NEWS

Redistribution of 100,000 farm hectares by 2009

A major instrument of farming policy and something that many farmers have been waiting for, land redistribution, has been proceeding at snail’s pace, either due to a lack of funds or other obstacles. Between 1996 and 2003, about 7,000 hectares of land were redistributed every year. According to the Ministry for Agricultural Development and Food, there are another 800,000 hectares to go. So if the process continues at the same rate, it will take about 110 years to complete. Considering the fact land has to be redistributed every 20 years or so in a particular area, as property is divided up among heirs, it is clear that this is of no value to the country’s farming economy. The average farm size in Greece is 4-4.5 hectares, and is usually split into an average of five to six parts, more on the islands. This kind of farm structure does not allow for much improvement in land profitability or in reducing costs, not to mention the competitiveness of Greece’s farming economy. If someone has three or four plots of farmland, each at some distance from the other, it is clear that cultivation costs cannot be curtailed, nor can modern farming methods be used or projects undertaken to increase productivity and produce quality products. Redistributing the land in order to create larger plots also makes it easier for land to be leased and properties become large enough to be included in European Union programs. According to the ministry, the land distribution program would increase net income by 20 percent and as much as 50 percent if accompanied by irrigation works, and would also help keep people on the land. Strangely enough, although farmers want the redistribution, and many applications have been made to the prefectures, the process is not moving ahead. In the prefecture of Magnesia, for example, four farms measuring 3,500, 3,000, 1,000 and 800 hectares respectively (farm sizes for which redistribution is legally permissible), are being redistributed. However, in one area, Almyros, the process has been blocked for 20 years. Census of farms Precisely because of the effect that possession of adjoining property has on the competitiveness of Greece’s farming economy, land policy is a priority for the ministry’s leadership. According to sources, land redistribution and forestry policy are to be discussed at Cabinet level. Ministry services are already collecting data so that the minister can propose specific measures to speed up redistribution procedures. Usually, the success of a redistribution procedure involves the inclusion of some municipal land. Unfortunately, the ministry has no farmland register. The procedure is expected to be completed within the next six months. According to prefectural staff, in many areas land has been expropriated illegally, which should lead to major fines according to Law 3147 passed in 2003. The problem is that the law, as in so many other cases, is not enforced. According to announcements at the end of May, the minister, Savvas Tsitouridis, said the land redistribution program was to be speeded up so that over the next four years (2005-2009) it will have covered about 100,000 hectares. To achieve this, a considerable increase in funds will be needed, to come from the state budget, regional development programs and the ministry’s special account. The ministry’s central services concerned are soon to be reorganized, with new departments in the regions, which will coordinate the land distribution in their own administrative areas, supervise the redistribution plans and participate in committees provided for by the law to carry out the process. These services will be staffed by agronomists, topographers, engineers and administrative staff. Other legislative amendments will simplify the bureaucracy involved. The AGROGI firm set up by the previous government to promote land policy and increase farm size has not achieved anything. According to sources, a new board is to be appointed shortly in order to judge whether it serves any purpose. Forestry management The ministry’s next target is forestry policy, although according to some ministry sources there is no intention to exploit land which will no longer have protected status under the new law on forests. For the time being, the ministry is adopting a wait-and-see policy pending a Council of State ruling on whether the new law is constitutional. Already in many cases forestry authorities are implementing the new legislation; in others they are waiting for the relevant circulars. A ministry committee is working on the implementation of the law; the ministry leadership also believes that the mapping of forests can be speeded up so as to be completed within two years.