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We had an interview with President of Antalya Commodity Exchange (ATB), Ali Çandır, where he conveyed important issues related to the sector. ATB supports Growtech, which will take place for the 20th time in Antalya on 24 - 27 November, as it does every year. We wish you a pleasant reading of the interview about ATB, the effects of the climate crisis and pandemic process on the agriculture sector.
Recently we see more awareness among the actors in business and social domains about the major problems and the global crisis brought by the climate change. The European Green Deal launched by the European Commission in 2019 to ensure environmental sustainability in the economy of the EU is one of the most important developments that will affect Turkey. It may have a particular impact on exports and Turkey’s competitiveness on global markets due to carbon taxation schemes. We know Antalya Commodity Exchange (ATB) declared 2021 as the year of “sustainability”. Do you think the agriculture industry is ready for the green transformation? Does Antalya have the potential to turn this into an opportunity? What do you do at ATB to seize this opportunity?
It is true that Antalya Commodity Exchange declared the year 2021 as the year of “sustainability”. We have various projects to create public awareness on sustainability. This is because climate change is one of the dire problems that may affect production and trade.
In 2020, our total exports amounted to USD 69 billion, and approximately 41.3% of this volume was with EU countries. EU is the top destination in our total exports, and it is one of the most important markets with a consumer capacity of 453 million people. Therefore, we are directly affected by the changes in the demand and standards in the EU. It is impossible for us to overlook the demands of the EU in the framework of the Green Deal. We need to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement and develop an action plan urgently.
Antalya, like the other cities in Turkey, is still not prepared for the Green Deal. Companies are adopting measures and making investments; however, there must be coordinated efforts by all stakeholders under a framework. Antalya, Turkey’s agriculture hub, must pioneer the efforts towards the implementation of the Green Deal. The scope of prohibited agricultural chemicals will be expanded, and new sanctions will be introduced against non-compliance. This will bring additional costs in agriculture, which cannot be borne by farmers alone. The state must not forget its supporting role for adaptation to new agricultural methods. We can only write a new success story in exports if we fully adopt the Green Deal. Otherwise, we will be left behind.
In recent years, many countries have accelerated their efforts towards local production. What kind of actions are needed to avoid a downturn in exports in the future?
The COVID-19 pandemic reminded everyone that all countries must be self-sufficient in agriculture. Many countries started stocking staple food while introducing restrictions or bans on imports of specific products. We were not able to buy food even if we could afford it. This is why Turkey should also be self-sufficient in agriculture.
Turkish farmers are fighting to stay in this business. Export figures in agriculture have gone up, compared to past years. However, farmers have also gone under a huge debt burden due to soaring input costs while product prices remained unchanged. Therefore, farmers were forced to carry the burden of rising costs. Our expectation is to see some measures to rein the input costs. If that happens, we can export more.
Another important lesson we learned from climate change and the pandemic is the importance of efficient use of resources in agriculture. At ATB, what is your understanding of “agricultural planning”?
We emphasize the importance of planning at every opportunity because we are aware of the power of statistics and planning in agriculture. What is not measured cannot be managed. What is not planned cannot be done. It is more so in agriculture, which is a strategic sector.
If you do not understand your strength or your potential, you cannot have a baseline for your plans. We should urgently create an agricultural inventory. Then we should lay out a good strategy and offer incentives and support on the basis of our inventory. We should measure our impact through analysis. This is the only way to be a key player in agriculture.
Agriculture means resources. And the most important resource is the qualified labour force. Raising awareness of environment and agriculture among young people is very important. Can you tell us about your educational activities? What kind of programs do you offer? How many people have you reached so far? What are your future plans?
At Antalya Commodity Exchange, we focused on agricultural training programs during the lockdown. We held online training sessions in cooperation with the Antalya Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry under the protocol which was executed with the Directorate on December 1, 2020. There were 80 training sessions on nine themes, and more than 300,000 people followed the sessions in 8 months. The turnout was particularly high during the lockdown period. Antalya has covered a long mile in agricultural education. We have organized online and interactive training programs on diverse themes, including cheese and dairy production, bakery, fruits, medical aromatic plants, cattle breeding, biofuels, etc. Our student profile included farmers as well as other participants from various sectors of the society. Our aim is to improve quality in agricultural production and to make sure that everyone who is interested in agriculture has full awareness of this industry. Our training programs will continue as we receive more public demand.
The agriculture industry has been growing in every Q1 in the last five years, which is good news. However, some farmers have opted out of this industry due to rising costs and plummeting profits. The increase in exports is faster than the increase in production volume, which results in disruptions in the supply chain. Do you think the incentives and support offered during the pandemic were satisfactory for the industry? What else can be done?
Antalya has been outperforming other cities in Turkey in exports, particularly in exports of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and decorative plants. Turkey’s export volume in agricultural and food products in the first seven months of 2021 was 18.3% higher than the same period of 2020. The increase in Antalya during the same period was 40%. The share of agriculture in total exports of Antalya reached 54% in July, which is 5% higher than July 2020. There were some problems in exports of agricultural products during the pandemic. For example, there was an indirect ban on exports of oranges, which was later reversed. The problems in the quota of tomato exports to Russia still continue. We also have problems arising from excessive hikes in logistics costs. Antalya continues to produce, and we are ready to deliver to anywhere in the world as long as the barriers standing before us are brought down.
We need supporting measures to improve the resilience of the financial structure of businesses during the pandemic. We have still not recovered from the pandemic, but the short-time work allowance scheme has been ended. It should be brought back because the scheme was a lifeline for small businesses during the pandemic.
We need grants for farmers who are struggling to buy seedlings and other inputs despite rising costs. We need rent support schemes for businesses during the winter season. Furthermore, farmers’ liabilities to the state should be deferred, and affordable loan schemes should be created for all industries.
The exhibition sector, which is one of the key players in business, directly contributes to the cities’ economies. For Antalya, it is particularly important as the city hosts numerous exhibitions every year. You are one of the key sponsors of Growtech, which will be organized on November 24-27, 2021. What does Growtech mean for Antalya Commodity Exchange?
Antalya is honoured to host Growtech, a major event in the agriculture industry with participants from Asian and European countries. Our city hosts millions of tourists every year, and it is also the capital of the Turkish agriculture industry. As a global city, Antalya is proud to host this organization which makes significant contributions to the Turkish agriculture sector. We are pleased to see an increasing turnout every year. We hope good luck for all participants of this year’s Growtech. And I would like to thank the organizers.
We would like to thank Mr. Ali Çandır for his information. We are waiting to meet with Antalya Commodity Exchange (ATB) and all our sector stakeholders in Antalya on November 24-27.