Greek farming opportunities waiting to be tapped

The disturbing images recently seen in the news of pensioners scurrying to collect vegetables symbolically thrown away by protesting farmers reveal the impasse that Greece’s economic and production system seems to have reached: Fresh produce prices are too low to support farmers while pensions are also too low to enable their recipients to purchase them. The incident could have merely been a relatively small adaptation problem had the circumstances been different. Because now food shortages and high farm product prices are being seen worldwide. Large populations in many developing countries are trying to survive on very low incomes. And, of course, the poor spend a larger proportion of their incomes on food than higher income groups. The outlook is not good, as large cereal-producing countries are beginning to impose barriers on exports. As a result, importing countries are forced to pay higher prices, which ultimately destabilizes the international trading system. Additionally, the cost of farm production has increased dramatically, largely due to oil prices, leading many farmers to cut back on production, as they are unable to foot the larger bills. To be sure, for a country like Greece, the prospects could have been favorable. According to 2005 data, about 12 percent of the country’s manpower is engaged in agriculture, while a third of the population lives in rural or semi-rural areas. Therefore, there is no shortage of manpower. Greece produces a wide array of high-quality farm products and has managed to capture and maintain significant market shares abroad for particular products, such as feta cheese, along with others that are not traditionally Greek, such as asparagus and mushrooms. And, of course, the field for organic production is wide open. But for lack of realistic planning as well as corruption in EU farm subsidies, agricultural production has stopped adding value to production. Just 3.2 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product is accounted for by agriculture (2007 data), while services, which employ 68 percent of the population, account for 76.3 percent of GDP. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis recently told Parliament that opportunities are there, waiting to be tapped. «They show the need for the development of a flexible agricultural policy,» he said. Which remains to be seen in practice.