‘Training policy for producers far from adequate’

In all likelihood the Greek farming population will shrink. Minister for Agricultural Development and Food Evangelos Bassiakos has declared this on numerous occasions («We have too many farmers, we must reduce their number»). EU decisions and measures implemented also forecast a shrinkage and the farmers themselves are directing their children toward other professions. However, farming and livestock breeding will not disappear. Some people and some agricultural activity will survive in the new environment. A section of the farming economy is already in crisis and the situation is likely to deteriorate: namely those involved in large cultivation (wheat, cotton and corn) and traditional farming. «The training policy for farmers has been far from adequate,» pointed out the deputy dean of the Agriculture University, Leonidas Louloudis. «The money arrived from the EU but nobody warned them that the prices then would not stay the same for ever,» Louloudis said. «Between 1985 and 1987 the first restrictions were introduced, but until 2003 – when it was decided to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – no politician had prepared them for the changes. Today we are thus face to face with a very difficult situation. After so many years of ‘entrepreneurial inactivity,’ people need help in order to adjust.» Cooperatives fail It seems that aid is not forthcoming. A project to provide agricultural counseling to help farmers adjust to the new circumstances and the founding of an organization for this purpose in compliance with relevant EU legislation is in conflict with PASEGES (Panhellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Cooperatives), which has already failed in its counseling role for farmers and in reality is not trusted by the producers themselves. As Louloudis pointed out, «When they say that PASEGES will find counselors this means that this ministry will never be able to help the farmers substantially.» According to Louloudis, this should be the job of private agriculturists, especially when out of the 17,000 registered agriculturists 4,000 (or one in three) are unemployed today. Those who have achieved some success in agricultural production, who have the necessary know-how and sizable plots, mainly market gardening and livestock breeding, will remain. Out of the 817,059 cultivations (National Statistical Service data) only 189,000 are over 5 hectares. Although 16.5 percent of the active population in Greece is registered as farmers, the actual figure is less than 10 percent – 400,000 individuals who can get by if given the necessary support. According to data from DIKATSA (Inter-university Center for the Recognition of Foreign Academic Degrees), in 2002 less than 5 percent (4.7 percent) of overseas students, mainly in the former Eastern bloc countries, were studying agriculture. These were mainly children of farmers, workers, technicians and related professionals. At university and in technical colleges with links to agricultural production there are a few students who declare agriculture as their first option. For example, in 2004 out of the 172 candidates who successfully entered the departments for natural resources cultivation and agricultural engineering at the Agriculture University, 17 of them had declared the subjects as their first choice, as did 37 of the successful applicants for animal production at Florina Technical College. Therefore some students choose to study and specialize in agriculture because they see prospects here.