Human Interest

Afghan shepherds fill gap in Turkey livestock farming

Istanbul, May 31 (EFE).- Zebiullah was 14 years old when he paid smugglers $1,500 to sneak him through Pakistan and Iran to reach Turkey where today, five years later, he works as a shepherd in a farm 60 kilometres away from Ankara.

The young man is one of the many Afghans who decided to leave their country to work all across Turkey in agriculture, factories or what has been the new trend in recent years, livestock farming.

“Wages include food and drink. We have 600 sheep, one shepherd but we need two more. No milking needed, just grazing and taking care of sick animals,” reads one of the hundreds of Facebook ads targeting shepherds from Afghanistan.

With minimum wage salaries, no health insurance and no family to take care of, young Afghan males have become the perfect profile for Turkish farmers to hire.

“They are very good, clean, hardworking, they do what we ask them to do without asking any questions. And they pray and fast like us,” Zebiullah’s boss, Bülent, told Efe.

According to the director of the Turkish Herders’ Union TÜDKIYEB, Turkey is in need of 150,000 herders.

But farmers prefer hiring Afghan shepherds who they can pay less than minimum wage to, rather than Turkish citizens, who not only are much more expensive, but also uninterested in working in livestock farming.

“You make no money from animal husbandry. One lamb generates expenses with food, medication, shelter, shepherds, and then we sell it for 1,000 liras (96 euros), which leaves us with nothing,” Hüseyin, a livestock farmer in Ankara who employs seven Afghan shepherds, told Efe.

Despite Turkey’s 4.5 million unemployed citizens and roughly 25% youth unemployment, the employment of Afghan herders continues to increase.

The lack of interest of Turkish men to become shepherds is also due to the unattractiveness of starting a family in a rural area.

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