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Interview with Victor Ananias
"All strong - successful social movements
have been developed from civil, strongly motivated, visionary peoples
intentions, activities and devotion. When money and funding starts to be the
Victor Ananias, a pioneer of organic agriculture and ecotourism in Turkey, is the newly elected Secretary of the European Centre for Ecological & Agricultural Tourism (ECEAT), an NGO and paneuropean agrotourism network. The son of a Chilean dentist and a Turkish ceramics artist, he spent his first six years in Germany and then moved with his family to the coastal town and tourism resort of Bodrum in Turkey where they begun growing their own wheat with a traditional windmill. At 18 he travelled to South America and Europe, working in vegetarian restaurants and green living centres. Returning to Bodrum in 1990, he bartered his foreign language skills to a local farmer who wanted to sell products to tourists in exchange for a table where he could sell organic products. In two years the table had become Buğday’s (Wheat) Vegetarian Cafe, the first all-organic store - restaurant & eco-cultural centre in Turkey. A few years later, it became a formal association - Buğday Association for Supporting Ecological Living (Web: www.bugday.org) which also thanks to funding from the UN Global Environment Fund expanded geographically and thematically to offer training, information and consultancy throughout Turkey. Among its many notable activities, Buğday has set up TaTuTa, a network of 69 organic farms in Turkey where one "can volunteer and stay for free or pay a small fee and stay without working". Mr Ananias has acted as a national coordinator for EU funding of organic agriculture in Turkey and was the first person in Turkey to be awarded with an Ashoka fellowship in 2000. He has an immense knowledge of eco-agrotourism issues from the grassroots to national legislation level, lobbying for reforms that help steer Turkish (and now European) Agriculture and Tourism to a greener direction.
ECOCLUB.com: You are a pioneer of the ecological movement in Turkey. Did you discover ecology through ecotourism, organic agriculture & agrotourism or was it the other way round?
Victor Ananias: My parents chose to live a simple-natural lifestyle due to a health problem in my family just before my birth. This took us to a small village at the Aegean coast of Turkey, to a traditional-simple village life. Very similar to lifestyles at the Greek islands around there. So I was lucky to be born into an intentional ecologically sound environment. My background and experience made me choose to learn and work on all those issues as a whole, as parts of the whole picture. So I have learned and have had an interest in all these issues as different tools of a sustainable lifestyle for humanity. Even in the very beginning of our organisation 19 years ago, we were considering ecological agricultural production, wise consumption and consumer visits to the healthy production sites all in one chain. Neither one before another.
ECOCLUB.com: What is the key mission / goal of your organisation "Buğday Association for Supporting Ecological Living" and what are your main related successes & achievements?
Victor Ananias: Buğday's vision is a whole humanity consisting of ecologically and socially sustainable lifestyles. We think that this is the only option we have today to overcome many of the social, environmental and even economic challenges we face globally. To serve that, Buğday 19 years ago started to work on building sustainable human activities, support the existing good examples and network among all to enhance free flow of knowledge and experience. To be more concrete and give some examples, Buğday has been developing the first organic community supported agriculture scheme and supported others to built new systems and now continues to be an exchange-information point on these. For over 12 years we have been producing publications to educate, motivate and include people in ecological living issues. Buğday was the first organisation to intentionally start and in a strategic programme to develop the domestic organic markets in Turkey by opening-running-advising the specialised shops, organising seminars, congresses, stalls, starting wholesale systems, electronic marketplaces and finally the most effective tool, the 100% organic farmers markets in 2006. In 2003 Buğday decided to run its farm visits, consumer educations at site and volunteer programmes in a well organised whole system at a sustainable-organic farm network. With this respect TaTuTa farm visits and volunteership programme was established, which also led us to becoming a member of ECEAT and WWOOF (Willing workers on organic farms). Buğday also works on the political level in such issues like preparation of the agrienvironment infrastructure for Turkey with all related stakeholders including government bodies and taking an active role in the EU accession negotiations for Turkey. Buğday is an active member of IFOAM, EEB and other national and international bodies. Networking is a primary tool in Buğday's activities.
ECOCLUB.com: How successful is the development of Ecotourism & organic agriculture in Turkey today, compared to mass, packaged tourism, and conventional agriculture respectively, and what key measures would you suggest to the relevant Ministries?
