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We had an interview with President of ATSO, Davut Çetin, where he conveyed important issues related to the sector. ATSO 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 the agriculture sector and ATSO during the pandemic.
Agriculture is the most important industry for Antalya. How did the pandemic affect the industry?
Antalya’s economy was the hardest hit among all Turkish provinces in Turkey during the pandemic. The tourism industry, which is the key driver of the local economy, shrunk by 80%, which resulted in a 15% recession in the economy of Antalya. Many businesses in the service industry were shut down for months. The total loss of revenues in 2020 roughly amounted to $20 billion. Nevertheless, the agriculture industry continued its operations with a remarkable commitment during this process. Antalya is one of the key hubs of agricultural production in Turkey and the best performing province in terms of agricultural production value. This province is also home to the largest greenhouse area, boosting 30,000 hectares of greenhouse footprint. The farmers in Antalya continued to fulfil their responsibilities during the pandemic and were able to respond to demand from domestic and international markets at this challenging time. In 2020, exports of fresh fruits and vegetables were increased by 20.3%, compared to the previous year, and reached $500 million. The rise in exports and investments in the agriculture industry still continues.
Meanwhile, there is an ongoing transformation in the structure of producers, which persisted throughout the pandemic. Latest trends indicate that the largest players are thriving while the number of producers is declining. The number of registered farmers went down from 50.000 in 2012 to 30.000 today. The decline in the last one year was around 10%.
At Antalya Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ATSO), what is your perspective on digitalization and innovation? Do farmers in Antalya use smart farming practices? What are your future plans for sustainability in agriculture?
The world is going through a process of change, and all domains of our lives, including business industry, manufacturing, marketing processes, purchasing habits and lifestyles, are affected by this dizzying transformation. We now live in an economic system where those who cannot catch up with the change will not survive. At ATSO, we are working hard to make sure that our province, our members and our organization are able to fulfil the requirements of this transformation process.
In this framework, ATSO declared 2016 “the year of innovation.” All of our business plans and activities were designed under the theme of “the year of innovation.” In cooperation with all stakeholders of our province, we created a vision paper called “Antalya 4.0”, which offers a blueprint for future for all industries, under the sub-categories of agriculture 4.0, tourism 4.0, industry 4.0, business 4.0 and city 4.0. In the framework of agriculture 4.0, we identified our priorities including agricultural organization, digitalization and smart farming practices, and we already started taking actions in line with this vision. We raised public awareness on these issues via numerous events. The theme of our Strategic Plan for 2021-2024 will be “managing change via networks of cooperation.” A sustainable environment is one of the main components of this plan, and our activities have been planned on the basis of this theme.
With our efforts under agriculture 4.0, we hope to offer a roadmap for our stakeholders in agriculture and food industries to adapt smart farming practices in Antalya via innovative and successful projects. We know that smart farming is the only way to mitigate future challenges in food and agriculture systems in Antalya. With this perspective, we successfully implemented model greenhouse projects using digital agriculture applications in cooperation with Vodafone. This was one of the first steps in this process, and we know we still have a long way to go. We believe an “Open Innovation Platform for Agriculture” is necessary to build cooperation among public and private sector, universities, and farmers’ organizations to outline an innovation-oriented strategy for the industry and to monitor and evaluate progress on the implementation of this strategy. With the synergy to be created by this platform, we will create action plans to address various issues, including use of agricultural pesticides, yield, quality and use of physical and biological methods to prevent plant diseases and pests.
Do you think the incentives offered for agricultural production are sufficient? How do these incentives contribute to the planning of agricultural production?
For decades, ATSO has been emphasizing the importance of planning and organization in the agriculture sector. We discuss this matter at our meetings and conferences. When offering incentives and other forms of support in the agriculture industry, we first need to take a proper snapshot of the sector and then take actions that are based on data and focused on added value and productivity. Let me give an example: today, one of the incentives for farmers is calculated per decare of land. As you know, most of the farmers in Antalya produce their crops in greenhouses. Every greenhouse operates like a factory. As you may appreciate, incentives per decare of land are not meaningful for small greenhouse farmers. Therefore, the farmers should be properly categorized, and small farmers should be offered incentives that are not calculated per decare of land. We have recently seen a boom in agricultural investments in Antalya with support of the incentives. The share of agriculture in investment incentive certificates has reached 49%. This robust acceleration must be supported with the right product planning and a sustainable perspective.
The greenhouse sector in Antalya has a very good standing. Farmers are also breaking grounds in other countries. There was a recent event at ATSO where the greenhouse sector of Antalya was promoted for officials from Turkmenistan. Will ATSO launch efforts for similar collaborations in the coming months?
At ATSO, one of our main fields of activity is promoting our producers in thriving sectors to the international markets. In line with this objective, particularly with our P&D projects, we helped many ATSO members go on international markets and opened new markets for exporter members. Currently, farmers in Antalya are sending products to and implementing projects in many countries from South America to the Far East. We also held talks with officials from Turkmenistan in the scope of our P&D projects. Our members launched important cooperation projects and signed contracts for new greenhouses in Turkmenistan. These favourable developments, which demonstrate the power of Antalya and which ensure a significant flow of foreign currency, encourage us to do more. During the pandemic, we moved our international activities to online platforms, but we continued to build networks of cooperation. We will launch new efforts to reach new markets in the future.
Expositions are one of the pillars of commerce. Antalya has been hosting many exhibitions in recent years. The value and the economy created by the exhibitions are critical for the province. As one of the most important supporters of Growtech, what do you think about our long-standing exhibition?
Antalya is Turkey’s capital of tourism and agricultural production. This statement is obviously based on real data: Antalya represents one-third of the tourism sector and half of the greenhouse production in Turkey. Antalya leads the fresh fruit and vegetable sector with its production volume of more than 6 million tons. Growtech is a major event in Antalya as it makes a significant contribution to our potential in exhibition tourism and creates a synergy for the agriculture sector. At ATSO, we have a very fruitful collaboration with Growtech. During the exhibition, we organize the ATSO Growtech Agricultural Innovation Contest, where we offer awards to outstanding projects in our industry. This is a platform for all stakeholders of the industry to come together and address diverse issues, including agricultural production, agricultural technologies, agricultural innovation, digitalization in farming and smart farming practices, which brings additional value to Antalya and to the national agricultural industry. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all individuals and organizations for their contributions to Growtech.
We would like to thank Mr. Davut Çetin for his information. We are waiting to meet with ATSO and all our sector stakeholders in Antalya on November 24-27.