Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Today, soil erosion affects 90% of Turkey's land area and 750 million tons of topsoil (500 million being agricultural land) is washed away annually. In addition, 50 billion m3 of water from rainfall is lost because it cannot be stored in the nature. The result is an irreversible environmental disaster where agricultural and grazing lands are being destroyed, also posing a severe threat to Turkey's exceptionally high biodiversity (with 10,000 plant species, 3,000 of which are endemic). Experts estimate that, if the rates of erosion continue as they are, most parts of Turkey will become desert land in less than 55 years’ time.
The effects of soil erosion on the nature come hand in hand with serious implications for human societies. On one hand, humans cause and catalyze the process of erosion. In Turkey, use of agricultural techniques that are backwards and harmful to the nature, destruction of forests to open space for fields, along with industrial and urban expansion on agriculture land (which is not protected well by public policies) are all such factors that cause and accelerate soil erosion.
On the other hand, humans are also victims of erosion, being hugely affected by its negative effects on their lives. Environmental degradation reduces agricultural productivity, making land unsuitable for agriculture or farming. As agricultural productivity is reduced, rural-urban migration hastens, causing great social and economic problems both in rural and urban areas. In rural parts, the employable populations are lost, while urban areas struggle to accommodate the new arrivers with their lack of capacity and infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of migrants arrive in large urban areas of Istanbul, Ankara and other cities, and live without access to proper sanitation, water or livelihoods.
As such, soil erosion and degradation of nature threaten balance of life all across the country, forcing people to live impoverished lives both in rural and urban areas, and preparing the grounds for natural disasters such as floods and landslides.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Hayrettin Karaca was the first to identify soil erosion as a serious threat to Turkey’s environment, as well as economic and social life in the 1990s. Until then, soil erosion was an issue limited to a few experts in academia, who failed to produce practical solutions or to sensitize the government or the public. In addition to being the first to put the issue on the public agenda, Hayrettin Karaca was also the first to realize that the problem of environmental degradation could not be solved without addressing the human factor in Turkey.
Karaca was able to combine this insight on the depth of soil erosion’s causes and effects with model solutions that departed from human interventions that inevitably accelerated soil erosion. Believing soil erosion and other threats to nature can only be combated by addressing the human factor, he introduced various alternatives towards alleviating poverty in rural areas, such as good agricultural practices, eco-tourism and beekeeping. These livelihood projects were combined with advocacy and education programs, such as trainings for farmers on soil and technical issues, as well as awareness raising activities for all age groups across Turkey.
In doing so, not only did Hayrettin Karaca make environment an issue of the public, but also demonstrated that a life in harmony with the nature was possible. Over time, Karaca and his organization became a vehicle to mobilize people not only for protecting the nature, but also for many to experience volunteering and community service for the first time in their lives. Starting at kindergartens, and organizing at primary, secondary and higher education institutions, TEMA has delivered training programs and instilled values such as respect and consideration for one’s fellow humans and natural habitat in individuals of all ages. In this sense, it has become more than an organization: today, it is a strong and country wide network of individuals, ideals and values.