each year he [Mr. Ilicali] plans new measures to improve his union members’ lives. This year union money will be spent on new farming tools that will be owned communally and lent out for poor farmers to use for free. Nazmi’s new social conscience and sense of responsibility extend to all areas of his farmers’ lives: “Because I’m a teacher, I place great importance on education. I believe that education is more important than profits. From now on every farmer should know how to use a computer and have an e-mail address. They should be able to communicate with their fellow farmers nationally and internationally. For those that want them, we are going to provide English lessons.”

Partnering with government to reduce sprawl

Kadir Topbas, the head of the Istanbul council, said organic farming projects had halted rural-to-urban migration in several areas around Erzurum. He underlined the importance of supporting these types of projects both locally and by the central government: “The government provides serious support to these projects. As a local council we have a five-year contract with the Erzurum area. We supply Istanbul residents with access to organic bread as a result and we plan to help these areas to market all their produce in the future. The success of these projects has resulted in more than 1,000 families leaving Istanbul and returning to their home villages.”

Developing business solutions

Nazmi explains that when they first started, the biggest problem they had was the packaging and processing of their organic products. Rather than allowing this to stall their progress, they built a small factory and made every member of the association a shareholder. The factory began to grind their own cereals into flour and package it. Their brand identity, sales and profit margins have all improved since.