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Turkey Table of Contents


Land Tenure

From the time of Atatürk, it has been generally recognized that land reform would speed rural development. Most attention focused on land redistribution--a highly charged political issue. People who favored land reform pointed to the higher yield achieved by owner-operators and attacked absentee landlords. Opponents pointed out that land reform would not solve the difficulties of the rural population because there was insufficient land to establish farms large enough to support families. Whatever the merits of land reform proposals, large landowners effectively blocked most action, and governments often lacked the will to implement those measures that were enacted. Moreover, landless peasants continued to migrate to the cities in sufficient numbers to reduce the pressure for reform.

Historically, Turkey has been a land inhabited by independent peasants. The Ottoman state restricted the growth of a landowning class; and in the early years of Ottoman rule, the central government retained ownership of most of the land, which was leased to farmers under relatively secure tenure arrangements. To maintain farms large enough to support a family and a pair of oxen, the Ottomans exempted land from Muslim inheritance policy, a practice subsequently reversed as the state reinstituted Islamic inheritance practices, sold land to gain revenues, and authorized land transfers. These changes favored the growth of a class of large landowners during the latter decades of the empire. By 1923 landownership had shifted in favor of a small group with large holdings. However, during the republican period land concentration declined, a development that perhaps reflected the effects of division through inheritance or the attraction of alternative investments. At the same time, the opening of new areas to cultivation made land available to those farmers without holdings.

Because no comprehensive cadastral surveys have been carried out, landownership data are still poor in the mid-1990s, but a general picture of ownership patterns emerges. According to the 1980 agricultural census, about 78 percent of the farms consisted of five hectares or less and together accounted for 60 percent of farmland. About 23 percent of the farms were between five and twenty hectares in size, accounting for another 18 percent of the land. Fewer than 4 percent of the farms covered more than twenty hectares, although these occupied more than 15 percent of the farmland. Few farms exceeded 100 hectares. Although experts believed that landownership was more concentrated than data on farm size implied, it was clear that Turkey had more equal distribution of land than did many other developing countries.

Some observers estimate that, despite widespread leasing and sharecropping, a majority of farms are owner operated. However, tenure patterns vary significantly among regions, reflecting different geographical conditions and historical developments. In general, Islamic inheritance practices, which establish set shares for each male and female child, cause fragmented holdings and make leasing and sharecropping extensive. Joint ownership of land is common, and even very small farms normally consist of several noncontiguous plots. Farmers often rent out some of their own land while leasing or sharecropping other plots in order to till areas reasonably close together and large enough to support their families. Owners of small plots may rent out their land and work on other farms or in town. Owners of large holdings, sometimes whole villages, usually rent out all or most of their land. Between one-tenth and one-fifth of farmers lease or sharecrop the land they till, and landless rural families also work as farm laborers.

Tenancy arrangements are many and complex. Some leaseholds can be inherited, but many tenants lack sufficient security to make a long-term commitment to the soil they till. Sharecroppers generally receive about half of the crop, with the owner supplying inputs such as seed and fertilizer. Grazing rights are often held by groups rather than individuals. Many villages have common pastures open to the village herd. Cultivated areas have expanded as individuals appropriate village pastureland to grow grains, a process that not only has caused village strife but also has worsened erosion.

After 1950 the commercialization of agriculture accelerated changes in land-use and tenure patterns. Many of the large holdings on the coastal plains of the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea were converted to modern farms, often benefiting from irrigation projects and specializing in high-value fruits, or industrial crops. Landless families supplied the labor for such modern farms, while sharecroppers and owners of small farms tilled the adjacent land. In these more fertile areas, a five-hectare farm might produce as much income as a twenty-hectare farm in the semiarid central Anatolian Plateau. Southeastern Anatolia, one of the poorest regions of Turkey, included feudal-style landlords who controlled entire villages and many landless families.

Although Atatürk had stressed the need for upper and lower limits on landownership, the latter to halt the fragmentation process, little in the way of effective land reform had been carried out by the early 1990s. Nevertheless, more than 3 million hectares had been distributed to landless farmers between the 1920s and 1970, most of it state land.

The problems of land tenure remain, and some have worsened. Many farms are too small to support a family and too fragmented for efficient cultivation. Tenancy arrangements foster neither long-term soil productivity nor the welfare of tenants. In many areas, the rural poor are becoming poorer while land better suited to grazing continues to be converted to grain fields. At the same time, however, many large landholdings have been turned into productive modern farms that contribute to the country's improved agricultural performance. Major irrigation projects in the Euphrates River Valley and elsewhere offer the prospect of increasing the supply of productive land. The declining population growth rate has reduced the pressure for land reform, and industrialization offers an alternative for landless farm workers, who prefer city life to that of rural areas.

Cropping Patterns and Production

Turkey's varied ecology allows farmers to grow many crops, yet the bulk of the arable land and the greater part of the farm population traditionally have been dedicated to producing cereal crops, which supply 70 percent of Turkey's food consumption in terms of calories. As of 1992, cereal crops occupied 12.5 million hectares or more than half of the country's cultivated area. Wheat accounted for about 9 million hectares of this area, and barley for about 3 million hectares. Other grain crops include rye, millet, corn, and rice. Grains are produced in most parts of the country (see fig. 9).

