Turkey eyes win-win with mastic trees for burned forest areas

Monitoring Desk

ISTANBUL: Located right across the Greek island of Chios, the Çeşme peninsula of Turkey lags behind the island in terms of its most famous product: mastic, a plant used in the production of chewing gums and as a spice in cuisines of the two neighboring countries. Turkey aims to compete with its neighbor by carrying out mass planting of mastic trees across the peninsula located in the country’s third-largest province Izmir.

The main purpose behind the mass planting is to replenish burned forests in the region, but Zafer Derince, head of the General Directorate of Forestry for Izmir, says they also wanted to end the Greek monopoly on mastic trees.

Chios, called “Sakız” (gum) in Turkish, is just about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from Turkey’s Aegean coast but far ahead in mastic cultivation which traces its roots to ancient ages and is protected by a geographical indication mark. Çeşme was an important mastic hub in the past centuries but declining agricultural activities in the peninsula, a popular vacation destination for local and foreign tourists nowadays, cut back the production. In recent years, Turkey resumed efforts to boost production and thousands of mastic trees were planted across the country. But Çeşme peninsula remains the top location in terms of yields.

Crews of the local forestry service continue to plant trees throughout the planting season which began in October and will end in March. Planting concentrates on areas scorched by forest fires last year. Saplings now adorn the burned areas in districts of Çeşme, Karaburun and Urla across the peninsula.

Authorities hope that the trees will both boost the green wealth of the region and provide an extra income for locals with export of produce from the trees.

Derince told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Friday that the peninsula was affected by a massive forest fire on Aug. 15, 2021, which gutted an area of 347 hectares (857 acres) near Gerence Bay, a part of the peninsula in the Urla district. The fire devastated sandalwood, wild olive and wild mastic trees. The work to replenish the area was started shortly after the blaze.

“Mastic trees are part of this geography and we chose them primarily for replenishing the burned areas. Unfortunately, Çeşme Peninsula is poor in terms of mastic tree presence and we want it to make a comeback in its native land. So far, we have planted 5,500 saplings,” he said. In the past three years, local forestry crews planted 15,000 mastic saplings in districts across the Aegean region.

“Mastic trees almost disappeared in this region. You can see them only in a few orchards. In the next three to four years, we want to plant thousands of more trees, at least 50,000,” Derince stated.

Forestry services also provide preservation for saplings for five years after they are planted. Trees start growing mastic resin within the eighth year of planting. Derince says first produce usually weighs up to 300 grams and in the following years, a tree is capable of growing 1-1/2 kilos of mastic. “It is profitable to produce. Once we see the first yields, we will provide training for locals here on how to grow them. It will be a new livelihood for them. We also plan to market them for exports,” he said.

Turkey strives to improve its forests amid a fight against the climate crisis. Last December, it achieved the goal to plant 252 million saplings in a year as part of its Breath For The Future campaign, a mass planting drive that reached its height on Nov. 11 National Forestation Day. The country ranks first in Europe in terms of its annual net gain in forested areas in the past decade. It ranks sixth in the world, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It managed to increase forest area to 22.9 million hectares from 20.8 million hectares in 2002. The country is also pursuing a campaign to boost the production of saplings and increase revenue from forestry products, namely fruit and honey production, for villagers. Thousands of forests were created in rural areas to generate extra income for farmers.

The mass planting of trees and the improvement of pastures are also among the measures being taken against erosion and desertification, as part of an action plan by the government. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land turn into deserts every year due to poor irrigation. Officials say Turkey is among the countries most affected by the increase in nonarable lands and climate change, as it sits in a geographically challenging location sandwiched between different climates.

Courtesy: (Dailysabah)