Turkey’s born-again farmer

Monday, August 28, 2006

Organic food might change your life, but organic farming can change the lives of thousands. Nazmi Ilicali, born in 1953, grew up in the east of Turkey in the province of Erzurum, famous for its scorching summers and hard winters. Erzurum, one of Turkey’s poorest districts, is where Nazmi’s life has been spent enriching the barren lives of those around him. Excerpt: He struggled on and finally, with the help of his family and a burning new interest, he began to recover. Nazmi discovered farming, in particular organic farming, and the power of this raw contact with the earth and its produce pulled him out of his personal quagmire and led him to enhance the lives and livelihoods of thousands of other farmers in his area.

Nazmi is more than just a simple farmer, he is a born-again farmer with a zealous devotion to organic farming and a burning desire to organize other people around him to reap its benefits as well. As part of his rehabilitation he joined the Daphan Plains Organic Agriculture Project (set up in 1996) and grew to play a key part in the successful efforts of the organization.

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.”

Soon after joining the Daphan project, Nazmi took a further step. “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.”

Nazmi is the president of the union, which includes farmers from 12 different areas as members, and he has acquired a new nickname: “Organic Nazmi”.

Each year he 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.”

Nazmi’s name and the success of the Daphan Plains project have spread worldwide. Last year the American Ashoka Entrepreneur Trust gave the project an award for “social entrepreneurship”. This month a delegation from Japan came to visit, and Nazmi said, “They were very impressed. From now on our products will be found on Japanese dinner tables too.”

Source: Asia Times (link opens in a new window)