While the rest of the Mediterannean consumes most of the olive oil it produces, olive oil consumption in Turkey is the lowest in the region. Turks consume one kilogram of the oil a year while their neighbors comsume an average of 15. Producers in Ayvalık say it’s time the government inspires Turks to buy and consume more
Olive growers in the Aegean town of Ayvalık claim the best way to support the country’s olive oil industry, hit hard by this year’s drought, is for the government to up the ante and promote domestic consumption.
Turkey, the Mediterranean’s fifth largest olive oil producer, seriously lags behind in olive oil consumption when compared to its neighbors. The average consumption of olive oil in the region is 15 kilograms per person annually, while in Turkey it is one kilogram a year, a stark contrast.
“Of the world’s olive oil 95 percent is produced in the Mediterranean, yet we consume the least,” said Rahmi Gençer, director of the Ayvalık chamber of commerce. “Every year we produce 130,000 tons of olive oil and consume only 70,000.” The rest of it is exported.
Among the olive oil producing countries of the Mediterranean basin, 80 percent of the olive oil produced is consumed. In Greece there is an average consumption of 20 kilograms annually and in Italy and Spain it is around 14 kilograms.
Getting over the drought:
Olive tree growers on the coast of Turkey were hit by a double whammy this summer: A freak rain in early June ombined with sun that burned the flowers that were blooming to become olives, followed by a summer without rain.
In the heart of Turkey’s olive oil production center, Ayvalık, the results of the weather conditions seem overwhelming. The city’s economy is based on the two million olive trees that are over a century old and surround it as far as the eye can see. The majority of residents have fields usually inherited from their families.
Walking through one of his olive groves on the hills of Ayvalık, Mustafa Kurşat reaches up to a tree to show where the new olives should have been. The ones that have grown are not as big because it has not rained this summer.
One of the few families that have been able to brand their family olive oil production business, the Kurşats get an average yield of 400 tons of olives annually. This year, it is hard to guess how many they will pick.
What is the best support the government could give them? According to the Kurşats it’s not just a matter of giving financial support, but helping to boost olive oil sales and consumption in Turkey. This they believe can only happen through teaching people the health benefits of olive oil through awareness building.
“Turkish consumers forgot olive oil, but this has started to change,” said Kurşat. “It’s in fashion now, people are talking about it and getting interested.” His son Ali Kurşat said, “We’re not talking about them just drizzling it on salad, they have to actually eat it.”
Kurşat said Turkey also needs to help Turkish producers in order for them to compete fairly with other Mediterranean producers. “In Greece they [olive oil producers] get 1.5 euros for every kilo of olive oil produced,” said Kurşat. In Turkey producers get 11 kuruş per kilo. “Turkish producers need to work 10 times harder to catch up.” Kurşat and his son Ali Kurşat said the government needs to increase its support and bring it closer to that of European Union standards. “Now there’s too much of a gap,” said Ali Kurşat.
‘Don’t just plant it; eat it!’
In an effort to get ahead of European Union quotas on olive trees in light of a possible entry to the EU as well as to maximize its capacity and production, the Turkish government has followed a policy of encouraging farmers to plant more olive trees over the past few years. Upon entry EU tariffs on planting more olive trees are very steep and Turkey aspires to be at the forefront of oil production. To that end the Turkish government pays YTL 250 for every new tree planted. Many farmers have started leaving less profitable crops and turned to olive tree production.
As a result in the last five years about 25 million trees have been planted, while last year over eight million trees were planted. “This shows that in 10 years with developed agricultural policies our olive oil production will increase three-fold,” said Gençer.
However, producers say that a domestic awareness campaign promoting consumption has to go hand in hand with Turkey’s agricultural policies.
“They are all looking at production, not at consumption,” said Ali Kurşat. “No one looks at eight or 10 years later when people will consume the oil.”
Mustafa Kurşat pointed to Turkey’s low olive oil consumption compared to the rest of Europe and the fact that over planting of trees could create either surplus product or other negative economic effects in the industry years down the line.
“With the tree [planting] politics, there should be consumption politics,” he explained.
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