TODAYSZAMAN.COM – Rural poverty pushing farmers to mining, says union leader

Rural poverty pushing farmers to mining, says union leaderMost of the 301 miners who lost their lives in a mine explosion in Soma last week were former agricultural workers, a fact revealing that extreme rural poverty has forced many to find work in other sectors, including mining, a Turkish union leader said on Monday.Speaking to the press during a visit to Soma on Monday, Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) President Iemsi Bayraktar said that workers who leave agricultural production have no vocational training and are unskilled.

“Those [former farmers] working in mines or at construction sites are unskilled laborers. Most of the people who died in [the Soma mine] disaster were farmers who left the fields,” Bayraktar said.

On May 13, Turkey witnessed its worse mining disaster ever in Soma, a district in the western province of Manisa, when an explosion and subsequent fire led to 301 deaths, mostly caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.Bayraktar maintained that a predominant number of the miners in Soma were from villages of the Manisa, BalIkesir and Izmir provinces, where dryland cereal farming is prevalent.

But, he said, farmers there cannot earn enough to sustain themselves through agricultural activities.“Rural poverty in Turkey is more severe than urban poverty.

One-third of the population of Turkey lives in rural areas. The share of agriculture in the gross domestic product (GDP) is only 74 percent, even though the agricultural sector makes up 23.

6 percent of employment in Turkey,” Bayraktar said. He added that mining enterprises are looking for cheap labor, and workers who have left the agriculture business are good candidates.

“We expect more workers to move away from the agricultural sector, which has been hit by drought, frost and hail this year It seems that farmers who suffer losses will leave agricultural work at a higher rate this year than in previous ones,” Bayraktar added.After severe drought and high temperatures in January and February, trees blossomed earlier and therefore became vulnerable to frost.

Speaking about the lack of rain in previous months in an earlier interview with Today’s Zaman, Bayraktar said that a decline in the wheat and cereals harvest is expected this year According to TZOB’s “Risk Expectation Report on Drought,” it is likely that the low rainfall in the September 2013-February 2014 period will pull the wheat crop yield below 19 million metric tons in 2014, a 13.4 percent decrease year-on-year Bayraktar maintained that the Black Sea region and eastern Anatolia have suffered heavy losses to their harvests this year due to frost.

“There will be losses in the tea, kiwi, apple, pear, peach, almond, cherry, sour cherry, quince, grape, rose, pistachio, olive and fig harvests this year Turkey may face difficulties, especially in hazelnut and dried apricot exports,” Bayraktar said.The TZOB also announced that the union has launched an aid campaign for the families of the Soma mine victims.

Meanwhile, almost 4,000 people applied for 115 job openings to start work in June with the Turkish Coal Institution in Zonguldak, the Haberturk daily reported on Monday. The daily said the number of people in Zonguldak applying for positions at the mine there increased by 30 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year due to a rise in the unemployment rate in the province.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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