Turkish Cypriots go organic!

organic strawberries
Organic Strawberries - UNDP Photo

Highlights

  • After the first round of training sessions in 2004, eleven farmers decided to switch from conventional farming to organic farming.
  • By 2007, 78 farmers had received their organic certification and 20 farmers had received the organic farming logo according to EU Regulation 2091/92.
  • In only six years, the northern part of Cyprus amassed 400 hectares of organically certified land.

As demand for organic products rises all over Europe and consumers are increasingly conscientious about the origins of their food, the northern part of Cyprus has slowly embarked on its own organic revolution.

Just a few years ago, shoppers in the northern part of Cyprus would have been hard-pressed to find organic products on their local grocers' shelves due to the absence of local organic production. There were neither organic farmers nor organic products in the northern part of Cyprus when, thanks to European Union funds, UNDP-PFF organized its first organic farming training program in 2004.

One of the project's top priorities was to explain EU organic farming regulations and certification process to Turkish Cypriot farmers, agricultural engineers, and other technical stakeholders in order to create capacity among local people to start a sustainable project.

Organic farming is neither an easy nor a fast process, and it requires substantial investment in terms of awareness raising, especially at the initial stage”, details Erel Cankan, PSD Project Officer.

Serhat Usanmaz was an agricultural engineer when he attended the first UNDP-PFF training session on organic farming. Coming from an academic background, Usanmaz was very sceptical about the economic benefits of organic farming.

I thought organic farming would not be economically sustainable on a large scale”, he says. “However, I decided to give it a try and slowly I came to realize that organic farming was a feasible and a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional agriculture. I discovered that I could easily sell my organic melons with a 30% premium compared to conventional ones, and at the same time contribute to preserving the environment. So, I changed my mind and started to advise other farmers to switch to organic production”.

Usanmaz played a pioneer role within the project by becoming a reference person for other farmers joining the programme in the years to follow.

With funding from the European Union, UNDP-PFF gave input to an innovative project aimed at providing technical assistance on EU organic farming regulations via a series of capacitybuilding activities in the northern part of Cyprus.

After the first round of training sessions in 2004, eleven farmers decided to switch from conventional farming to organic farming. By 2007, the number of farmers who had received their organic certification had grown to 78, while 20 farmers had received the organic farming logo according to EU Regulation 2091/92, and others still were in the conversion stage. In only six years, the northern part of Cyprus amassed 400 hectares of organically certified land while the southern portion of the island had 1,979 hectares of certified organic land.

In 2005, 29 UNDP-PFF-trained farmers gathered together to form the
first Turkish Cypriot Association of Organic Farmers (ORYAT), a structured
organization that promotes organic farming, acts as a peer-to-peer support
and advisory network for certifications, while also promoting the organic way of living within the Turkish Cypriot community.

Today, ORYAT has 130 members between organic farmers, agricultural engineers and others interested in the subject. Members of ORYAT present and
promote their products and explain organic farming at local fairs and festivals.

UNDP-PFF and ORYAT have together organized more than 50 organic farming training courses, seminars and awareness-raising events. Technical training sessions for both agriculture experts and farmers were combined with a series
of organic farming weeks.

More than 1000 people in the last six years attended UNDP-PFF capacity-building activities and acquired expertise on various areas of organic production and environmental sustainability. Moreover, UNDP-PFF generated broader media coverage on organic farming that allowed thousands of Turkish Cypriots to become familiar with organic farming and an environmentally friendly way of life.