Uncle Osman

In the fair food store and cafeteria of Postane Istanbul, where the Centre for Spatial Justice (Mekanda Adalet Derneği) is a stakeholder, it is possible to find rice from Yusufeli, cultivated using clean agriculture practices. This interview is the beginning of this precious grain’s journey to Istanbul. Osman Çakmak, whom we met in September 2019, lives in the Yokuşlu Village of Artvin’s Yusufeli district, and tries to make a living from paddy farming. In raising his rice crop from ancestral seeds without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, Uncle Osman works hand-in-hand with his wife every step of the way from sowing to harvest without using machinery.

Could we get to know you a little bit? For how long have you been living here and what crop do you grow?

I was born in 1947, and ever since then I have been here. Nowhere else. We live here, in the village. And we work the land.

What kind of impact have the dams had?

The dams are harmful to us. A month in spring, they release water. It fills up. We can’t work the land. We can’t sow wheat or barley. They damage our canals. If they ever fix them, they only do so cursorily. In the past we used to plant barley, wheat, corn. Now we can grow nothing but rice. We used to harvest in two seasons, now we can’t because water levels rise. The state needs to either lower the Çoruh or fill in this area so that we can be free of it.

Has there been a drop in the Çoruh’s flow rate?

We don’t have any water shortage. There is water, and it’s enough. What we don’t have are canals. They aren’t building canals. The second thing is they hold back water for a while in the spring. When they then release it after a while, our barley and wheat all rot away. So we can’t sow a second crop. Before the dam we had such delicious corn here that those who set sight on or took a bite of it couldn’t help but be hooked. We decided to give it another try this year, but the place was flooded with water and the crop rotted.

Do they inform you before releasing water?

What difference does it make if they do? Yes, they inform us. They announce it on the village loudspeakers. “We will release water, stay away from river beds”. That does nothing for us. We aren’t able to get from there to here (inward from over by that car) for a whole month because of the water.

Were you consulted at all before the dam was built, did anybody tell you?

Nobody asked us anything.

Is there a change in the climate – if so what are the changes you observe?

There have been some changes, yes. Humidity levels have risen. It’s the effect of the dam.

A massive wave of migration to cities took place after the 1970s, with rural populations, agriculture and animal husbandry declining sharply. Is there a reversal of this now? Are people returning, are they more interested in farming?

They are, but it’s not adequately widespread, so not enough yet. One lives in Yusufeli, others are in İzmit, in Bursa, or Ankara. They aren’t coming back because it isn’t enough. What should they come for, what should they do here?

Are you able to make a living?

We could, but you know, the water blocks us off in those seasons and that affects us. Last year I planted alfalfa all over here. Then they went ahead and released the water. I was able to harvest some, but some got flooded before we could get to it. We weren’t able to collect it or make use of it in any way. Part of the crop was carried away and what was left in the ground rotted away, so none of it came to anything. Once the water recedes all we can do is plant rice, nothing else.

Who do you sell the rice you produce to? Do you think it’s sold at its worth?

Not really, we’re unable to sell at its worth. There is no decent market for it.

Who do you give it to? Do you sell in bulk? I don’t really give it to anyone, a portion of last year’s harvest is still inside. The year before that I didn’t plant any crop, and even part of the harvest before that is still in stock. We will see what we can do.