Small or subsistence farmers produce most of Turkey's grain. Because most fields depend on rainfall, production varies considerably from year to year. Farmers traditionally have left grain fields fallow for a year to allow water to accumulate in the soil. Although the government encourages planting soybeans as a secondary crop following the wheat crop, farmers have been slow to adopt the practice. The integration of forage crops into crop rotation and the elimination of fallow periods offer the possibility of increased soil fertility and moisture retention.

Wheat has long been the basic food in the Turkish diet, generally eaten in the form of bread--of which Turkish per capita consumption ranks among the highest in the world. Farmers consume about half of the crop; the other half moves through commercial channels. The Soil Products Office buys up to one-fifth of the crop at support prices, which largely determine the prices for the open market, and handles most imports and exports of grain.

Production increases in the late 1970s turned the country into a wheat exporter. After 1980 the country also imported small amounts of high-quality wheat to improve baked products. Steady increases continued in the 1980s, with wheat production averaging 15 million tons. Even in the drought-stricken 1989 harvest, wheat production totaled 16.2 million tons. By the early 1990s, wheat production was averaging 20 million tons per year.

Barley production did not rise substantially after the 1960s; crops averaged 6 million tons per year in the 1980s and 7 million tons in the early 1990s. One reason for the slow growth in barley production was a change in dietary habits: whereas barley previously had been a staple food, it came to be used almost exclusively as animal feed or for export. Harvests of corn, which is also used for feed, increased from an average of about 1.1 million tons per year during the 1970s to around 2 million tons per year in the early 1990s (see table 7, Appendix A).

Turkey is the main pulse producer in the Middle East, and pulse output increased dramatically from an annual average of 617,000 tons in the 1970-75 period to more than 1.1 million tons in the 1980-85 period. By the early 1990s, however, pulse output had fallen to about 860,000 tons in 1990 and 610,000 tons in 1992. The country made a major effort to meet the increased demand for dry beans, lentils, and peas in the Middle East, and exported increasing amounts during the 1980s. Nevertheless, declining export demand in the 1990s and better opportunities in raising other crops led to falling output.

Cotton is the major industrial crop in terms of value, supplying seed for vegetable oil and fiber for textiles, a major export. In the 1950s and 1960s, cotton cultivation increased rapidly following the introduction of new varieties and the extension of irrigation. The main cotton areas are on the coastal plains of the south and southwest, where yields have exceeded international averages since the 1950s. Annual output of cotton lint rose from about 145,000 tons in the early 1950s to about 600,000 tons in the early 1990s. Exports averaged 10 percent of production in the early 1990s, having fallen from around 30 percent in the 1980s.

Tobacco is a classic industrial crop, but output rose relatively slowly after World War II, reaching about 200,000 tons per year by the 1980s and 300,000 tons by the early 1990s. European consumers' preference for Virginia tobacco was a factor in the slow expansion, although foreign investment in the domestic tobacco industry in the 1980s spurred production.

Sugar beet production expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, leveling off at a rate sufficient to produce an annual average of 677,000 tons during the first half of the 1970s. The yield met domestic needs and allowed limited exports. Production jumped sharply, to about 1.5 million tons in 1981, and ended the decade at around 11 million tons in 1989. The annual average in the early 1990s was 14 million tons.

Oilseed cultivation expanded during the 1980s and 1990s, but harvests averaging about 2 million tons in the latter half of the 1980s and early 1990s continued to lag behind consumption, causing Turkey to import vegetable oils. Production of sunflower seeds, the main source of edible oil, declined, and the use of degenerated seed resulted in lower oil production. In 1987 Turkey produced 1.1 million tons of sunflower seeds; by 1992 production had declined to 950,000 tons. Olive production has experienced a two-year cycle with small crops every other year.

Cultivation of opium poppies as a field crop traditionally was fairly extensive in parts of the Anatolian Plateau. The opium gum had cash value, and the plant served villagers as food, forage, and thatch. Official figures showed that during the second half of the 1960s, annual production of opium gum averaged about 110 tons per year. During this period, the crop played an important role in the international illegal drug trade. With the United States pushing for a ban on poppy cultivation, after 1974 the Turkish government strictly controlled poppy harvesting, requiring that the mature pod be removed and processed at a state-run plant. During the first half of the 1990s, the area sown with opium ranged from 7,000 to 19,000 hectares, producing between 3,700 and 13,700 tons of opium pods. Most observers believed that government measures were effective in keeping opium derivatives in legal channels without causing undue hardship to farmers.

During the mid-1990s, cultivation of fruit, nuts, and vegetables contributed nearly 33 percent of the value of crop production, although such cultivation occupied only about 13 percent of cultivated land. Improved export possibilities led to the expansion of fruit and vegetable hectarage during the 1980s and 1990s; in 1991 about 593,000 hectares were devoted to green vegetables, tomatoes, and other produce, of which about 20,000 hectares were grown in greenhouses. Turkey is a major producer of high-quality hazelnuts, despite stiff competition in international markets from rising production in Spain, the United States, and Italy. The annual crop averages 400,000 tons per year, roughly half of which is exported. Turkey is also a major producer and exporter of various fruits, including grapes, sultana raisins, citrus fruits, and melons. Total fruit and vegetable exports yielded Turkey nearly US$1 billion per year in the early 1990s.

Data as of January 1995

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Turkey Table of Contents