Young farmers face tough EU demands

Young farmers have to be highly educated, hardworking professionals, producers and even in some ways economists if they are to meet the demands made of them and earn a satisfactory income. They also have to develop collaboration and healthy cooperatives. The tendency for subsidies to decrease to the level of income support, EU enlargement, restrictions imposed by farming and environmental regulations, and the ever increasing demand for high-quality produce all require radical changes from Greek farmers. Foreign farmworkers require supervision and guidance by the farmer and, depending on location and crops, farmers may have to seek other work seasonally, or combine farming with tourist enterprises. Subsidies are being phased out, even for products such as cotton, tobacco and olive oil that have traditionally been subsidized. Those subsidies that are to continue for some years will only be paid subject to compliance with environmental regulations. The upcoming review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and EU enlargement to include largely agricultural countries will bring about major changes. A number of decisions and regulations which are to be fully implemented in the next few years will impose strict limitations on farm methods and locations. The abundant biodiversity of Greece has resulted in the inclusion of 15 percent of the country’s total area in the Nature 2000 network, a habitat protection program which dictates certain types of land management and forbids intensive pollution-causing farming methods. The measures against nitrate pollution, which have already been applied in some areas, will also entail restrictions. The Correct Farm Practice Codes and a planned new directive on water resources will mean that farmers will have to pay for natural resources they do not use correctly. In the next decade, Greek farmers will have to produce high-quality goods linked with market requirements. And, depending on the area and what they grow, they may also have to be hoteliers or manufacturers in order to secure a satisfactory income. Some new farmers will be, and indeed some already are, former residents of overcrowded cities, who see primary production as an opportunity for a better life. As Professor Maraveyias, who teaches agricultural economy and development at the Agricultural University of Athens, says: More and more people are coming to my office and telling me they want to get into farming… I think that the profession of farming is gradually being accorded the value it deserves. Policy of perpetuating problems New programs won’t bring changes overnight. Past policies and the notion that food production was no different from industrial production led to a decline in the farming trade. The policy line in Greece has always been to maximize production and that technology solves all problems. Subsidies were used, not as a means of implementing a specific agricultural policy, but as a means of securing a large number of votes. Agricultural development offices and the agriculturalists employed in them became subsidy management enterprises. The land was cultivated and any problems that cropped up were solved via the prescriptions of private agriculturalists who owned agro-chemical stores. Food is produced by fewer and fewer farmers, and they will become even fewer as agriculture becomes more mechanized, according to Maraveyias. This heavy decrease will create further problems and lead to the complete depopulation of the countryside, he says. Moreover, Greece does not have jobs that require many workers and can absorb those who leave farming, so there will be an unemployment problem. Hence an effort is being made to retain the agricultural population and develop the countryside. Nothing will change, says Alexandros Sarris, Professor of Economic Science at Athens University, unless there is a drastic reallocation of government support for agriculture. Every agriculture minister spends a huge amount of political capital in getting cotton subsidies, which doesn’t leave much margin. Sarris’s research shows that approximately 50 percent of producers’ incomes derives from subsidies, which has a negative effect on farm businesses. Early retirement The early retirement project for farmers was aimed at bringing younger people into farming, according to the Union of Young Farmers, but farmers were reluctant to hand over their land definitively to the next generation. Some handed it over temporarily and asked for it back later on. Only by going to the kafeneion and discussing each case separately will we get any results, says a union representative. An even more serious obstacle is the lack of training for Greek farmers. Seminars are held, which few attend, and even fewer understand.

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