Tur­key aims to re­join in­dus­trial hemp cul­ti­va­tion club

Tur­key is look­ing to spread cannabis pro­duc­tion across its arable lands in or­der to make use of it in the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing au­to­mo­tive, paper, tex­tile, and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sec­tors and cut its im­ports that have been widen­ing the cur­rent ac­count deficit

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

THIS week has wit­nessed the re­vival of talks on the now-lim­ited but once wide­spread in­dus­trial agri­cul­tural crop in Tur­key, when Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan raised the is­sue of main­stream­ing hemp pro­duc­tion dur­ing a meet­ing on mu­nic­i­pal gov­er­nance on Wed­nes­day. Hailed by pro­duc­ers and as­pir­ing farm­ers who are not able to cul­ti­vate the crop, Agri­cul­ture and Forestry Min­is­ter Bekir Pakdemirli also an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment will take steps to in­crease cannabis pro­duc­tion, which is cur­rently al­lowed in 19 prov­inces in the coun­try.

THE wide­spread use of in­dus­trial hemp in­deed makes it a very at­trac­tive agri­cul­tural prod­uct, par­tic­u­larly for coun­tries like Tur­key that rely on im­ported prod­ucts for var­i­ous syn­thetic raw ma­te­ri­als to be used in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, paper man­u­fac­tur­ing, tex­tiles, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, among oth­ers.

Cannabis in­deed is not an alien crop to Turk­ish arable land. Up un­til 1971, the year when the Turk­ish mil­i­tary re­leased a mem­o­ran­dum and over­threw the gov­ern­ment headed by late Pres­i­dent Sü­ley­man Demirel, who was un­will­ing to re­duce cannabis pro­duc­tion de­spite pres­sure from the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion at the time, Tur­key was one of the largest pro­duc­ers in the world. In a his­tor­i­cal anec­dote, Demirel was quoted say­ing: “There are poppy fields in 20 cities and their sur­round­ing area. We have a city named Afyon [Opium].”

Poppy farm­ers were cru­cial for the sta­bil­ity of Tur­key, with an 80 per­cent ru­ral pop­u­la­tion and more than 70,000 poppy-farm­ing fam­i­lies. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment con­cluded that to­tal erad­i­ca­tion of the poppy crops, a de­mand made by Wash­ing­ton, was tech­ni­cally and so­cially im­plau­si­ble.

Fol­low­ing the mil­i­tary mem­o­ran­dum, late Prime Min­is­ter Ni­hat Erim banned the cul­ti­va­tion of hash, a dif­fer­ent vari­ant of cannabis. Three years later in 1974, late Prime Min­is­ter Bü­lent Ece­vit and his coali­tion with Necmet­tin Er­bakan re­sumed hash pro­duc­tion, which was fol­lowed by a U.S. em­bargo.

Since the end of the World War II, global cannabis pro­duc­tion had seen some de­clines with the rise of syn­thetic ma­te­rial man­u­fac­tur­ers, re­plac­ing the in­dus­trial ar­eas in which cannabis was used, Ah­met Atalık, the head of the Istanbul Branch of Cham­ber of Agri­cul­ture En­gi­neers, told Daily Sabah.

Atalık ex­plained that in 1961, Turk­ish farm­ers cul­ti­vated cannabis on an area of nearly 35,000 acres. In 2017, the fig­ure was only 11.3 acres. In ad­di­tion to global trends, the em­bargo and U.S. pres­sure have played a ma­jor role in this de­cline.

In terms of ca­pac­ity, Tur­key pro­duced 5,000 tons of cannabis in 1961 and only 7 tons in 2018. “This is a very neg­a­tively de­cou­pling trend from the global trends,” Atalık said and gave an ex­am­ple, “France pro­duces 80,000 tons of hemp and China’s cannabis yield hov­ers at around 15,000 tons.”

More­over, Eu­rope was ex­pected to grow over 125,000 acres of hemp in 2018, sup­ply­ing the car com­pos­ites mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to a re­port of the Bri­tish Hemp As­so­ci­a­tion. Canada is es­ti­mated to cul­ti­vate around 250,000 acres, and now has the first in­dus­trial scale bio-plas­tics fa­cil­ity. China has also been in­creas­ing its hemp out­put in the last years and reached 74,000 acres in 2017. The es­ti­mate for China was 150,000 acres in 2018.

