The Potential for Rural Development in Turkey

old, light grey stone building, wall, and road built on a steep incline.

The village of Olukpınar in Karaman, southern Turkey, where the author’s family is from (photo credit: Ezgi Ecem Yilmaz ’24, 9/8/19)

By Ezgi Ecem Yılmaz ’24, Emerging Markets Institute Research Assistant

“You should be like soil. Get harder while you are crushed.” (Toprak gibi olmalısın. Ezildikçe sertleşmelisin.) — Can Yücel

These words of a Turkish poet once reflected the reality of the Turkey I observed, especially in the village where my family is from. The villagers were as strong, productive, and robust as soil back then. Now, the village is still beautiful but quite underdeveloped. There, I witnessed agricultural lands left uncultivated, the last remaining person pursuing livestock, and the indolence of oppressed villagers. There was a time when the seeds that the government sent made the soil so infertile that even the livestock did not attempt to eat that grass.

Turkish villagers are so destitute of support and training that they are dependent on assistance from the government. Such villages in developing countries have great potential in the agri-food industry, which could entail improved food security and rural welfare. If the older projects could be reviewed to support new ones by international organizations, the potential of rural development would result in solving related socio-economic issues in both rural and urban areas.

Village Institutes: An Educational Approach

Village Institutes were first established in rural areas of Turkey in 1940 to educate and empower the villagers, especially in eastern parts, where underdevelopment has been—and still is—a huge issue after more than 17 years of reforms. Although young villagers received lectures on theoretical subjects like arts and sciences, institutes were not called schools because they also offered applied and technical classes in agriculture and agricultural technology, livestock technology, cooperation, and much more.

Since students’ agricultural production covered the cost of the institutes, students were incentivized to contribute to both the educational and agricultural development of the village. Lauded by UNESCO, this initiative became an inspiration for development projects in Israel and Central Africa. Unfortunately, the country’s first right-wing party abolished Turkey’s Village Institutes in 1952 under the pretext that the institutes were responsible for promoting communist propaganda. In fact, the government negotiated with the rural landlords, since these reforms were a threat to their power.

Village Towns: An Urban Approach

A left-wing party of Turkey’s government established urban-type villages in three main rural areas of Turkey. The increasing rural-urban migration and the ideological polarization between different political parties created a need for building essential infrastructure, improving economic activities, and providing education and health and social services in rural areas. Theoretically, this project had the potential to solve the long-lasting problems of rural underdevelopment and it accomplished some goals in terms of completing infrastructure projects and establishing social facilities.

However, the project lacked a strong initiative for transforming education, investment planning, and consistent inspection.  In addition to these failures, a change in the ruling party led to the cancellation of the project, although the World Bank later offered a loan of $3 million to support it.

The Role of Rural Development in Turkey’s Emerging Market Economy

These two projects —village institutes and village towns—were cornerstones of rural development in Turkey, even though they were incomplete or abolished. The ideas behind them could be successful if international organizations were involved, providing expertise and consultation in the planning and implementation stages instead of only giving loans. Nevertheless, there have been no recent, significant initiatives for rural development in Turkey by USAID, its private partners, or the World Bank; the latter has focused only on COVID relief and the refugee crisis.

Fortunately, the European Union (EU) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have approved improvement projects. The EU is implementing assistance programs to support agricultural and rural development in candidate and potential candidate countries, so Turkey will receive €430 million from the EU’s pre-accession assistance fund for rural development programs (IPARD) for the 2021-2027 period.

Similarly, IFAD is conducting a $104.5 million Uplands Rural Development Programme, 2017-2027. It aims to increase the resilience of poor smallholder farmers in the uplands of Turkey by connecting and transforming agribusinesses and farms into more lucrative economic clusters to mobilize private financial resources and sustainable use of natural resources. This project could be particularly effective in solving the long-standing problem that smallholder farmers have very little support, are isolated, and are vulnerable to climate and seasonal changes. They can barely cover their costs and have almost no resources to advance their agricultural techniques. Inclusive rural financing and well-supported economic development clusters could increase agricultural production and thereby the living standards of farmers.

Turkey already has great potential in the agri-business industry thanks to its fertile lands, three climate zones, diversity of agricultural products, and the historical tradition of agricultural cooperatives. The Uplands Rural Development Programme could leverage this potential and empower the emerging market economy of Turkey by developing its rural areas as well as agribusiness, agricultural technology, and related industries.

However, the success of this project depends on good planning, implementation, inspection, and public inclusion. Private sector engagement is essential for achieving maximum and long-term support in order to avoid the influence of changes in the ruling party and dominant ideologies that damage the sustainability of economic development. Hopefully, public-private partnerships with USAID and the World Bank could become more useful for this and similar projects in the near future.

 About Ezgi Ecem Yılmaz ’24

upper body shot of Ezgi Yilmaz.

Ezgi Ecem Yılmaz is a sophomore at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management who hails from Turkey, is concentrating her studies in International Trade and Development with a minor in French. In addition to her role as a research assistant at the Emerging Markets Institute, she is also helping Christopher Barrett, the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management at Dyson, with his research on Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI). Her interests are in global development and economic policy. In the future, she aspires to do research and projects focused on sustainability on rural development to enhance the socio-economic welfare of disadvantaged and low-income communities.