NEWS

Study finds quality lacking and calls for end to red tape

The report records the ongoing problems in the Greek farming sector, more than 20 years after the country joined what is now the European Union, and the Common Agricultural Policy was implemented. Perhaps the only new factor today is increased production, which is still behind that of other European countries. In the study’s introduction, it is pointed out that Greek farming and the Greek countryside in general are experiencing a crisis of adaptation to the new international and European economic and social environment. In effect, Greek farming is divided into that practiced in mountainous and disadvantaged regions, including the islands, on the one hand, and on the plains on the other. Both suffer from problems. In highland areas, incomes are insufficient and infrastructure such as communications and access to urban centers is poor. Farms on the plains are also experiencing a serious crisis as a result of distorted development in previous decades. They have become specialized and frequently grow a single crop, such as cotton. Land is intensively farmed and oriented solely toward quantity with the use of modern technology. At the same time, collective support networks (cooperatives) have broken down and farmers have incurred massive debts, their incomes coming almost solely from subsidies. Although 16 percent of the population is employed in the farming sector (the highest percentage among the 15 EU member states), its contribution to the nation’s GDP is steadily declining. Greek farmers’ incomes are still half that of the EU average and many farmers live below the poverty line. Much more land is still devoted to cultivation than to livestock breeding. Given that in recent decades the consumption of animal products has been increasing steadily, low livestock production is responsible for the agricultural trade balance swinging from a surplus to a deficit. There is very little investment in primary production, so production costs are still high. Although the farming population is in decline, Greek farms are still very small. Over 90 percent of farms are less than 10 hectares, compared to the EU average of 18 hectares. Farmers are usually older and of a low educational level, and therefore are not able to best exploit the possibilities offered by new technologies to improve their farms and reduce costs. Efforts to train farmers have not been particularly successful. The greatest problem in this sector is the clumsy state machinery that is incapable of solving problems. For example, the study says that the «State does not restrict itself to executive tasks» but its representatives try to «reap the benefits of private economic activity and not always in legitimate ways.» «The State’s treatment of farmers’ collective bodies creates dependent relations that come into conflict with the competitiveness of their economic activities and healthy incomes,» it said. As there is no firm opinion about the way to implement farming policy, changes in political leadership lead to institutional changes. «Public bodies are set up without much forethought and abandoned when the personnel changes. In fact, instead of trying to solve problems as they arise, new institutions are sought, and often established without any concern for the viability or effectiveness of their work,» the study said. Although the study was carried out so that Greece could set up its own National Farming Development Strategy, it makes general points and does not suggest specific solutions. Issues such as the intermediate review of the CAP and its effect on Greece’s farming sector are not analyzed. According to Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys, specific proposals will be worked out in cooperation with the groups concerned during the dialogue that is to follow. The authors of the study note that if farming policy is to succeed, there must be a consensus between all political parties, which should make a commitment to distance themselves from cooperatives. Moreover, they say the State should restrict itself to an executive role and the interested parties should themselves undertake to promote their own interests. Bureaucracy has to be limited to a minimum and the institutional framework simplified in order to speed up procedures. Experts should provide services to guide farming toward the production of quality products and to advise producers on the viability of their farms. Given the apparent trend toward two different markets for farm products, corresponding to consumer demands by the different income groups – with organic products and products of designated origin (PDO) on the one hand and cheaper mass-produced products on the other – Greece would do well to turn to the production of quality products. There has to be a revival of multiple crop methods where possible, the introduction of new crops, a reduction in costs and improved farm organization. Crop cultivation should be linked to the needs of livestock breeding (production of fodder), but generally production needs to be organized rationally, according to the needs of various regions. The study was coordinated by Athens University Professor Napoleon Maraveyias and compiled by professors Constantine Apostolopoulos of the Harokopeio University, Constantine Mattas of Thessaloniki University, Nikolaos Baltas of the Athens University of Economics and Business, Antonios Moisidis of the Panteion University, Constantine Papageorgiou of the Athens Agricultural University and Dimitrios Psaltopoulos of Patras University.