Most Greek land becoming arid

An overwhelming 84 percent of Greece’s land is at risk of desertification and another 8 percent is already arid but is being cultivated by farmers reluctant to lose their subsidies, according to scholars at a conference in Thessaloniki yesterday. The threat of desertification is significant for over a third (35 percent) of Greek land and somewhat less so for another section accounting for half (49 percent) of the country, according to Constantinos Kosmas of Athens’s Agriculture University. The hardest-hit areas are believed to cover a large section of mainland Greece, most of the Peloponnese, mountainous parts of the Ionian islands, the islands of the Aegean, Evia, eastern and central Crete as well as parts of Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace. Kosmas stressed that the zones currently subject to only a moderate threat would face an immediate risk of desertification in the event of excessive agricultural exploitation or intense climate change. «Soil erosion constitutes the greatest danger for hilly land as it brings about a drastic reduction in the depth, fertility and productivity of earth and foliage,» Kosmas said, stressing that agricultural machinery was also a prime culprit. Hilly sections of the Thessaly plain are currently at high risk of desertification because agricultural machines have displaced a layer of about 40 centimeters of earth, he said. Kosmas also highlighted salination – chiefly caused by irrigation using poor-quality water – as a contributing factor to desertification. He stressed that a significant proportion of Greek land had been exploited to such an extreme that it is no longer fertile. «Around 8 percent of agricultural land in our country should no longer be cultivated as it is virtually desertland but it is being tilled by farmers who want to justify their subsidies, which should be granted on the basis of ground productivity, not surface area,» he said. According to the United Nations, which has declared 2006 International Year of Deserts and Desertification in order to raise public awareness about the problem, the definition of desertification is «the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas… caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations.»

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