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AYDINLIK / Füsun İKİKARDEŞ We asked the number one expert of the country, Zeytin Baba, (Olive Father) the questions on our minds

We are olive country, but our olive oil production is limited. Nature is not always going to bring us disasters, while olive oil champion countries are experiencing drought, our yield has increased this year. When the prices also increased, confusion arose. Olive oil is coming from Afrin, that's why... There are no olives next year, that's why... Stockists are on the prowl, that's why... Erdoğan is in partnership with olive oil producers, that's why... When the rumours started to spread, we knocked on the door of an expert. Prof. Dr. Mücahit Taha Özkaya, Director of Ankara University Food Safety Institute, is an expert who has integrated his academic studies and life with olives. He is known as "Olive Father". He almost knows every olive tree in every corner of the country. He continuously improves his studies and follows the developments in the world. Whether it is olive breeding studies or theoretical scientific researches, he enlightens students and olive producers in every aspect. He is also an advisor to the Zeytindostu Association based in Izmir. We asked Özkaya and he summarised what is going on.

  • Hodja, our first question: Are there olives next year?

It's not clear if there are olives or not. It will be clear within this month. But as far as I can see, it is very weak in the Aegean region and there is no expectation in the Mediterranean. Southeast is not bad. It is not right to generalise that 'it will be one year and one year it will not'. It depends on the olive variety. For example, the Gemlik olive variety comes one year and gives yield every year under regular maintenance conditions. Ayvalık varies by 40 per cent. Some varieties, if you feed them with bird's milk, will yield one year and not the next.

  • Can it be corrected by reclamation work?

Hybridisation is suitable. In a garden, all of them are Ayvalık varieties, but some of them differ. Although it is the same garden, the producer does not realise this. These are long-term works. Arbekina, for example, took 25 years to work on its 18 clones. So much so that the project retired three researchers. It is a different person who starts and finishes the project. The state can do it, not the university. The university doesn't last long. It is necessary for it to be sustainable. These are the studies we call hybridisation breeding.

  • Hocam, there are those who say that Afrin olive oil has become a rival to ours and affected prices. Is there any truth in this?

Where is Afrin? After the workshop in Kilis valley, we asked if we could cross to the Syrian side, and we were allowed to do so. The range of a cannon or a bullet was calculated and 30 kilometres from the Turkish border was entered. In order to prevent bombs from being dropped, a clean line was established 30 kilometres from Kilis, and the border was secured. The people, animals, plants... Everything here is Turkish property. Schools were built, PTT provides service. All services here are transferred there. People are outside Syria but inside Syria, they are in limbo. If a terrorist throws a bomb, it will hit a Syrian. It will not come to the Turk. They grow wheat, barley and olives there. Where will he sell them? The border is closed. Turkey says 'I will sell it on your behalf' and opens a tender. Where will he utilise his olive oil? It opens a tender and sells it to companies. Some utilise it domestically. Economically, when prices increase, it is also possible to enter the domestic market. Turkey is responsible for all its products. Afrin olive oil is produced in the factories there and also sold as olives. It somehow provides a livelihood. Even if it is produced there, it is one tenth of Akhisar's product. Only its name shakes the market.

  • What is the amount of production in our country?

200 thousand tonnes are produced annually. It increased to 230-250 thousand tonnes. This year, nature smiled on us, the drought did not affect us, the number of our trees increased a lot, and we reached 350 thousand tonnes. The amount of raw olives we produce is 2-2.5 million tonnes. Some of it is used in the production of caned olives and the rest is used in olive oil production. Spain produces 1.5 million tonnes.

  • What about our exports?

3 million tonnes of olive oil is produced in the world. There are 10 Mediterranean countries producing olive oil. These countries correspond to 5 per cent of the world population. These 10 countries consume 75 per cent of the olive oil produced in the world. The subject of foreign trade is 1 million tonnes of olive oil! Today, Turkey's vegetable oil requirement is 2.5 million tonnes. Only 200 thousand of this comes from olive oil. Of this, we consume 160 thousand tonnes and export the rest.

  • Why is it so expensive for us this year?

Because Spain consumes one third of what it produces! This year there was a drought, and their production dropped to 700-750 thousand tonnes due to the high temperature burning the flowers. There was also a 30 per cent decrease in Italy. But not in Turkey, Greece and Tunisia. Turkey produced 350 thousand tonnes of olive oil last year like a miracle. Our number of trees has increased, the climate has favoured us, I give olives to all of you, he said.

  • So, why did the prices skyrocket?

Those who produce olive oil in the world are exporting countries. These are 6-7 countries and they know each other. Spain has created its market and sells in bulk. It dropped from 1.5 million tonnes to 750 thousand tonnes. There is no olive oil around! So they came to Turkey. They want olive oil from Turkey. How much will they get? If he buys all of it, he still cannot close the gap. In order not to lose the market, they say they will buy at whatever price they can find. That's why prices rose and rose. Although Turkey has produced 350 thousand tonnes of olive oil, it cannot consume most of it. The first economic crisis hits olive oil. Everyone is shifting to sunflower oil.


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