In Turkey, villages are becoming thing of the past


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TOZAKLI, Turkey — Serder Efe, 32, clean-shaven and wearing a pair of neat navy overalls, hoists a basket of hay and carries it to the waiting cows in a small cement-block shed. His mother, Serdar, dressed in a plaid work shirt and salvar trousers, her head tightly wrapped in a flowered headscarf, bottle feeds calves and distributes grain to the chickens.

In addition to the dairy cows, calves, chickens and kittens, the family owns one donkey, one Turkish sheep dog and a large collection of farm cats. In the Turkish village of Tozakli (pronounced toh-zah-kluh) 1o0 miles west of Istanbul, life is easier now than it was when Efe was a child.

“We had to go to the pump for water, and, as you see with my grandfather’s house, the toilet was outside,” he said.

A century ago, 80 percent of Turks lived and worked in the country's picturesque villages. Now less than 25 percent live in towns and villages. As Turkey modernizes, huge numbers of rural people have moved to cities. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, expanded from 8 million in 1990 to more than 13 million in 2010.

The government’s agricultural policy in the 1970s of crop intensification and increased use of fuel, pesticides and fertilizers created more output, but decreased the number of workers needed in the countryside. Large landholders benefited under the new system, but landless and small landowners had trouble competing, fueling rural to urban migration.

“The population of Tozakli is decreasing due to unemployment and emigration,” Efe said.

Ali Inan, 41, Tozakli's village leader, said that “over the last few years, the population has been declining, due to migration and economic conditions.”

“Thirty years ago, the village’s population was 1,100. Families are smaller now then they were in the past. If you visit surrounding villages, you’ll find the same situation.”

Some Turks, however, have chosen to remain in the villages, adapting to a more modern way of life.

“Agricultural work was quite primitive and we used primitive tools,” Yusuf Erturk, 44, the village’s municipal guard, said.

In 1976, a two-lane highway was built that connected the village to nearby towns. With the highway came industrialization in its many forms. With the arrival of electricity in the 1970s came televisions. Farm labor was modernized as tractors and later combines were introduced. Agriculture became more efficient and productive. Genetic engineering meant the increased production of milk and dairy farmers began using mechanized milking equipment.

After working in Austria for several years, Serder Efe has returned to his parents' village. In addition to helping his mother and father on the farm, he works with his cousin, a veterinarian in the nearby town of Pinarhisar.

Inside his family’s large white stucco village house, he now boils water in an electric kettle to make instant coffee, and plugs in an electric heater to warm up the kitchen. He keeps a laptop computer nearby that can access the internet using a USB internet modem.

In addition to helping his mother and father on the farm, he works with his cousin, a veterinarian in the nearby town of Pinarhisar.

Modernization of agriculture has led to an increased standard of living in Tozakli. Ali Inan calculates that the per capita income in Tozakli is now 650 Turkish Lira per month, about $430.

”For the people who live in the village, it is a good salary,” Inan said, adding that costs are low as farmers produce much of their own food.

“Before, we were using human and animal power to plow and plant the fields. Now we use tractors and we have learned to utilize compost. The situation here is improving in our village,” Erturk said.