We, journalists obsess over day to day politics while often ignoring the big picture.
In case of Turkey, I am beginning to think that better reporting on areas of public interest beyond party politics would make a significant contribution to a wider democratic debate.
Last week, a truck carrying agricultural workers had a crash killing 15 people. This tragic news brought to our attention the magnitude of the problem of industrial safety in agriculture. This is the sector where work related deaths and injuries are the highest. In the first six months of 2015 alone, 190 agricultural workers have lost their lives.
Again, last week, a study by Centre for Food Safety and Agricultural Research at Akdeniz University found many everyday foods contained above the maximum limit of pesticide residues. According to a report by Ahmet Şık in Cumhuriyet, it is not only humans that are having adverse health effects. Bees, too, are slowly being poisoned as a result of this pesticide contamination.
Agriculture is of key importance to Turkey. Almost a quarter of the workforce is employed in agriculture. About half of the country’s total land area is devoted to agriculture. Yet, there is little critical and accurate coverage of agriculturally relevant topics in the mainstream media.
When Turkey assumed the presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) last December, there were raised expectations that the coverage of issues such as soil conservation, water management, biodiversity, food security and climate change would be boosted. It did not happen.
On the day the World Bank’s head of agriculture and food security Mark Cackler wrote in the Guardian about a “frustrating lack of attention paid to agriculture” and the growing need for more and better agricultural research to bring farming into the 21st century, I happened to visit Cranfield University in Bedfordshire.
Cranfield is one of the top five research centres in the UK with internationally recoginised expertise in agrifood systems, environmental technology, energy, aerospace, defence and security. Their engineering and technology post-graduate specialists work with businesses and governments around the world, receiving 85 percent of their funding from the private sector.
Among their 4500 students and many scientists, there are some from Turkish universities, too, working on subjects very relevant to Turkey, such as soil surveys, precision agriculture, erosion control and sustainable soil management.
Listening to Professor Jane Rickson explaining their work on preventing soil degradation and loss of ecosystems or learning about a Syrian academic Dr Abdul Maunem Mouazen’s patented soil sensor for precision agriculture made me realise how little I knew about world-leading research on the future of our planet, its land, water and biodiversity.
As Dr Thomas Mayr of the Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute put it, land is becoming scarce. What we do with it and how we manage it have become huge issues. Not only governments and international organisations but also priviate firms are now more aware of the need to maintain and develop the knowledge base.
Keeping up with cutting-edge technology and science is important for helping individual farmers to have better crop yield and higher profit but it also serves a greater public good.
Turkey is already a big agricultural producer in Europe. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he wants to double the country’s national agricultural revenue by 2023.
This is a worthy goal which should faciliate a better public debate on ways to reform and restructure Turkish agriculture and to improve its safety record. It should also prompt the country’s media into taking more interest.
This post is also available in: Turkish