Europe and Central Asia
7 Feb 2017

Indigenous landscapes: ancient production in modern Turkey

Olive harvest in Izmir (c) Tijen Burultay
By Doğa (BirdLife Turkey)

In the olive groves of Izmir and the horata hills of the Bozburun Peninsula, farmers are using innovative cultivation techniques that fully respect the rhythms of local ecosystems.

Farming has been a way of Anatolian life since the great 'Neolithic Revolution' (~10,000 - 8,000 BC) when early forms of agriculture first began to develop in the so-called 'Fertile Crescent' around the floodplains of the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris. As ancient times passed into modern times, local communities continued to nurture the land and, through this, nurture distinct ‘Indigenous Production Landscapes’ involving unique farming practices and rich cultural traditions. There is a wonderful old saying here that has been passed down through the generations - 'Kurda, kuşa ve aşa!' or 'Wolf, bird and bread!' For centuries, farmers in this region have uttered these words as they sow seeds in their fields. Honour is first given to the wolves that once prowled the rolling hills in packs, followed by the hungry birds who may benefit from their share of the seeds, and then, and only then, the remaining seeds may grow into bountiful corn for bread to feed their families. The wisdom behind the words – people will always be well provided for by the land, so long as they respect nature.


Traditional Farming on the Horata hills, Bozburun Peninsula (c) Mahmut Koyaş


But, in the last century, the relentless pace of industrialisation and urbanisation has taken its toll. Many old farming traditions have been displaced by intensive, factory-like practices, designed to churn out mass quantities of single crops with heavy machinery and chemicals – a fatal combination for native wildlife. Fortunately, many want to work with the grain rather than against it: in the olive tree pastures of Izmir and the horata hills of the Bozburun Peninsula, farmers are using innovative cultivation techniques that fully respect the rhythms of local ecosystems and their natural resources, even over-coming problems like water scarcity by developing intricate rain-fed irrigation systems.

The olive pastures that adorn the hills of Izmir are unique, man-made habitats where livestock grazing and olive oil production harmoniously coexist. On the sun-bathed southern slopes, goats, sheep and cattle graze alongside grafted wild olive trees – an ancient technique where young cultivated shoots are attached to an older tree root. Then, during the harvest season (October-February), the animals move to the scrubland pastures of the shady northern slopes, thereby protecting the high quality, yet fragile, grazing grasses of the southern face and the many endemic and threatened Mediterranean species that make this landscape their home.


Olive pastures in Izmir (c) Tijen Burultay


Meanwhile, over on the Horata hills of Mugla, ancient walled terraces (‘Horata’ dating back to 2000 BC and renovated by locals annually) divide the landscape, helping to save precious water and promote exceptionally high biodiversity (cereals, legumes, almonds, olives, figs, apricots) in a very dry terrain. The walls also provide a useful barrier for the cattle that graze the hills’ 15,000 ha water basin. The narrowest part of the basin is divided in two by a huge gate and, each year, one section is reserved for the cattle and the other for crop cultivation. And then, for the following season, this is reversed – the gate is opened and the herd moves across, thus ensuring that the land’s resources are never over-exploited.


Horata hills, Bozburun Peninsula (c) Mahmut Koyaş

These inspiring examples highlight just how important it is to incorporate local knowledge – and a local love – of the land into our food and farming system. You only have to look around these landscapes to see that they are truly alive – places where wildlife and livestock, people and nature, ‘wolf, bird and bread’ flourish together because of each other.


This article was co-written by the Doğa team: Burak Özkırlı, Raziye İ. Akyol, Galip Ener, Derya Engin, Güven Eken, İ. Levent Erkol, Burçin Feran.

For more information, please contact Burak Özkırlı.

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