Organic farming: Growing slowly but steadily

The endeavor to grow food without fertilizers or pesticides, which a relative handful of people in Greece began 20 years ago, has become a much more substantial business in recent years. The public has far readier access to a wide variety of products that have been certified organic after their production methods are investigated. Most such products are still imported, with only 1.6 percent of the total cultivable land in Greece devoted to organic farming. If grazing land is excluded, the area amounts to no more than 1 percent of the total. There does seem to be a steady increase, however, despite the near-total lack of encouragement from the authorities, except in times of food crises. The big event in this connection in Greece last year was the inception of organic stockraising, which is still at a very early stage. Cultivating 22,000 hectares «What’s important is that consumers can now have a diet made entirely of organic food, if they want to, except for meat,» says Spyros Sgouros, president of DIO, one of the three organizations in Greece that certifies organic food. According to these organizations, there are 8,000 producers involved in organic farming programs, and some 22,000 hectares under organic cultivation. If grazing lands where no farming is done are included, the total number of hectares comes to 79,700. The leading organic crop is olives (chiefly for olive oil but also for eating), which make up 50-60 percent of the total, followed by vines, with 12 percent, and citrus fruits, with 10 percent. A significant percentage of farmers give up organic farming each year when the subsidy period is over, mainly because they cannot find outlets to sell their products at the higher prices that organic foods bring. But other new farmers (25 percent of the total) join organic farming programs every year. Greece lags behind in the processing sector, and though it produces organic oranges, for example, orange marmalade gets imported from Britain. There has been some action in this field recently, and now a considerable amount of organic marmalade, orange juice, beer, halva and bread on sale are locally produced. Yet Greece still imports 50 percent of processed organic food, compared with just 10 percent of fresh organic fruit and vegetables. Organic stock raising only began in the second half of 2001. A basic problem in this sector is finding organic feed, which used to be non-existent, because organic farmers were not interested in growing stock feed. A large proportion of feed had to be imported, which raised the cost of the enterprise. Now consumers can buy organic eggs, feta and other local cheeses, yogurt and milk. The distribution of organically produced meat is problematic. There are some farmers raising poultry, sheep, goats, pigs and cattle on organic feed, but you probably have to know the producer if you want to buy such meat. Shops selling organic produce do not have permits to sell meat. The amounts produced are still too small to supply large supermarkets, and the little that does reach the market disappears quickly. Most organically produced meat is distributed by hand, but some farmer are endeavoring to set up a shop that will sell organically raised meat. Shops and restaurants This year two restaurants – one in Athens and the other in Thessaloniki – started serving organically grown food, but they didn’t manage to offer an entirely organic menu every day. They also found it difficult to get steady supplies of meat. Another 30 stores are due to receive certification that they sell organic produce. The first university chair In October organic farming will acquire official representation, with the inauguration of the first chair of organic farming at the Agricultural University of Athens. This will be an opportunity to investigate serious problems and to provide scientific training for people involved in this sector.

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