Agricultural Development Ministry campaigns to promote Greek produce

The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food has launched a new campaign to boost the production and consumption of homegrown produce and local products in a bid to bolster the country?s agriculture sector and make consumers more aware of what their region produces and at what time of year.

Working region by region, the first presentation of top-quality goods a specific area produces took place in December, with Crete in the spotlight. Prime Minister George Papandreou initiated the proceedings by presenting the virtues of Crete?s output.

Agriculture Minister Costas Skandalidis told Kathimerini that the main objective of the campaign is ?to raise consumer awareness, to teach Greeks to buy Greek even when it is slightly more expensive.? Ministry figures show that in the past year, Greece has spent 6.5 billion euros on agricultural imports while we also have a trade deficit for agricultural products reaching 3.5 billion euros.

?We need agricultural products to replace our exports and to create an export dynamic,? Skandalidis added.

The regional showcase will include three categories of products, explained the ministry: products for export, such as wine and olive oil, products that promote each region?s individual identity, such as Cretan graviera cheese or saffron from Kozani, and products that cover the nation?s food needs.

The ministry will submit a separate proposal to each individual regional council with suggestions of what the presentation should contain. After receiving feedback from the councils, they will draw up a business plan that will be separately tailored to each region. The campaign will be paid for via a combination of funds from the Agricultural Development Program budget and low-interest loans from the National Entrepreneurship Development Fund (ETEAN).

Why, though, are Greek products experiencing such a slump in exports?

Skandalidis believes that it boils down to the fact that similar promotional programs in the past have only been partially applied and failed to get farmers more involved: ?Estimates show that we could have received up to 200 million euros more from the European Union?s promotional programs if the state had introduced groups representing all the professionals concerned, ie. representatives from all sectors involved in the different stages of a product?s course from the field to the consumer?s table.?

The next region set to be showcased by the ministry is the Peloponnese, which is renowned not just for its wine and olive oil, but also for its citrus fruit. This event is scheduled for late January.

Slump in farming incomes

As the average agricultural income in Europe in 2010 experienced a annual rise of 12.3 percent, here in Greece incomes dropped by 4.3 percent. More specifically, a rise was noted in 21 of the European Union?s 27 member states, according to figures published by Eurostat, the EU?s statistical agency.

In Denmark, the sector saw a rise of 54.8 percent, in Estonia it was 48.8 percent, in Ireland 39.1 percent and in France 31.4 percent. This boost is attributed to the combination of increased prices on agricultural products and a drop in the cost of production that resulted from the economic crisis.

Greek farmers, however, did not see any of these benefits, as agriculture and livestock farming in Greece are not linked to the markets and therefore are unable to make immediate adjustments to new market conditions. For example, it is usual in Greece for a rise in prices to benefit merchants more than producers.

The countries that experienced the greatest drop in agricultural income in 2010 were: Romania and Britain (-8.2 percent), Greece (-4.3 percent) and Italy (-3.3 percent).