TBY talks to Mehmet Eker, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, on Turkey's potential as an agriculture exporter, and the growth of exports.

Mehmet Eker
Mehmet Eker has been Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs since 2005. Prior to this post, he was a Ministry Consultant from 1998-2002. He also worked as Assistant Director at the Ankara-Lalahan Central Stockbreeding Research Institute from 1989 to 1994. He received his PhD from Ankara University in 2007 and a Master’s of Science from the University of Aberdeen in the UK in 1992.

Turkey is the top European country in terms of agricultural revenue. How would you characterize the significance of agriculture for Turkey's economic growth?

The agricultural sector plays an important role in Turkey's economic growth, and it finished the year 2011 with 5.6% growth. As for 1Q2012, growth rates were 4.8%, 3.4% in 2Q2012, and 2.9% in 3Q2012. Continuous growth for 14 quarters has been achieved. In the EU, the agricultural and fisheries sector growth average in 2011 was 3%; whereas Turkey had an average growth rate of 5.6%, which is considerably higher. Agricultural domestic income reached TL104 billion in 2011 from TL36 billion in 2002. Besides the increase in current prices, between 2002 and 2011, agricultural GDP increased 19.2% in fixed prices, and with an increase of 161% it has reached $61.8 billion from $23.7 billion. According to World Bank data, the size of Turkey's agricultural economy has risen to seventh from 11th in the world, and has risen to first from fourth in Europe. With this growth and development in recent years, the agricultural sector has proven once again that it is the locomotive sector for our country and a buffer sector for our economy. The share of employment in the agriculture sector is decreasing. While in 2002, 35% of the workforce was employed in agriculture, today, this figure has decreased to 25%, or 6 million people. Agricultural exports have increased significantly over the last 10 years, and Turkey has become an important agricultural exporter in the region. According to TurkStat data, our agricultural product exports reached $16 billion in 2012, up 4.8% compared to 2011 and 295% compared to 2002. In 2012, our agricultural imports decreased by 7% compared to 2011. Our country consistently has a foreign trade surplus in food products, which is the base of the agriculture sector. The foreign trade surplus in food products reached $4.6 billion in 2012 from $1.76 billion in 2002. Between 2003 and 2012, our country has seen a total of TL36.77 billion in foreign trade surpluses from food products.

Turkey has one of the fastest-growing aquaculture sectors in the world. Is this a trend you expect to continue, and what significance does it have for Turkey's agricultural sector?

In Turkey over 2011, aquaculture production equaled 704,000 tons; of which 515,000 tons were from fish and 189,000 tons from aquaculture. Since 2013, as a result of the support given to the sector and policies implemented, aquaculture production has increased to 190,000 tons from 61,000 tons with an increase of 209%, comparing to 2002. According to FAO data, Turkey ranks third among the world's fastest growing countries in aquaculture. Once again in a study done by FAO, Turkey has achieved a 25% share in the European sea bream-sea bass market. Furthermore, Turkey is number one among EU countries in trout production.

Turkey is the leading global producer of a number of products such as hazelnuts and apricots. To what extent is Turkey becoming an internationally recognized brand in these segments?

The cultivation of hazelnuts first started in Turkey, and today we are the biggest hazelnut producer. The world's total hazelnut production is 858,000 tons (FAO 2011), and 600,000 tons of this production—70% of total production—is produced in Turkey. The country exported 230,000 tons of hazelnut kernels during the 2011/2012 period. Approximately 68% of Turkey's hazelnuts exports are to EU countries. The world's apricot production is 3.83 million tons, and 760,000 tons of this is from Turkey. It is the leader in apricots with 17% of total production. Turkey is producing 20% of the world's fresh apricots and provides 85% of its dried apricots. According to 2012 foreign trade data, Turkey exported 170,000 tons of apricots, of which 102,000 tons were dried. Turkey exports 59% of the world's total dried apricots, with 50% of exports going to the EU and the US.