Cheap labor alters farming

The expression «thank God for the Albanians» in rural areas is not new and reflects a reality that has been well established for about 10 years now. Estimates put the percentage of immigrants at about 15 percent of the labor population, a large part of it employed in farm work. According to a recently released study by the universities of Patras and Ioannina on «The Impact of Settlement and Employment of Foreign Labor in Greek Rural Areas,» supervised by Prof. Haralambos Kassimis, 66.1 percent of farming households surveyed employ at least one worker. The study, financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, dealt with three districts of equal population size, representative of three «models» prevalent: Velo in Corinth, a dynamic agricultural district; Kissamos and Innahorio, Hania, an area which combines farming with other activities, and Konitsa, Ioannina, a rather disadvantaged mountainous district. The study found that immigrants represent 90 percent of farm workers in these districts and are mostly of Albanian extraction. The influx of foreign workers between 1991 and 2000 caused significant changes in the division of labor among the members of farming households: the number of hired hands’ workdays rose 85 percent; the heads of the households essentially gave up the most demanding physical tasks, spending more time on supervision and marketing. The immigrants also helped stem the population decline of rural areas by keeping farming units going and replacing a significant number of young people who had moved away. Immigrants appear to have integrated well into local communities in many cases, despite the initial reactions of some fear and insecurity among 60 percent of respondents, the study says. The same percentage answered that «immigrants are not too many,» while between 53 and 74 percent stated they are not at all averse to «working with them,» having them «live in their neighborhood,» «having fun with them,» or «being friends with them.» Most agree with procedures to legalize their presence in the country. But the study goes further to pose certain crucial questions for the sector: Did cheap immigrant labor conceal the real problems in Greek farming, helping problematic concerns survive and hastening the flight of young Greeks to the cities? How far can immigrants help in improving the production quality and farms’ efficiency? Athens University Professor and Chairman of the National Foundation for Farm Research Napoleon Maravegias notes that the disposable income of members of family farms fell 20 percent and asks whether «the entry of cheap labor into agriculture impeded the modernization of crops that would have led to an improvement in the cost-structure.»