Albanian olive farm success

The biggest olive producer in Halkidiki is 37-year-old Ilias Bracho from Korce, Albania, who came to Greece in 1991 with a few olives in his haversack. He now cultivates 7,000 olive trees in Ormylia. He hopes to overcome the obstacles raised by Greece’s bureaucracy to set up a packaging plant and export Halkidiki’s mammoth table olives to Europe. During harvest time he employs 40 people, and has four permanent employees, all Albanians, whom he pays «a good wage.» Ormylia, he says, is home now, and its natives have welcomed him. «Of course nothing was handed to me on a plate,» he said. «It’s been work and more work from 6 a.m. every day.» His first stop, as for hundreds of other Albanian illegal immigrants, was Eleftheroupoli, Kavala. «I was there for two-and-a-half months. It didn’t pay much, but it was steady.» Someone told him about the olive-picking business. Ormylia and the olive groves of Sithonia with their large green table olives became his Promised Land. Harvesting, selecting, pruning, spraying, fertilizing, watering – Ilias learned the entire work cycle. In just a few years, he had put down his own roots in Ormylia, earning the trust of the locals. At first he won contracts for pruning and then gradually came to manage the entire cycle. In 1997, when he married and later had two children, he decided it was time to be his own boss. «I rented the first few olive trees then later bought a tractor, spraying equipment, everything necessary. Not only did I get a good crop, but others became willing to lease me their land.» Most of the locals don’t expect more than a supplement to their incomes from olives, and so Ilias was welcome. The owners receive a third of the harvest and the rest belongs to their tenant, who harvests anything from 160-180 tons of olives every season. As he hadn’t been able to build a house in Greece, he built one back in his home country, but a recent change in the law allowed him to buy a home in Ormylia. He doesn’t even think about going back to Albania. «Recently I was in Korce with my children. On the third day the kids said they had had enough and wanted to go home.»