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Forest villages are located a long distance from cities. The living conditions in these villages are severe. Forest villagers have low-income. Their share in the national income is very low: the equivalent to about one quarter of the national income. The main income of these villagers comes from working in the forest and a very small amount from a few agricultural activities. They don' t own large pieces of agricultural land. Forestry work, however, lasts no more than five months, mostly in winter and is done under very harsh working conditions.
OR-KOOP provides financial assistance to co-operative members whenever occupational accidents occur. At the same time, the cooperatives sell or help market non-wood forest products and agricultural products produced by cooperative members.
OR-KOOP works according to five basic principles which include carrying out activities in accordance with the basic principles of the Republic of Turkey, including aiming to develop contemporary democracy and public peace and ensuring that the forest villagers get a fair share from the national income, provided that this is not contrary to the public interests.
Also, its principles involve taking part in the necessary activities for the development and expansion of Turkish forests and for their management in accordance with the national interests, while carrying out a leadership role to enable forest villagers to improve their social rights and finally carrying out activities in forest villages including training and inspections in the development of social awareness.
Forest cooperatives create employment opportunities for cooperative members in the forest. Almost 60% of the total timber production of Turkey is carried out through cooperatives every year. Forest villagers generate revenue around $US350 million each year. This income is very important to support and maintain their living conditions in the forest.
Turkey is one of the richest countries of Europe and Middle East in terms of biological diversity. It is ranked ninth on the European continent and 95 per cent of its forests are natural. Turkey shelters 75% of the plant varieties available in European continent and one third of these are endemic plants, in fact 33% of the plant varieties in Turkey are endemic. Turkey is also rich in terms of medical and aromatic herbs and in wild life diversity with 120 varieties of mammals, over 400 varieties of birds, about 130 varieties of reptiles and up to 400 varieties of fish.
At present, the total forested area in Turkey is 20.7 million hectares, which constitutes 27 per cent of its total territory. Only about half of the forest area has normal productive cover, while the forest cover on the remaining half is degraded and unproductive. According to 2010 records held in Turkey, 7,073,766 people are living in 21,278 forest villages and forest villagers constitute approximately 10.55% of the total population and 40.42% of the total rural population of the country.
As far as the overall production is concerned, it is estimated that about 60 per cent of total wood production was carried out through the cooperatives every year.
The Central Union of Turkish Forestry Cooperatives (OR-KOOP) is, above all, a "labor cooperative" and has the largest base of forest villagers. It is also the only organized democratic body for said villagers.
OR-KOOP carries out efforts towards enabling forest villagers to get a fair share of the national income. It also partakes in the necessary works to develop and expand Turkey's forests and to make sure that the forests are being managed in line with national interests. It assumes a leadership role on the matter of social rights for forest villagers. It also exerts efforts to develop and strengthen cooperatives in forest villages through trainings, evaluations and awareness raising campaigns.
The top-down organization of rural cooperatives has taken some time within its own dynamics. OR-KOOP' s founding has legally taken place on 11.07.1997 with the founder shares of seven Regional Forestry Cooperatives Alliances.
As of August 2013, 8,219 Agricultural Development Cooperatives which are established in all villages have 889,206 members whereas the 4,000 established in forest villages have over 4,000 members.
As of the same date, 2,493 cooperatives comprised of 318,005 villager families and attached to 27 unions take place in the OR-KOOP base.
A majority of OR-KOOP's member cooperatives mostly carry out forestry activities. On the other hand, these cooperatives also carry out activities in animal husbandry and agriculture, though on a small scale. On the whole of Turkey, activities necessitated by forest management as well as afforestation and similar forestry activities are carried out by cooperatives.