The dialogue was established in 2009 through the Civil Society Dialogue Project under Turkey’s European Union Ministry and has been supported by the EU.
With the aim of enhancing mutual understanding by bringing producers together, this dialogue will also involve civil society players -- such as the Ordu Chamber of Commerce and Industry -- in order to bridge the information gap and achieve better mutual knowledge, thus ensuring a stronger awareness of the opportunities as well as the challenges of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Commenting on the project, Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış has said: “The rewards from these dialogues are really often beyond any kind of monetary value. When societies get to know each other better, they tend to build stronger and more permanent bridges. These bridges help the communities to both cherish the commonalities between them and to appreciate the richness provided by their difference.”
The EU funds projects in various sectors to develop relationships between the civil societies in candidate countries and member countries, and in order to achieve this in Turkey the EU accepted applications for funding of projects through the ministry. In 2011, 23 projects in agriculture and fishing as well as 18 projects in culture and the arts were approved for funds in amounts ranging between 100,000 and 300,000 euros.
Dialogue between hazelnut growers is one of the 23 projects that were approved, and it aims to help Turkish farmers get more out of their crops. Even though Turkey produces 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts, it fails to reach its fullest capacity. In order to achieve the most gains, the producers in the province of Ordu, where more than 30,000 small-holding growers are present, and producers in the city of Viterbo in the region of Lazio in Italy, came together within the framework of this project to enhance production practices. One of the reasons that Turkey cannot produce at maximum capacity is that a microscopic fungus waste called aflatoxin infects hazelnuts, making it harmful for human consumption. If Turkish authorities who strictly apply EU food safety standards find any aflatoxin in a hazelnut crop, the whole crop immediately becomes a waste product, leaving farmers with zero profit from their production. To avoid this, producers from Viterbo, who are well aware of the problem of aflatoxin and know how to reduce its impact, facilitated a learning process at the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Ordu. The Viterbo group Eurogems organized informational workshops and ran an awareness campaign in October for the hazelnut growers in Ordu.
Ömer Aydın, the owner of a hazelnut processing plant in Ordu, has been one of the key people connecting the farmers in Turkey and Italy, as he has seen how important it is not only for hazelnut traders to met up and do business, but for producers of the nuts in the two countries to also exchange experiences and know-how. He says: “We have now actually started a two-way dialogue between Turkey and Italy in the hazelnut sector, with both producers and traders. Previously the talk was only about commerce, but with our recent visit to Viterbo we were able to learn about different approaches to cultivation, new production ideas involving automated harvesting and new drying techniques.”
Meanwhile, hazelnut buyers from the Italian side appreciate both the quality of the Turkish nuts and the rigorous standards enforced prior to export, but also know that in order to increase imports and ensure a good price, the Turkish growers can usefully apply lessons learnt by their Italian colleagues. One buyer says, “Strengthening relationships between the producers in the two countries will help everyone, and boost livelihoods for all involved in the sector, whether farmers, processors, manufacturers or consumers,” and added, “The farmers from both countries are keen to be part of single market, with both fair competition and easy mechanisms for cooperation.” Being part of a single market is particularly significant for Italian producers because they used to complain about the low prices and dominance of the Turkish hazelnut supply, which harmed producers in Viterbo. Now producers from both countries are working together to a common end.
The European Commission strategy for accession negotiations with Turkey is based on three pillars. The first pillar is designed to support the reform process in Turkey. The second pillar sets out the framework for accession negotiations. The third pillar concerns the strengthening of political and cultural dialogue between civil societies in Turkey and the EU.