No one to counsel farmers on changing cotton crop

A few days before the harvest for this year’s cotton crop begins, the last to be subsidized under the old system, Kathimerini visited Viotia, a largely cotton-producing area and the electorate of the agriculture minister, Evangelos Bassiakos. On the road from Orchomenos to Livadia the corn had already been harvested, the cotton on the crops awaited its turn, the packs of clover were being piled onto the trucks and the tomatoes for processing were rotting outside the processing plant. The farmers in the area declared they were penniless, disappointed and afraid of what the future had in store for them. They talked about the golden era now buried in the past, admitting that they were partly to blame, wondering why they should want to be engaged in agricultural production, and requested that the laws came out of the fields and not the marble of Acharnon, where the Agriculture Ministry is located. «Until 1995, everything was going very well and we expanded, we thought it would always be like this,» said Vassilis Stournaris, who grows cotton, wheat and corn. «I bought a harvesting machine to collect the cotton. In the past they gave the money up front so as to make things move quickly, now they don’t pay, they don’t have any money to pay. We had a turnover of 40 million drachmas [117,000 euros] and every year we are penniless at this time,» he said. «In 1992 the producers received 375 drachmas [1.1 euro] a kilo for cotton (commercial price and subsidy). Last year they received 85 cents [290 drachmas] although expenses for cultivating have doubled. In 1992 they got 64 drachmas [19 cents] a kilo for corn, in 2004 55 drachmas [16 cents], and in 2005 47 drachmas [14 cents],» Giorgos Karanasios, who grows clover, corn and cotton, explained. His son prefers to work in an aluminium factory and have a secure wage «rather than be constantly troubled and in debt.» As it is, the family land will be divided among the four children – regardless of their occupation – so the plots will be too small. Tomatoes rot Giorgos Tasios planted 6.5 hectares of tomatoes for processing. However the authorities set a quota of 6 tons per 0.1 hectare. «I produced 10 tons per 0.1 hectare, but the factory, for the time being, will only take the amount set by the quota. For this amount we receive the commercial price and the subsidy.» I asked whether the rest could be sold, perhaps not at the commercial price. He replied, «At present, the factory won’t take it; everyone must first deliver their quotas.» If 45 hectares are cultivated in total, over half of which are leased, then the situation is very difficult. «We’ve seen better days; that’s why we expanded. Today, whoever is in debt, forget him. I want my children to leave, since they have studied, if they find work elsewhere.» Everyone agrees that there was a golden 15-year period from the beginning of the 1980s until 1995, during which a great deal occurred: Crops that never really existed were declared as growing, phantom harvests were reaped, and there was no control. When the restrictions on the cultivations started, no one realized what was happening. Today it is possible to cultivate only a specific quantity of crops and only with special permission as the European Union wants to avoid overproduction. «Why don’t you try something else?» I suggested. «Because there’s no one to give us advice, inform us, explain. We hear about biofuels but what we know is only by word-of-mouth,» they replied. Thieves justified With the new situation and regulations «those who stole have been justified,» «but we’re not the sort to denounce each other,» they said. Henceforth the payment of the subsidy will be independent of the production – except for cotton – and will be made on the basis of rights, and property details corresponding to a specific and constantly reduced amount a year. The rights of the producer are calculated according to what was cultivated in the three-year period between 2000-2002. It seems the new system will release farming land and cultivation rights which their owners do not want to use. Is there a chance that this would enlarge the holdings? No, because there are no funds. As Vassilis Stournaris said: «Doctors and lawyers who have money might come from Livadia to buy the land. But this won’t help the farmers, and I can’t compete with them.» «They take hectares away from us but not from those who do other professions and they don’t even know the layout of the fields,» explained Zacharias Karouzos, who works in a slaughterhouse. He started out as a farmer but could not make ends meet. Now he is having a go at livestock raising, mainly goats, but does not see a promising future. «The prices of imported products are very low. If I sell at the same price I can’t get by and people just want to buy cheap,» he pointed out.