Organic farmers call for more state support and fewer restrictions

Demand for organic products has been growing steadily in Greece, and farmers’ involvement grew by 23 percent in 2001, but despite their considerable efforts, producers of organically grown food say they have fallen behind other European Union countries with regard to their share of the market, for want of state support. At a press conference Monday, the Organization for the Inspection and Certification of Organic Products (DIO), the only agency in Greece approved by the EU to certify organic products, said the Spanish Agriculture Ministry’s budget for the country’s exhibit at the recent annual BioFach fair in Germany was 1.5 million euros, whereas the Greek ministry had provided no backing for the country’s organic farmers who exhibited their wares at this major annual international organic products fair. «Unfortunately, in the last two years Greece has fallen behind other European states that have been providing generous support to their organic farmers,» Alexandra Kyriazopoulou, director of certification for DIO, told Kathimerini English Edition. «Germany wants to have 20 percent of its cultivated land under organic farming methods within the next few years. Other countries give these farmers their wholehearted support. Spain’s agriculture minister was at the BioFach exhibition, where the country was officially represented by its Agriculture Ministry,» she said. «Italy and Spain have made great progress and have made organic farming their nations’ priority in the agricultural sector,» she said. Agathi Balbouzi, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s department for the promotion of organic products, said that EU funds were available through various programs for organic farmers, but that the latter were usually too late in submitting their applications. However, in Greece, there is a 200-hectare ceiling in each prefecture on the amount of cultivated land that can be subsidized for organic farming, in contrast to other European countries where there are no such limits. DIO is calling for the abolition of all obstacles to the growth of organic farming and for more subsidies to help bring down prices. «Prices of Greek organic products are 30 percent higher than in the rest of Europe, because producers receive no subsidies after an initial 5-year period,» said Spyros Sgouros, president of DIO. DIO would like funding for organic farmers to be extended for a period at least as long as in other EU countries, and the procedures for applying for grants made simpler. Organic products would acquire more credibility, according to DIO, if EU legislation on the certification of organic products were to be implemented. That means allowing only organizations accredited by the relevant state authorities to certify organic products. Greece’s disappointing presence at the BioFach fair highlighted another problem as well; that of the lack of funds for marketing and advertising Greece’s organic products, along with an action plan to bring all aspects of the industry into focus. «Unfortunately, while the Agriculture Ministry misses no opportunity to refer to organic farming, and while in Greece the Third Community Support Framework is supposed to be under way, our country’s appearance at this year’s (BioFach) was disheartening and, in fact, somewhat worse than that of a Third World country,» said DIO in a statement. «We would like to make it known that every reference by our country’s Agriculture Ministry to organic farming is outside the bounds of reality and simply confirms the fact that those who are responsible for planning are not keeping up with events,» it concluded.

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