Atalık stressed that the his­tory of cannabis cul­ti­va­tion in Ana­to­lia dates back to 1800-1500 B.C., and the land in the area is very hos­pitable for the plant. Par­tic­u­larly the western and cen­tral Black Sea re­gion is very ef­fi­cient for cannabis. “Cur­rently, only farm­ers in Sam­sun are able to cul­ti­vate and har­vest cannabis. Up un­til 10 or 15 years ago, farm­ers in Kas­ta­monu, Ço­rum and Kü­tahya were also in the cannabis busi­ness,” Atalık said. It is very easy to farm the plant since it does not re­quire much wa­ter­ing.

Elab­o­rat­ing on Tur­key’s cannabis ex­ports and im­ports, Atalık pointed out that be­tween 2015 and 2018, the coun­try’s cannabis ex­ports were cal­cu­lated at 13 tons with a value of $24,000. Its im­ports in the same pe­riod to­taled 4,521 tons, worth $5.8 mil­lion. “Cannabis is a very im­por­tant item in im­ports, widen­ing the gap in the cur­rent ac­count deficit,” he added.

In a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of the wide­spread use of cannabis in mis­cel­la­neous in­dus­tries, Ataklı un­der­scored that the fiber of the plant is very strong com­pared to cot­ton and flax fiber and used in dif­fer­ent kinds of durable ropes. Given its strength and dura­bil­ity, cannabis hemp is used in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. “Even for the print­ing of the gov­ern­ment ban­knotes, a syn­thetic and durable cel­lu­lose is nec­es­sary, and this can be ex­tracted from cannabis,” he said, given that Tur­key is a big im­porter of cel­lu­lose, the raw ma­te­rial for paper.

“Thin­ner cannabis fibers are used in the tex­tile in­dus­try for clothe mak­ing, par­tic­u­larly sum­mer clothes. Cannabis oils are used in var­nish, pol­ish­ing and oil paint in ad­di­tion to var­i­ous cos­metic prod­ucts. As a mat­ter of fact, the gi­ant cos­met­ics pro­ducer South Ko­rea is one of the largest con­sumers and ex­porters of cannabis oils. The dif­fer­ent and pro­cessed seeds of cannabis can also be used as for­age,” Atalık noted.

A fac­ulty mem­ber of the Field Crops De­part­ment at Sam­sun On­dokuz Mayıs Uni­ver­sity’s (OMÜ) Fac­ulty of Agri­cul­ture, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Se­lim Ay­taç, said Er­doğan’s state­ment on in­creas­ing cannabis pro­duc­tion was a turn­ing point. Ay­taç has been work­ing on cannabis for years. He said the pres­i­dent’s state­ment will elim­i­nate the bad per­cep­tion of the plant. “We will ap­ply to the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry this month for the reg­is­tra­tion of two of the geno­types we have ob­tained through the se­lec­tion method from ap­prox­i­mately five years of work,” Ay­taç said.

As a re­sult of a recla­ma­tion project aimed at de­creas­ing the “hashish” amount in the cannabis plant and car­ried out by Ay­taç, the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of cannabis cul­ti­va­tion in Tur­key is on track.

Ay­taç, who stepped into ac­tion af­ter cannabis pro­duc­tion sig­nif­i­cantly fell in Tur­key in 2013, put into ac­tion the recla­ma­tion project, which also gained sup­port from the Sci­en­tific and Tech­no­log­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil of Tur­key (TÜBİ­TAK).

In the case that the project, which has en­tered its sec­ond year, bears pos­i­tive re­sults, cannabis pro­duc­tion in Tur­key is ex­pected to in­crease along with the nec­es­sary le­gal ar­range­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to Ay­taç, cannabis can be eval­u­ated with at least 3,000 ma­te­ri­als from con­fec­tion to iso­la­tion, and rev­enue ob­tained per unit of cannabis cul­ti­va­tion is higher than that of many other agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.

The cannabis should not be ex­cluded be­cause of the hashish, Ay­taç stressed, sug­gest­ing that it should be eval­u­ated ac­cord­ing to the area of use.

CANNABIS: ONE OF THE OLD­EST PLANTS IN ANA­TO­LIA

Cannabis is a fi­brous plant, Ay­taç said. “Fiber is ob­tained from the shells on the edge of stem. Be­fore Amer­i­can and African cot­tons ar­rived in Ana­to­lia, all cloth­ing in Ana­to­lia was made based on hemp and flax. Hemp is one of the old­est plants in Ana­to­lia. Oil is found in the seeds of cannabis. The oil in the seed is used for var­i­ous pur­poses. At the same time, hashish is ob­tained from the flow­er­ing parts of fe­male cannabis plants. For this rea­son, it is in the scope of nar­cotics plants and is sub­ject to con­trol, there­fore ig­nored some­times. Its farm­ing re­duced as of the 1990s due to hashish pres­sure. At one time, 140,000 acres of cannabis cul­ti­va­tion was be­ing car­ried out in Tur­key. To­day, cannabis cul­ti­va­tion is car­ried out on 200 acres of land. As a mat­ter of fact, it dropped to 10 acres in 2013. Since 2013, we be­gan to in­crease cannabis cul­ti­va­tion with ac­tiv­i­ties that cre­ated a set of aware­ness,” Ay­taç ex­plained.

