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Zafer Yenal on "Karakılçık wheat and its promises for a better food world" at the 2018 Oxf

The Oxford Food Symposium is an annual conference on food, its culture and its history.

The oldest and certainly among the most important & prestigious gatherings on this topic, it brings together international scholars, journalists, chefs, scientists, sociologists, anthropologists and food enthusiasts for a serious engagement with the respective, annually-changing theme.

The list of the symposium's past speakers & contributors reads like a who-is-who of the food world:

Claudia Roden is the president of the symposium’s trust;

The late Sidney Mintz, Ruth Reichel, Sami Zubaida, Harold McGee, among others, delivered keynotes & lectures;

Guest chefs included, among others, Fergus Henderson, Stevie Parle, Trine Hahnemann, Raymond Blanc etc.

Needless to say that hep. is reasonably proud that Zafer was invited to present his take on this year's theme, one of the biggest subjects possible: Seeds.

Zafer chose to dedicate his talk to the story of the rise to local popularity of a long-forgotten heirloom (ancient) wheat variety, Karakılçık wheat (black-awn wheat) in Seferihisar, a sub-province of Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey.

Siyez (Einkorn), kavilca, iza are some of the other, more popular heirloom wheat varieties which have found their way into market shelves and thus became familiar to middle class customers in the last several years, especially in big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Karakılçık wheat is one of those wheat landraces that survived (barely, but still) the rapid industrialization of Turkey’s rapid agricultural commodification &commercializationstarting in the 1960s, which saw the increasing use of high-yielding hybrid seed varieties, mechanization, irrigation projects, and chemical innovations – Turkey’s Green Revolution.

Karakılçık is generally found in small pockets of Northeastern and Southeastern Anatolia and of East Mediterranean regions and is known for its high adaptability and excellent grain qualities. It is also considered a bread wheat landrace as opposed to durum landrace, which is mainly used for cooking different food products other than bread.

Despite these seemingly obvious qualities, the share of landraces today does not exceed 1 percent of total wheat production in Turkey. There is a significant decline in genetic diversity in wheat, with a 75.5 % reduction in morphotypes. The majority of producers who are still cultivating landrace wheat varieties in Turkey are older subsistence farmers who are living in mountainous and remote villages, usually far away from markets of various sorts.

Zafer then went on to describe the efforts of one particular community & its various stakeholders to preserve, cultivate, revive and re-imagine the role, practices & life of, with and around seeds.

As one of the few forward-looking municipalities Seferihisar has initiated various projects to address the problems that small growers face in trying to access to the consumer markets, which include:

  • Encouraging the formation of producer cooperatives (olive oil, tangerines, etc.)

  • Establishing small-size grocery stores

  • Assisting certification processes

  • Setting-up farmers markets in various locales such as Seferihisar's very own Seferi Pazarı

The Can Yücel Seed Centre, another of the municipality’s initiatives, is a barter-based seed conservation & distribution center which supports the work of local growers, educates the community & visitors alike and serves as a role-model for other like-minded projects in Turkey.

At the end of his talk, Zafer arrived at the following conclusion:

For sustainable seed preservation projects, questions of land ownership, the nature of trade in agricultural markets and collective action that involves many parties ranging from local administrations to NGOs to local solidarity networks are key.

You can listen to BBC’s Food Program’s report on this year’s symposium here.

For more on the Oxford symposium & its history visit its website or its Instagram feed.

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