IABAN – Gov’t backs plan to open olive fields to energy firms

Gov’t backs plan to open olive fields to energy firmsA proposed bill that would allow olive groves to be opened up to energy and mining investment in Turkey received government backing on Wednesday, a decision that has provoked criticism from producers.Ministry of Agriculture officials said in a parliamentary session this week that the government will back a bill that threatens to open to energy firms land that has been used for harvesting olives for hundreds of years.

This is the sixth time a bill with a similar plan has been brought to Parliament. Previous attempts were rejected in parliamentary commissions, but olive sector representatives say the situation is different and the government is taking it more seriously this time.

Critics have claimed the government sought the passage of the bill to enable opening further land for a planned nuclear power plant in Mersin and another thermal power plant in YataIan. Although the original motivation is based on these two plants, observers warn of wider environmental damage in the long run.

The bill would remove the official status of olive fields less than two-and-a-half hectares in size. This contradicts a European Union code that says for a plot to be considered an olive field it must be at least one hectare.

Presently, renewable energy facilities must be built at least three kilometers away from an olive field however, the controversial legislation would remove such limitations. The stance of the Ministry of Agriculture disappointed olive producers, who said they have worked in close cooperation with the government to boost the olive industry in Turkey over the past 12 years.

TariI Oil and Olive Oil Sales Cooperative Union head Gungr Iarman told the Zaman daily on Wednesday that the proposed legislation would be devastating for Turkey’s olive industry. “None of the opposition deputies believe this bill proposal to be logical There are deputies even from the ruling party who oppose it, but we see no sign of the government listening to our concerns this time,” he asserted.

Turkey’s production of olives and olive oil was worth $1.5 billion in the 2012-2013 harvest season.

An aggressive incentive campaign to boost olive production in Turkey helped increase the number of olive trees to 170 million last year from 90 million in 2000.The government has previously predicted annual production to reach 650,000 tons for olive oil and 12 million tons for table olives.

Exporters predict annual exports of olives to reach $3.8 billion by 2023, a target that is likely to be compromised if the bill passes in Parliament.

The current draft bill contradicts government plans to boost olive groves and productivity at home. The government has previously said it expected to facilitate a growing global demand for olives.

Turkey is the world’s fourth-largest olive and olive oil producer after Spain, Italy and Greece, equivalent to 10 percent of olive and 6 percent of olive oil production in global markets.The government plans include rising to the second spot in the list of top olive producers worldwide.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman