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Turkish farmers worse off than EU counterparts

March 10, 2024

Faced with years of chronic price inflation and what agriculture industry representatives say is insufficient state aid, Turkish farmers are sinking into debt to stay afloat.

A farmer drives a tractor in Turkey.
Agriculture makes up almost 6% of Turkish economic outputImage: Felat Bozarslan/DW

All over Europe, farmers have been taking to the streets to protest in recent months, snarling traffic with their tractors. Farmers in Turkey haven't yet taken to the streets, but the agricultural sector there is just as incensed by an adverse economic situation and dissatisfied with state subsidies. Turkish farmers face worse conditions than their counterparts in Poland, Germany and elsewhere, representatives for the sector say.

"One of the driving forces behind agricultural protests in Europe was that aid for agricultural diesel was being cut," said Baki Remzi Suicmez, president of the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers of Turkey. "In Turkey, there are no tax benefits for agricultural diesel anyway."

Turkish farmer Abdurrahman Durgun stands on a field
Farmers such as Abdurrahman Durgun are challenged by ballooning fertilizer costsImage: Felat Bozarslan/DW

"While inflation is constantly going up and is almost at the 70% mark, the financial support isn't enough," Suicmez says.

Annual inflation stood at 64% last year in Turkey, according to official figures. Analysis by the Inflation Research Group (ENAG) calculated it at 127%. Germany, by contrast, saw annual inflation around 5.9% in 2023.

Insufficient budget boost

In response, the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture's budget for support for farmers was increased by 44.5% for 2024, totaling around €2.7 billion ($2.9 billion).

For comparison, German farmers received around €6.9 billion in EU agricultural subsidies, plus a further €2.3 billion from the national budget in 2022, analysis by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research shows.

In Turkey, the cost of key farming supplies is also steadily rising, data from the Union of Chambers of Agriculture of Turkey (TZOB) shows. Agricultural diesel prices rose 76% last year, for example, while fertilizer costs surged up to 25%.

Bauern im Südosten der Türkei klagen über die steigende Düngemittelpreise
Agriculture makes up a far bigger chunk of the Turkish economy than it does the EU'sImage: Felat Bozarslan/DW

With state aid insufficient to cover rising costs, Turkish farmers have to take out loans, which means they are getting deeper into debt, Suicmez said.

Turkey's currency crisis 

The head of TZOB, Semsi Bayraktar, paints a dark picture. "Our farmers already have to start thinking in winter about how they will pay for agricultural diesel in spring. Agricultural diesel is absolutely essential for production," Bayraktar said.

Turkey's monetary crisis has been going on much longer than Europe's current inflation issue. The Turkish lira has lost value dramatically. In 2014, you had to pay around 2.90 Turkish lira for €1. Today, €1 is worth 34 lira.

Dramatic debt surge for farmers

The amount that farmers owe the banks rose by 80% last year. According to official statistics, they now owe the banks 118 times more than they did 19 years ago.

In contrast, financial aid has not kept pace over the same period, explains Orhan Saribal, a member of parliament from the largest opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP).

Saribal is himself an agricultural engineer and farmer. "In 2004, the loans used for production in agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry amounted to 1.7 times as much as state aid. In 2023, the loans amounted to 9.6 times as much," he stressed.

Türkei l Staat kauft von den Bauern Kartoffeln und Zwiebeln.
Industry voices warn consumers will also ulitmately have to pay the costImage: DHA

According to industry representative Suicmez, farmers owe some $22 billion (€20 billion), mostly to banks but also to the Ministry of Agriculture and to private companies.

Saribal is calling for more state support. "Farmers are not receiving enough support from the state. That's why, out of desperation, they are turning to private banks," he added.

Agriculture: A significant sector

According to official figures, agriculture accounts for 5.8% of Turkey's economic output, compared to just 0.8% of Germany's or 1.4% across the European Union. Some 4.6 million people work in agriculture in Turkey, which is 16% of all workers.

Turkish farmers are also rallying the state to do more, arguing that it will ultimately benefit all workers. "If a farmer cannot repay his debts, he loses his land, his tractor, or his animals," Suicmez warns. To solve the problem, production costs must be reduced and farmers' incomes increased. It all goes together."

"If that doesn't happen, production costs will spiral out of control," he said. "Then maybe consumers will start to see certain products on supermarket shelves they can't even afford."

This article was adapted from the original German.

No end in sight to Turkey's inflation

Burak Ünveren standing in a newsroom, wearing a suit
Burak Ünveren Multimedia editor with a focus on Turkish foreign policy and German-Turkish relations.