They are ubiquitous, especially in late summer: hazelnuts.

They lie spread out to dry on sidewalks, on the edges of roads, in parks, in car parking lots, even the space in front of a dusty hotel construction site is littered with tons of small brown fruits.

No space is wasted, regardless of whether it is drying on blue plastic tarpaulin or in the fine dust of the street.

Andreas Mihm

Business correspondent for Austria, East-Central and Southeastern Europe and Turkey based in Vienna.

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What ends up as a spread on breakfast tables or power bars in school bags and handbags around the world often begins here on the “hazelnut coast” of the Turkish Black Sea region between Samsun and Trabzon. And that under conditions that very few consumers have any idea of. Keywords that NGOs fill with content are: poor working conditions, low pay, environmental hazards, child labor.

At the beginning of September it is mostly old men and women who push findik, the Turkish word for hazelnut, on the side of the road with shovels, rakes or brooms.

Others are already busy packing.

Sacks of nuts are stacked on the waterfront.

Time is running out.

The weather forecast promises rain showers over Giresun, the center of nut cultivation.

And wet nuts are the last thing the nut mills need now.

The humid climate is the elixir of life in the Turkish Black Sea region.

The clouds rain down in front of the Pontic mountain range, ensuring continuous irrigation of the area.

If, according to official data, around one in five people in Turkey works in agriculture, then the cultivation of tobacco and fruits is of particular importance here - for the whole country.

70 percent of all hazelnuts come from Turkey 

According to the government, it is the world's leading producer of cherries, figs, apricots, quinces, poppy seeds and hazelnuts.

The World Food Organization estimates that 70 percent of all hazelnuts come from Turkey.

The previous season, from September 2019 to August 2020, was the best so far - the current season has not yet been settled.

The regional association of nut exporters estimates exports alone at 343,000 tons in 2020, resulting in a harvest of almost 500,000 tons.

The largest buyers were Italy, Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands and China.

The export value was almost 2 billion euros.

Such large numbers are generated by many small hands, too often precarious working conditions. This is due to the structure of the market: Hundreds of thousands of smallholders - their number is growing through the division of inheritance - grow the fruits and pass them on to intermediaries who sell them to the end customers. Millions of people live from the brown fruit, which finds the best living conditions here. The umbrella organization of agricultural sales cooperatives, Fiskobirlik, which was founded in 1938, says it has 146,000 smallholders under contract.

Fiskobirlik pays its farmers 26 or 27 lira for a kilo of nuts, depending on the quality, says export manager Yalcin Apaydin. That is the equivalent of about 2.60 euros. The cooperative is not the only customer, other figures can also be heard. The right-wing MHP politician Cemal Enginyurt recently complained that farmers only received 19 lira per kilo - and was warned by his party. After all, it sounded like criticism of its own government, in which the MPH supports the AKP of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.