Rice booms in Turkey

Written by Guy Manners.

combine harvesters

Turkey has the third-highest average rice yield in the world (behind Australia and Egypt), which reflects sustained investment in research and extension over the past 33 years.

Rice production in Turkey has risen sharply since the mid-1990s and rice is now the fifth most widely grown cereal, behind wheat, barley, maize, and rye. The area of rice grown is less than one-eightieth of that for wheat; thus, rice is still not a major crop or a major food item in Turkey (an average person eats 7–8 kilograms of rice per year compared with 200–250 kilograms for wheat). But, Turkey is a striking example of how a country can create a policy environment conducive to crop breeding and successfully reach out for help in overcoming key constraints to increasing yield.

Area, yield, and production

For the past 50 years, the area of rice grown in Turkey has varied between 40,000 and 100,000 hectares. This variation is largely explained by water availability and rice prices. The area harvested has increased markedly since the early 2000s. All of Turkey’s regions produce rice, but the western and northern regions of Marmara and Black Sea, which have the best climate and water availability, account for over 92% of total area and production.

Meanwhile, rice yield has followed a generally upward trajectory, from 3.4 tons per hectare in 1962. The increase in yield has accelerated since the late 1990s, coinciding with the expansion in area.

The combined effect of increasing area and yield on national rice production has been considerable. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the average annual production was 260,800 tons. But, it has increased steadily since 1996 and, in 2011, some 900,000 tons of paddy were produced from 99,400 hectares—an average yield of 9.05 tons per hectare.

The country now meets more than 90% of its domestic demand for rice. Many rice-producing countries would be happy to import just 10% of their rice, but not Turkey. Backed by the government, rice research and development practitioners are determined to see the country fully self-sufficient in rice grain and seed as soon as possible.

The role of research

Turkey on the map

The government of Turkey took the lead in increasing the country’s rice production, creating an “enabling policy environment” with the twin aims of promoting and protecting rice production. It met the first aim by funding the development of irrigation infrastructure, and then reducing the cost of the electricity needed to run it. It met the second by paying premiums for domestic rice (US$50 per ton in 2006).

Research was—and remains—a key factor behind Turkey’s impressive yield increases. This has focused on breeding, agronomy, and seed production. Much of this work has been carried out at the Trakya Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) in the Marmara region and some at the Black Sea Agricultural Research Institute in the Black Sea region. Dr. Necmi Beşer, TARI director, has no doubts about the role that TARI and its partners are playing: “The most important research has been developing highyielding varieties,” he says. “Fifteen years ago, Turkey grew mainly foreign varieties; now, nearly 100% of the rice grown in Turkey is Turkish varieties.”

Before the 1990s, TARI introduced rice varieties from other temperate countries, for farmers to plant and for use in breeding programs. In 1990, Turkish rice production was dominated by introduced varieties. But, in the second half of the 1990s, Turkish-bred varieties (mostly bred from crosses among introduced varieties) were released.

One of these was Osmancık-97, released in 1997, a high-yielding semidwarf variety that has desirable traits of a translucent kernel, a high milling yield, and tolerance of endemic diseases. Farmers, industry, and consumers greatly appreciated this variety, and, within a decade, Osmancık-97 accounted for 80% of domestic production.

TARI researchers also demonstrated the value of using high-quality certified seed. The government supported this and rice farmers took it up eagerly, quickly recognizing its benefits. Today, TARI produces all of the foundation seed1 for all of the varieties grown in Turkey. This is sold to private companies and state farms, which use it to produce the certified seed that they sell to farmers. Thus, there is good collaboration from variety improvement to seed marketing to farmers. In fact, the country is already more than self-sufficient in seed production and is exporting its seed surplus.

The semidwarf varieties developed by TARI opened the door for the mechanization of rice production. Farmers began to use new machines, such as combine harvesters and seed dryers. Among the more sophisticated implements now used are laser-guided landlevelers, which small-scale farmers can rent. These machines flatten the soil, which helps with crop establishment and more efficient water management and fertilizer and pesticide use—all of which increase yield.

TARI spent 20 years optimizing fertilizer use in Turkish rice cultivation. Its recommendations for the timing and rate of applying nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers mean that farmers can now apply the optimum amounts at the right time. This maximizes the plants’ use of these minerals and, consequently, farmers’ yield and profit.

The large uptake of these recommendations is largely down to a dynamic extension program that has targeted rice farmers with visits, seminars, conferences, demonstrations, television programs, field days, leaflets, and advice dispensed with inputs.

