Getting enough water to crops is a major problem for many Turkish farmers. Rainfall tends to be relatively abundant and regular in the coastal areas because of the mountains behind them. However, the bulk of the agricultural land is on the Anatolian Plateau, which receives less rainfall because it is ringed by mountains. Although rainfall on the plateau varies considerably among regions, it is barely adequate over large areas. In addition, the amount and time of rains vary sharply from year to year, causing sharp fluctuations in harvests. Since World War II, officials have stressed irrigation as a means of increasing and stabilizing farm output, and irrigation projects have consumed more than half of public investment in agriculture.
In the mid-1980s, observers estimated that private irrigation, depending on weirs and small barrages to direct water into fields, reached up to 1 million hectares. In addition, some farmers pumped water from wells to irrigate their own fields. Development of large-scale irrigation was delayed until the 1960s. Public-sector irrigation systems, built and operated by the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (Devlet Su Isleri--DSI) under the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, tend to be large and costly. Most provide water for entire valleys, and some large projects--for example, the Southeast Anatolian Project (Güneydogu Anadolu Projesi--GAP)--combine water supplies for urban areas, protection from flooding, hydroelectric power, and irrigation. Irrigation projects are dispersed throughout the country, but most are concentrated in the coastal regions of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, where the longer growing seasons are particularly favorable to crops. Public irrigation water was available to 3.7 million hectares in the mid-1990s, although the area irrigated with public water totaled about 3 million hectares.
Deficiencies in irrigation included a serious lag between the construction of the main parts of an irrigation system and the completion of land leveling and drainage on farms. Also, crop research and farmer training were inadequate to assure the planting of suitable crops to obtain maximum yields from irrigated land. In the late 1970s, government officials estimated that only one-third of the irrigated land was being cultivated to its full potential. Moreover, low user fees did not initially permit the authorities to regain their initial investments; the fees were adjusted in the 1980s, however.
Major projects were planned to expand the irrigation system because government surveys had indicated that irrigation of up to 8.7 million hectares was possible. The most important project of the late 1980s and early 1990s is the GAP, which is linked with the 2,400-megawatt Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates River and is expected to irrigate 1.7 million hectares when it is completed in 2002. The system consists of a twin-bore 24.6-kilometer tunnel, which will take water from the reservoir to irrigate the plains around Harran, Mardin, and Ceylanpinar in southeastern Turkey. In the GAP region, farmers face a six-month dry season allowing them only one cash harvest per year. Irrigation will probably enable expansion to two or even three harvests. Crop rotation, which is largely unknown in areas without irrigation, has been introduced in the GAP region. Winter vegetables are expected to alternate with cotton as the summer crop. Although wheat and pulses dominate cropping patterns, cotton could take a larger share as access to water increases. The government projects that the GAP will increase Turkish wheat production by more than 50 percent, barley by a similar figure, and the region's production of cotton by more than four times by 2005, thus increasing national cotton production by 60 percent. The value of food surpluses expected to result from this project is estimated at US$5 billion.
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