In Greece, there is enough food for all, the European Union offers hundreds of millions of euros in aid, several organizations and civil society groups provide their services and yet there is a high degree of poverty, hunger and insecurity. This simple presentation of things reveals many bitter truths. The biggest one being that with the resources available much more could be done to spare people the danger of hunger, to save more food and use funds that are wasted.
This reality, along with proposals for improvements, were laid out in a report by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), titled “The Food Bank: A way to deal with food poverty and the waste of foodstuffs in Greece,” which was made public last week. It noted that the crisis doubled the number of people in Greece in danger of “food insecurity” or “food poverty” (who cannot ensure access to sufficient quantities of safe and nourishing food). In 2009, the year before the crisis, 7.9 percent of the population faced this danger; in 2012 it was 14.2 percent, easing to 12.9 percent, or 1.4 million people, by 2015. This, however, is still way above the EU average of 7.3 percent. Furthermore, the Hellenic Statistical Service reports that some 35.6 percent of the population, or 3,789,300 people, are in danger of poverty and social exclusion, according to the latest available figures (2015).
But whereas Greece is in eighth worst place among 30 European countries with regard to food insecurity (ahead of six Central and Eastern European countries and Malta), it is in fifth place in the European Union with regard to food wastage. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization statistics estimate the “edible surplus” in 2013 was 5.1 percent of Greek food production, when the EU average in the same year was 2.3 percent and the world average 4.5 percent. Speaking at the presentation of the IOBE report, Evangelos Kalousis, president of the Association of Greek Food Industries, referred to estimates that about 250 million euros’ worth of products are lost to the system and go to landfills. “This is unacceptable when people are going hungry,” he said. Producers, industries and retailers have joined forces to reduce waste and to provide foodstuffs to those in need. This includes products approaching their expiry date and surplus production. Kalousis stressed that no expired products were distributed and that the food is always of the highest quality. “We have built cooperation on the basis of trust,” he said. “There is transparency and cooperation.”
A key player in this initiative is the Food Bank, which was established in Athens in 1995 by the late supermarket owner Gerasimos Vasilopoulos and expanded to Thessaloniki in 1998. The European federation has 326 food banks across many countries. France is a notable example of how food banks can help state services improve the distribution of aid. Perhaps the lack of such cooperation in Greece is not the only reason that EU funds go to waste; we can always blame inertia and bureaucratic weaknesses. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) is the most important EU tool for dealing with the problem. Of a total budget of 3.8 billion euros for 2014-20, Greece is due to receive 281 million euros, which, along with national funds, will reach a total of 331 million euros. And yet, in 2014-15, a mere 0.8 percent of total budgeted funds had been approved, beating only Slovakia (0.4 percent) and Cyprus (0.2 percent). The EU average was 14.5 percent, with the Netherlands at the top with 98.1 percent and France seventh with 26.7 percent.
The IOBE report proposes that civil society groups should be supported across Greece and that they be allowed a substantial role in distributing EU aid. Greece’s Food Bank has moved more than 16,300 tons of foodstuffs since 1995 and has worked successfully with more than 430 soup kitchens and institutions. It has storage facilities and know-how. It has not received a single euro in state funds. It is an ideal partner – with its track record and credibility – to assist the state agencies that distribute EU aid. These are mostly local authorities. The Food Bank also hopes to be expanded to other Greek cities and to form a federation.
Other agencies, too, could help. Panagis Vourloumis, board chairman of the Athens Food Bank, welcomed the representatives of other initiatives at the IOBE report’s presentation, including “Boroume,” “Oloi mazi boroume,” (set up by SKAI Radio and TV) and the Greek Church’s “Apostoli.”
“The need is great. It can accommodate many,” Vourloumis said.