In 2014, UTZ started its hazelnut program as a response to UTZ cocoa members who wanted to source sustainably produced hazelnuts. Now, the UTZ hazelnut program is in the midst of its fifth harvest, and still growing in size to over 6,500 farmers enrolled, 18 certificate holders and 94 market members. To create change in the hazelnut sector, we have to first understand the challenges. We sat down with Leonie Haakshorst, manager of the UTZ hazelnut program, to talk about the current issues facing hazelnut production in Turkey.

(updated on August 10, 2018)

While Turkey is the largest hazelnut producer worldwide, it also has low average yields and suffers from a number of sustainability concerns related to improving productivity and social issues. Given the importance of the country in the production of hazelnuts, it is here that the UTZ hazelnut program has its roots.

So, what are the main challenges in the hazelnut sector?

“There are four main challenges that we focus on. One is improving the productivity and quality of the hazelnut crop. The other three are social issues associated with the workers who harvest the hazelnuts: informal hiring practices, living conditions, and the risk of child labor. “

Why is it challenging to improve hazelnut productivity?

“Productivity is low. Hazelnut farmers often don’t depend on hazelnuts alone for their income or do not live near their orchard. These farmers are less willing to invest time and resources into developing their hazelnut orchards. For example, many farmers do not work in the orchards year-round, which means pruning is done at sub-optimum times or not done at all. Other farms may require replacing old trees. These are all agricultural practices that, if implemented, could improve productivity.”

Who makes up the workforce on these farms?

“During the short harvest season, in August, a lot of farms rely on internal migrant workers who travel from the south-east of Turkey to complete the harvest. Foreign migrant workers, particularly from Georgia, also make up a small part of the workforce. Migrant workers are vulnerable to poor working and living conditions and some of these workers also have families they bring with them to the region. This is causing risks related to child labor.”

What are the living conditions like for workers?

“Due to the short harvest period of approximately six days per farm, it is relatively costly to invest in housing for workers. This means that in many cases migrant workers live in sub-standard conditions with poor water and sanitation and no adequate child care facilities. In some areas, local authorities with support from the International Labor Organization have set up accommodation camps with facilities like electricity, water and toilets, but not all workers have access to these and might stay in tents outside the camps or in rundown buildings.”

What about the workers’ children? What is the situation like for them?

“Some workers travel without children, but many bring them along. The hazelnut harvest generally happens during the school holidays, so the children are not missing any school. But traditionally, the children would join their parents in the orchards – either to earn extra income for their family, or simply because there is no other child care available. This is against the law in Turkey as legislation states that no children under 16 should work in the orchards and hazardous work is banned until 18. Despite this law, a Fair Labor Association assessment found that in the Ordu and Giresun areas 41% of workers are under 18 and around half are under 15. In addition, often the living conditions are not a safe environment for children.”

What role do labor brokers play in all this?

“As the migrant workers have to travel to the farms, they often use a labor broker to find work. These brokers can play an important role, helping farmers to find a reliable workforce and helping workers find work. However, there can also be big problems with informal hiring and payment. This leaves workers in a vulnerable position, where big commissions can be taken from their wages.”

Read on to find out how we work on tackling these social issues in the hazelnut sector together with our members and partners.