Victor Ananias: Organic agriculture has a more concrete description, legal infrastructure than Ecotourism in Turkey like in many other countries. As you may guess, we have been practising organic agriculture principles at our rural land for centuries, our traditions that are built for ages by different races on this soil still exist in their full diversity. Nevertheless, certified organic agriculture in our country started with the demand from European importers in the early 80's. Even if we have been main exporters of organic sultanas, apricots, cotton, figs, hazelnut, rose oil and others the real move in the verification and growing numbers in organic production has been by the taking off of the domestic markets in the last 5 years. Ecotourism is also something suitable to our culture, hospitality is something we have strongly represented especially in the wisdom of rural traditions. In consideration to the numbers of comparison between mass production-services with the sustainable ones, we are in the very beginning of the development of a good alternative. I still think that it is much better for those sectors to grow slowly and in a healthy way in order to keep the values and philosophy alive and in the centre. Otherwise our governments and we will all just create a new niche which will also just grow uncontrollably and disturb life in the same way like the conventional practices. When you grow good seeds, you do not only get a healthy harvest but also good new seeds for the sustainability of the production. So it is very important to act, keep activities local in consideration of and supporting global values for the governments, organisations that want to make a difference.
ECOCLUB.com: In many countries, and especially in small-scale family or community-owned tourism, women bear the extra burden while in mass, packaged tourism, women mostly do the menial tasks. How would you evaluate the role and position of Turkish women in tourism today and concrete measures would you recommend to improve it?
Victor Ananias: We have applied a successful example at our TaTuTa programme by including women of the host families from the beginning in all decision-making and continue in this way. Tourism and other activities on that level can only sustain with a fair and shared participation of the woman in the family. Turkey has many different cultures in different parts of the country, at some parts women do not have direct contact to stranger men, in other cases it is no problem or even supported. So each place, region even farm should be working in consideration of the local conditions but again, never supporting discrimination and unfair role of women in the society but always supporting her strength and appreciation in whichever possible way. Unfortunately there is not much to do in the mass tourism sector in Turkey as it the case in many other places. The best solution is to enlarge the sustainable tourism practises and define-appreciate and care for women's role in those practises all the time.
ECOCLUB.com: You have just been elected the head of they main European ecoagrotourism NGO, ECEAT. What are the main obstacles preventing the further development of a genuine (i.e. not green-washed) ecoagrotourism in Europe, and how does ECEAT, under your leadership, plan to tackle them?
Victor Ananias: I see my roles in the local, national and global movement as very similar and related to each other. To build a strong movement, sector, and to sustain it you need strong civil participation, good economic systems, laws made for sustainability with correct parties involvement. Practically sustainable tourism is not so well advanced and regulated as organic production. So the organic movement is a good example for us to consider whilst working to develop the eco-sustainable tourism sector and movement. I see ECEAT as a potential pioneer organisation to support and lead good practices, legislative infrastructure building and consumer-public awareness building. It has so far been doing a lot in this context. Now is the time again to take further steps to improve the movement to cooperate, coordinate it so well so that we can start competing with mass tourism, support further the shift from unsustainable ways to sustainable ones. I am planning to study what has been done in the past very well, strengthen the communication and participation of all our members and bring in new active members, enlarge and make the best use of the pool of knowledge, wisdom and experience we all have. I see ECEAT's role not only as sharing experience and being a marketing tool for ecological and sustainable tourism but also as a good tool to be strengthened in order to do more to work on the legislative-political level. But of course none of those points will be in the agenda of ECEAT - a democratic non governmental organisation - without every member's, every board member's acceptance and support.
ECOCLUB.com: Throughout Europe, ethnic minorities, such as the Roma people, rarely benefit from Tourism development, not even as attractions... which is frequently the case (and the plight) of such minorities in developing countries. The same is true about recent immigrants from outside Europe. It seems many European countries, for all their pro-unification talk, are still not self-confident or tolerant enough, (as also shown by the rise of extreme right in the recent Euro elections) and would like to hide anything that would suggest a not so homogenous or multicultural past. Can Ecoagrotourism and ECEAT help reverse this dangerous trend, and how?
Victor Ananias: It can surely help a lot! We as the actors, decision-making partners of this issue should make sure that we do utilise and regulate, grow the idea of Ecological-Sustainable tourism as a tool for peace, against any discrimination and consider and respect each region-culture that we work with its own priorities, needs in that. In organic agriculture now we need another label to indicate that it comes from a fair system for its producers called Fair Trade Label. I wish organic labels could also have standards including that. Nevertheless we are able to define that in Tourism now so that many countries who still do not have any legislation or are developing it, can include social standards into the general legislations and guidelines. We do it in Turkey to some extent and would very much like to share this with other parties.