He fur­ther said cannabis does not stop with fiber and oil. “It serves a pur­pose in 3,000 prod­ucts used to­day. For ex­am­ple, any kind of in­su­la­tion ma­te­rial can be made from its stems. Polyester can be made from cannabis fiber. Var­i­ous food and ap­pe­tiz­ers can be made from its seeds. In the last 10 years, se­ri­ous stud­ies are be­ing made re­gard­ing the use of cannabis in drug pro­duc­tion. There are many stud­ies on can­cer in par­tic­u­lar. Maybe in the next 10 years, cannabi­noids ob­tained from cannabis in a num­ber of can­cer drugs will come to the fore,” the pro­fes­sor noted.

Ay­taç fur­ther suggested that an­i­mal feed could be made from the in­dus­trial hemp, whose hashish is re­duced or elim­i­nated, adding: “The up­per parts of in­dus­trial hemps are used as an­i­mal feed in Eu­rope. With the law en­acted in 1933, cul­ti­va­tion of cannabis can only be made for stems and seeds. There is no pro­duc­tion for the flow­er­ing parts from which drugs can be made. If laws al­low this to hap­pen in the fu­ture, an eval­u­a­tion of cannabis as a drug in Tur­key may come to the agenda. To­day, only R&D [re­search and de­vel­op­ment] stud­ies can be car­ried out re­gard­ing this mat­ter. Mak­ing pro­duc­tion work is not pos­si­ble… We de­stroy them by burn­ing them with acid af­ter our stud­ies.”

FARM­ERS LOOK FOR­WARD TO RECUL­TI­VAT­ING CANNABIS

Farm­ers in Black Sea prov­inces such as Kas­ta­monu and Rize hailed Pres­i­dent Er­doğan’s an­nounce­ment that the gov­ern­ment will ex­pand cannabis pro­duc­tion.

The farm­ers in Kas­ta­monu have been cul­ti­vat­ing cannabis since 1940 and they ceased the farm­ing of the plant in 2002. They re­placed cannabis with gar­lic and sugar beet but have not been able to com­pen­sate for the rev­enues they col­lected from cannabis crops.

Cen­giz Durgut, a mukhtar (lo­cal leader) in Kas­ta­monu, stressed that cannabis farm­ers used to go to the provin­cial agri­cul­tural ad­min­is­tra­tion and regis­ter their fields for cannabis pro­duc­tion un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the state of­fi­cials.

The cannabis pro­duc­ers in the prov­ince sold their crops to the lo­cal paper fac­tory, which man­u­fac­tured fibers and cig­a­rette pa­pers. Now pri­va­tized fac­to­ries use the im­ported cel­lu­lose as the raw ma­te­rial for pro­duc­tion.

A lo­cal farmer from Kendirli dis­trict in eastern Black Sea prov­ince of Rize, Ömer Özdemir, ex­plained that his grand­par­ents were cannabis farm­ers. “This prov­ince called Kendirli be­cause of the enor­mous amount of cannabis pro­duc­tion,” he said. Özdemirli re­called that his mother and grand­mother used to weave a kind of shirt called “fer­etiko” in the lo­cal lan­guage out of the cannabis fiber and they would sell the shirt in the mar­ket­place.

Muam­mer Mete, the head of the lo­cal agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tive, also re­called that the lo­cal shirt, which also known as “Rize cloth” is an im­por­tant cul­tural item, whose pro­duc­tion date back to 9th cen­tury B.C. “Since 1800s, it had been sold to Ara­bian coun­tries as our grand­fa­thers told us,” he said. But since the ban of the cannabis pro­duc­tion in 1970s, the fe­teriko has been woven with im­ported fibers and strings. He also stressed that the shirts that are woven out of cannabis fiber have higher qual­ity and greater dura­bil­ity.

In 1961, Tur­key had pro­duced 5,000 tons of cannabis, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber when com­pared to the mere 7 tons it pro­duced in 2018.

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