Thousands of Hectares of Olive Trees Burned to Ashes Across Southern Turkey

Producers worry that the country’s worst wildfires in recent memory are a symptom of climate change, and that the government is not adequately preparing for future fires.
Aug. 23, 2021
Wasim Shahzad

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The wild­fires that raged across south­ern and south­west­ern Turkey burned more than 160,000 hectares from the end of July through mid-August.

Nearly 300 fires burned across five provinces over that time span, killing at least nine peo­ple and destroy­ing prop­erty and agri­cul­tural land.

The wild­fires in Turkey are the worst of their kind in at least a decade. The worst wild­fires in liv­ing mem­ory along its south­ern coast have deliv­ered a fresh blow to the sec­tor.- Bahar Alan, owner, Nova Vera

Local olive farm­ers told Olive Oil Times that thou­sands of hectares of olive groves were engulfed by the fires with hun­dreds of thou­sands of olive trees destroyed in the process.

It is pre­dicted that the olive groves cov­er­ing 1,500 to 2,000 hectares were dam­aged in the fires in Muğla,” Hatice Aktürk, the owner of Ata Ağaç Olive Oil, told Olive Oil Times. This amount cor­re­sponds to approx­i­mately two per­cent of the olive groves and approx­i­mately 300,000 olive trees in Muğla province.”

See Also: Turkey Announces Plan to Advance Sustainable Agriculture

Aktürk’s olive groves are located in the dis­trict of Milas, which bore the brunt of the fires in the province. Dozens of her cen­te­nary trees were lost dur­ing the blazes.

In one of our groves in Milas, 25 of our old olive trees aged between 500 and 800 years all burned to ashes,” she said. Around 0.4 hectares of our groves were affected.”

For more than 15 days there were 288 wild­fires in Turkey, just like in many other Mediterranean coun­tries,” Aktürk added. Here the tem­per­a­ture is more than 45 ºC, the humid­ity is too low and it was too windy.”

The com­bi­na­tion of dry heat and high winds helped kin­dle the fires and allowed them to spread rapidly through the Turkish coun­try­side, accord­ing to Pelin Omuroğlu, the co-owner of Ayerya Wind Valley Farm and founder of Olivurla.

The wind was very strong some days which made things more and more dif­fi­cult,” she told Olive Oil Times.

Omuroğlu is con­cerned that these types of fire sea­sons will become more com­mon in Turkey as a result of cli­mate change. While any sin­gle event is dif­fi­cult to directly link to cli­mate change, most sci­en­tists agree that the con­di­tions that allowed for the fires to start and spread so quickly will become increas­ingly com­mon.

As the cli­mate changes, it will get even hot­ter, and the fires will grow,” Bahar Alan, the owner of Nova Vera and one of Turkey’s most suc­cess­ful olive oil pro­duc­ers, told Olive Oil Times. We should be more alert of com­pounded cli­mate events and their mul­ti­plier effects because there will always be a risk of new fires.”

The wild­fires in Turkey are the worst of their kind in at least a decade,” she added. The worst wild­fires in liv­ing mem­ory along its south­ern coast have deliv­ered a fresh blow to the sec­tor which makes up some five per­cent of the Turkish econ­omy.”

Olive farm­ers from across the affected regions are now call­ing on the Turkish gov­ern­ment to help them replant and rebuild.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already promised to take mea­sures against the drought and plant 252 mil­lion trees in the coun­try to help pre­vent deser­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Mahmut Serdar Kocadon, the head of the Chamber of Commerce in Bodrum, said that olive grow­ers will be pro­vided with new trees to com­pen­sate for the dam­age to their groves.

However, many pro­duc­ers believe that these mea­sures are too lit­tle too late, and the gov­ern­ment largely let them down dur­ing the cri­sis.

Omuroğlu said she was not sat­is­fied with the government’s han­dling of the fires, accus­ing the author­i­ties of wait­ing too long before inter­ven­ing. She said that local vol­un­teers had been mostly respon­si­ble for fight­ing the fires and the gov­ern­ment had not become involved until inter­na­tional aid arrived.

Alan sug­gested that the gov­ern­ment limit the pub­lic use of forests, espe­cially dur­ing fire sea­son. She urged the gov­ern­ment to take lessons from the recent wild­fires.

In times of fire, local gov­ern­ments espe­cially should be on the alert,” she said. Especially con­cern­ing global warm­ing, all seg­ments of soci­ety should be made aware of it.”

However, Aktürk said that point­ing fin­gers will do affected grow­ers no good and that every­one must work together to rebuild after the blazes and help pre­vent future ones.

Our groves are located in a small vil­lage, so our head­man [fore­man] acted very quickly with vol­un­teers,” she said. When we arrived at our grove, all the peo­ple liv­ing around with head­man and fire­men had already man­aged the wild­fire.”

Fires, whether caused by human error, [arson] or global warm­ing have deeply affected Turkey,” Aktürk con­cluded. People need to treat nature, land and water more respect­fully.”


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