Challenges to rice production

Fungal diseases such as bakanae, blast, and helminthosporium have long afflicted Turkish rice, and blast2 has been a serious problem since the 1990s, devastating the crop in Marmara in 1997.

“Of all the challenges that stand between us and self-sufficiency in rice, blast disease is the worst,” says Dr. Beşer.

In 1995, blast affected 25,000 hectares of the 85,000 hectares of rice grown that year, causing 20–25% yield loss in affected areas. Area affected and yield losses were even greater in 1997. Blast thrives in damp conditions and the damage it inflicts is greatest in years with increased rainfall and cloud cover, and in fields that receive high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer and no crop rotation (rice is grown in the same field year after year). Under such conditions, blast can completely destroy a rice crop. “Osmancık-97 tolerates blast—that is, it still produces a yield despite infection—but, we desperately need more and better blast-resistant varieties,” says Dr. Beşer.

Enter the Temperate Rice Research Consortium (TRRC), a small network of national research programs from across the world’s temperate rice-growing areas.

The TRRC, which is supported by the Rural Development Administration of South Korea and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), brings together developed countries—Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States—with developing countries—Bhutan, Chile, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nepal, the Philippines, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Uzbekistan. “Rice researchers in temperate countries are typically isolated,” says Dr. Russell Reinke, TRRC coordinator. “The consortium provides an annual meeting for those 50–60 persons to discuss and share ideas and breeding materials.”

Turkey joined the TRRC in 2009, two years after its creation. The TRRC has three working groups, which look at yield and quality, dissemination of genes with disease resistance, and cold tolerance. Turkey is primarily involved in the first and second of these. One line of research is increasing resistance to blast (see box).

Although blast is the biggest headache for rice producers, Turkey’s efforts to achieve rice self-sufficiency face many other challenges. The most important of these is the shortage of water for irrigation as a result of low rainfall, rivers with low water flow, and untapped potential (shortage of dams). TARI has been working to increase the efficiency of irrigation, including the use of drip irrigation; meanwhile, the government still sees scope for building more dams to expand irrigated areas.

Lessons for other countries

So, what can other countries learn from Turkey’s experience? Perhaps the first lesson is that the rice sector can expand and improve rapidly when a government supports it. This is not new—we can look, for instance, at the response of some African countries to the rice price crisis in 2007-083—but it is a useful reminder of the government’s role, especially at a time of austerity when cash-strapped governments are looking to make cuts. Government intervention can take several forms: infrastructure development (particularly irrigation), support for research and development, direct subsidies and premiums, and import tariffs (up for imported rice, down for farm machinery).

Where suitable land remains, area expansion is almost always a fast track to increased production. If this can be combined with increased yield (as in the case of Turkey), so much the better. However, it is important to ask what is not being produced as a consequence of rice spreading to new areas, and whether rice makes the best use of scarce resources, especially water. And, if completely new land is brought into cultivation, what is the loss to biodiversity and other natural capital?

Making connections is also important; remember, you are not alone! Whatever your role in the rice value chain—agronomist, extension agent, farmer, processor, trader–– other people out there are also doing the same job. You just have to find them and connect.

For Turkey’s rice researchers, this happened through the TRRC and IRRI. Turkey’s success in rice production could not have happened without these relationships. IRRI’s role is to provide international public goods for the benefit of all, especially in Asia and Europe.4 For Turkey, the timing of collaboration was fortuitous—Dr. K.K. Jena, IRRI rice breeder, had just discovered Pi40 (blast-resistance gene)—but years of research lay behind that discovery. And, even if Pi40 were to fail, there is still a wealth of knowledge on blast and blast resistance to be tapped once again if, or rather when, resistance breaks down.

In September 2011, Turkey was one of a group of countries that, along with IRRI, established the Regional Rice Research and Training Center for West and Central Asia (RRRTC-WCA) in Iran. At its first meeting a year later, the Center’s international management team elected TARI’s Dr. Beşer as its first president, and prepared the terms of reference for the Center. This training center will focus on advanced research and the training of researchers and practitioners. Areas covered will include crop improvement, crop and resource management, and climate change. In particular, the Center will develop and test (across its mandate region) rice resilient to extreme climate changes—tolerant of drought, heat, and salinity. Turkey will play a leading role in this initiative as it is one of only two member countries with substantial rice research capacity—the other being Iran. (See Country highlights: Iran and IRRI).

Rice Today (January-March 2013)

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