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Turkey Table of Contents



Getting enough water to crops is a major problem for many Turkish farmers. Rainfall tends to be relatively abundant and regular in the coastal areas because of the mountains behind them. However, the bulk of the agricultural land is on the Anatolian Plateau, which receives less rainfall because it is ringed by mountains. Although rainfall on the plateau varies considerably among regions, it is barely adequate over large areas. In addition, the amount and time of rains vary sharply from year to year, causing sharp fluctuations in harvests. Since World War II, officials have stressed irrigation as a means of increasing and stabilizing farm output, and irrigation projects have consumed more than half of public investment in agriculture.

In the mid-1980s, observers estimated that private irrigation, depending on weirs and small barrages to direct water into fields, reached up to 1 million hectares. In addition, some farmers pumped water from wells to irrigate their own fields. Development of large-scale irrigation was delayed until the 1960s. Public-sector irrigation systems, built and operated by the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (Devlet Su Isleri--DSI) under the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, tend to be large and costly. Most provide water for entire valleys, and some large projects--for example, the Southeast Anatolian Project (Güneydogu Anadolu Projesi--GAP)--combine water supplies for urban areas, protection from flooding, hydroelectric power, and irrigation. Irrigation projects are dispersed throughout the country, but most are concentrated in the coastal regions of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, where the longer growing seasons are particularly favorable to crops. Public irrigation water was available to 3.7 million hectares in the mid-1990s, although the area irrigated with public water totaled about 3 million hectares.

Deficiencies in irrigation included a serious lag between the construction of the main parts of an irrigation system and the completion of land leveling and drainage on farms. Also, crop research and farmer training were inadequate to assure the planting of suitable crops to obtain maximum yields from irrigated land. In the late 1970s, government officials estimated that only one-third of the irrigated land was being cultivated to its full potential. Moreover, low user fees did not initially permit the authorities to regain their initial investments; the fees were adjusted in the 1980s, however.

Major projects were planned to expand the irrigation system because government surveys had indicated that irrigation of up to 8.7 million hectares was possible. The most important project of the late 1980s and early 1990s is the GAP, which is linked with the 2,400-megawatt Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates River and is expected to irrigate 1.7 million hectares when it is completed in 2002. The system consists of a twin-bore 24.6-kilometer tunnel, which will take water from the reservoir to irrigate the plains around Harran, Mardin, and Ceylanpinar in southeastern Turkey. In the GAP region, farmers face a six-month dry season allowing them only one cash harvest per year. Irrigation will probably enable expansion to two or even three harvests. Crop rotation, which is largely unknown in areas without irrigation, has been introduced in the GAP region. Winter vegetables are expected to alternate with cotton as the summer crop. Although wheat and pulses dominate cropping patterns, cotton could take a larger share as access to water increases. The government projects that the GAP will increase Turkish wheat production by more than 50 percent, barley by a similar figure, and the region's production of cotton by more than four times by 2005, thus increasing national cotton production by 60 percent. The value of food surpluses expected to result from this project is estimated at US$5 billion.

Land Use

Turkey's land surface totals about 78 million hectares, of which roughly 48 million hectares were being used for some form of agriculture by 1991. There were almost 24.2 million hectares in field crops, of which 5.2 million lay fallow. Another 3.7 million hectares were in use as vineyards, orchards, and olive groves, and 20.2 million hectares were covered by forests and other woodlands. Other land areas accounted for about 29 million hectares; included in this figure was land classified as lakes, marshes, wasteland, and built-up areas. The "other" category also included about 9 million hectares of permanent pastureland.

During the twentieth century, population pressure resulted in the expansion of farmland. The cultivated area increased from about 8 million hectares in the 1920s to nearly 19 million hectares in 1952 and to almost 28 million hectares by 1991. Using Marshall Plan credits that first became available in 1948, Turkey began to import large numbers of tractors, which made it feasible to expand cultivation of marginal lands, especially on the Anatolian Plateau. Although total production grew rapidly, average yields did not. By about 1970, nearly all arable land was under cultivation.

Cultivation increased primarily at the expense of meadows and grasslands, which diminished from about 46 million hectares in the mid-1920s to about 14 million hectares in the mid-1980s. Although cultivation of the larger area made greater agricultural production possible over the short run, it created long-term problems for livestock production. It also resulted in the destruction of tree cover and the plowing of marginal fields that were too steep and that received barely sufficient rainfall even in normal years. By the early 1960s, government agents were encouraging farmers to practice contour plowing and to take other measures to minimize erosion, but to little effect. By the late 1970s, more than half the country's land was judged to have serious erosion problems, and some plains regions were experiencing dust-bowl conditions. All of Turkey was affected, with the mountainous eastern provinces hit hardest. Some areas lost all topsoil and could support few plants.

In the 1970s, the government conducted land-use studies and found that more than one-fifth of the land should have been used differently to achieve optimum long-term production. Misuse was greatest in rain-fed cropped fields, but some grazing land and wasteland were found better suited to other uses such as cropping and forestry. Turkey's unusually high proportion of fallow land also limited production; in 1981 the government began encouraging double cropping and the planting of feed crops on fallow fields. The government also was considering a broad land-use policy. However, reform proved difficult because of government inefficiency and the lack of alternative crops in areas cut off from markets, where farmers had little choice but to use their land to grow grain to feed their families. Expansion of the road network, irrigation facilities, and extension services continued to offer hope for eventual improvements in land use.

Data as of January 1995

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Turkey Table of Contents