Turkish tea farming was for decades a government-supported endeavor. Now, the private sector is moving in, as free-market policies instituted by Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) reshape this key industry.
In Ardeşen, a town in the eastern Black Sea province of Rize, 49-year-old Idris Okumuş hauled sacks of tea leaves into a waiting truck on a recent late summer day. With the help of his wife and daughter, he worked from morning to evening during the harvest cutting tea leaves from the bushes by hand and placing them in sacks. There are few alternatives to growing tea in Rize. "Because I live in this town and so I have to," Okumuş said when asked why he toiled in such a labor-intensive line of work.
While some growers work only during the harvest, Okumuş is also a low-level manager for Çaykur, Turkey's state-owned tea company. Every year, he sells Çaykur tea from the three main harvests, which each last about 15 days. Yet, because of Çaykur's strict limits on the amount it buys per harvest, Okumuş can sell his leftover tea to private tea companies around Rize.
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Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul. Mathias Depardon is a documentary photographer based in Istanbul.