ECOCLUB.com: You have a vast experience in managing international funding programs for organic farming and ecoagrotourism in Turkey. How important & necessary is such funding for the sound development of these sectors? Have you observed any side effects at a local level from such funding, such as a handout mentality and corruption? What is your view of alternative, grassroots, non-monetary funding mechanisms, such as Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) in relation to organic farming, ecotourism & agrotourism?
Victor Ananias: Before a baby is born, there has to be a lot of love, care, good intentions, plans among the potential partners. Money neither helps during the pregnancy nor in the lifetime of the born person, if you do not have these. All strong - successful social movements have been developed from civil, strongly motivated, visionary peoples intentions, activities and devotion. When money and funding starts to be the dominating-motivating prior tool there starts the problem. Corruption, handouts and all other negative effects start from there. What I think is the main tool to eliminate the negative impacts of money and finances is to have a strong vision that includes and describes the well being of all possible stakeholders, parties affected. Today it looks impossible to escape from using money as an exchange tool but with creative systems we can still do a lot. For instance our TaTuTa host families in Turkey do not buy but exchange the organic products to consume and serve their guests that they do not produce themselves. A simple but effective solution. LETS are good systems in theory but need very good modification and adaptation for each case. If not, we will make something similar to the currencies dominating our world economy in the way it is happening today which is not really fairly describing the real value of the service or good. What we can do in our international sustainable tourism schemes is that with the help-coordination of common organisations like ECEAT we could try to guide-have recommendations for the prices of the different standards at different parts of the world to give chance to compete, get enough interest in a possibly more equal way. That is of course just one of the many good ideas that need to be planned, worked on and realised by satisfactory participation.
ECOCLUB.com: Organic products, apart from being produced, must be sold. At a time of global economic crisis, do you see demand as still growing or regressing, as consumers have less disposable income for what are better quality but invariably more expensive products? And do they have to be more expensive?
Victor Ananias: Organic products should have a fair price for both the consumer and the producer. And both parties have to know the logical calculation behind what they are getting paid or pay. "Making organic cheaper" is not necessarily the step further for the sustainability of all! On the other hand organic does not always have to be more expensive as it is in our 100% organic marketplaces of Buğday that have been running for the last 3 years. We have lobbied for change of legislation in the trading of fresh fruits and vegetables and succeeded; now our growers have an advantage because of being organic! They grow locally, do not have higher expenses so why should the product be more expensive? But of course this does not mean that we want to see organic products that come from all mechanised-biologically treated productions run with very low rates of labour payments. Support and organisational development of the farms will reduce the prices but this is not enough to develop the potential markets. It is also primarily important to grow the consciousness and awareness of the consumer. A consumer today should know where the price he-she pays goes to, what it supports in consideration of the future generations. We should even find better ways for the rich countries, consumer groups to be able to support the consumption as well as the production in the economically poor or developing countries.
ECOCLUB.com: The Peace-building abilities of Tourism have been much touted. However it is not easy to detect such an effect in the relations between Turkey and neighbouring countries such as Greece, Armenia, Syria. Do you agree? Is tourism powerful enough to overcome powerful vested interests in sectors benefiting from not so close relations?
Victor Ananias: In addition to some of my answers to your previous questions that partly give answers to this one I can only say that it is a challenge! It would be wise to say that Tourism can be a very powerful tool for that but maybe not really strong enough to do it all by itself. I see the big challenges like that one to be overcome by the interdisciplinary-intersectoral-intercultural cooperation and understanding of each other strongly.
ECOCLUB.com: Finally, with your multicultural background, and having lived in non-Muslim and Muslim countries, how optimistic are you about Tourism genuinely contributing to intercultural understanding? Is enough being done by international tourism bodies such as the UNWTO in this respect, or is the solution down to citizen and tourist diplomacy, particularly through small-size, low-impact and community-based/owned tourism?
Victor Ananias: You would surely have guessed my answer for that even before hearing my other answers! I do not discriminate between cultures, different organisations due to their different roles but only am very careful whether they do communicate responsibly, come together around a vision built for the whole humanity, for the next generations with appreciation of differences that make us rich on this world or not. We can change everything, come over all challenges as long as we are ready to take some risk and pay the price for it in all means.
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much.
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