Turkey: how Tea made the Black Sea farmers rich – a paradigm for USLTG

Turkish tea harvesters by Nigel Melican

Historically, Turkey was a coffee drinking nation, plain and simple.  In the 1930s reforming president Kamal Attaturk urged the growing of tea bushes  and the drinking of tea to reduce the foreign exchange burden of coffee imports and to assist impoverished farmers.  The area he advocated – the north east Black Sea coast was the poorest agricultural region of all Turkey.  Tea planting commenced just before WWII and production started in 1941 with just 1 ton, processed from green leaf grown by a handful of small farmers with only 20 acres of bushes between them.  By 1945 production had risen to 54 tons a year.  Post World War II tea growing and processing really took off – 1,208 tons in 1955, 13,000 tons in 1965, rising to 55,702 tons by 1975.  At this stage a new tea factory was being built every year and local engineering companies had opened up to manufacture all the process machinery required rather than import it.  By 1984 when the state monopoly on green leaf buying, processing and marketing was eased, tea production stood at 43 factories making 113,701 tons.  In 50 years the formerly impoverished Black Sea area had become the richest agricultural region of Turkey, supported by a rapidly growing population and well developed infrastructure, industry and commerce.  Post state monopoly, this vigorous growth encouraged the private sector to invest in further processing and marketing.  From 15 private factories built in 1985, the number quickly increased to 355 by 1995, and total tea production became 178,000 tons in 2007 utilizing fresh green leaf grown by some 250,000 small farmers on 195,000 acres of land.

This is an excellent model for US tea growers to emulate.

 Nigel Melican’s Footnote: I worked for Lipton in Turkey from 1984 to 1987 where we designed and built the (at that time) largest orthodox tea processing factory in the world and launched locally grown Lipton Yellow Label – the first international tea brand their market had ever seen.  Teacraft worked there again during 2004 and 2005 where we advised on the design and construction of a tea blending and packaging factory for the Sabanci Group.

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