Expo of natural methods at the Ecofestival

The success of last year’s Fourth Panhellenic Exhibition of Organic Products prompted its organizers to boost the exhibits this year into a full-blown Ecofestival, which opens today in the grounds of the Zappeion Hall in central Athens. A latecomer to the Greek mass market, organic farming had been around for some time on scattered plots and farms, but demand has been growing rapidly in recent years and has overtaken supply, according to officials at DIO, one of the organizations in Greece approved by the State to certify a product as organically produced. DIO representatives will be on hand to answer questions from the public about the certification procedure. In addition to the better-known organic products such as wine, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, this year’s festival exhibits products as varied as clothing (made from natural fibers grown organically), fertilizers, compost from seaweed as well as garden shredders for making your own compost out of weeds and pruned branches. Livestock breeders have also been catching on to the benefits of organic methods. CretaFarm, one of the exhibitors at the Ecofestival, has just introduced organically produced pork in cooperation with Vavourakis farm. For some time, CretaFarm has been producing pre-organic pork (from animals not given antibiotics or hormones and only fed with vegetable matter), the main difference being that truly organic pork comes from pigs which are not enclosed, which reproduce naturally and which are fed organically produced vegetable matter, as on the Vavourakis farm. CretaFarm provides the veterinary services and examinations and slaughters and packages the meat, which is certified by DIO. State policy needed DIO officials said at a press conference this week that the State has been showing more of an interest in organic farming recently, but this interest has yet to be translated into practice. «The Agriculture Ministry has not really embraced the idea of organic farming,» Panayiotis Andreou, representing the association of organic farmers who sell their produce at street markets. «Some local authorities have helped organic farmers, but it is not within the framework of a general policy.» This is in stark contrast to the situation in the UK, where, according to a recent report in the Guardian newspaper, the government is planning to encourage organic farming with increased payments to organic farmers, a 5-million-pound, five-year research fund, and an attempt to expand the UK market for organic food by encouraging public sector consumers like schools and hospitals to buy British organic food. Supermarkets will also be brought in to make organic farming more secure and profitable for UK producers. The newspaper said that in December 2001, there were almost 4,000 organic producers in the UK, working 3.9 percent of all available farmland. There, the demand for organic products has increased by between 30 and 50 percent every year in recent years. Around 1 percent of Greece’s agricultural produce is farmed organically, roughly the same as in Ireland. Liechtenstein leads the world with around 18 percent. Organic farming began in Greece in the 1980s and now covers about 24,800 hectares. Legislation has been in place since 1993 to bring organic farming practices into line with European Union directives, which set out the specifications to be adhered to by farms, the type of organic fertilizers permitted for use, as well as the methods of protecting and processing, standardizing, preserving and selling organic products. Olive groves account for 55 percent of the land under organic cultivation in Greece (down from 61 percent the previous year due to an increase in other forms of organic cultivation), with crops such as grain second at 19 percent. Vineyards comprise 11 percent, orchards 6 percent and citrus groves 7 percent. According to DIO, 16 percent of the land being farmed organically is in Laconia, 9.34 percent in Achaia and 8.43 percent on the island of Lesvos. DIO agronomist Panayiotis Papadopoulos said that at the University of Agriculture in Athens, studies in agronomy have only now included organic farming on the curriculum. «How can there be a state policy when there are no recognized studies on the subject? Though in recent years there has been a change in attitude,» he said, adding that consumer purchases or organic products in general have doubled in the last couple of years. Andreou said that turnover at the street markets had increased recently, although not in a «spectacular» fashion. «People are generally unsure about how ‘organic’ the products actually are. We are partly responsible in that we have not taken steps to convince the public of the value of our goods. The State is also to blame for not providing guarantees,» he added. Organic approval At present, organic products are certified by one of three organizations (apart from DIO, there is SOGE and also Physiologiki, in northern Greece) and producers are issued licenses by the Agriculture Ministry’s Organization for the Certification and Inspection of Agricultural Produce (OPEGEP). DIO received approval from the Agriculture Ministry in 1993 as an official agency qualified to inspect and certify organically farmed products and is recognized by the European Union. Primary producers apply to DIO and sign a private contract that states the rights and obligations of both producers and the organization. Experts visit the farms (or factories) at regular intervals, both scheduled and unannounced visits, to make chemical analyses. In contrast to inspections made of non-organic produce, these analyses are made before the goods go on the market and at all stages of the production process, not only during harvesting. Products approved by the independent council bear an official stamp, meaning that it has been produced over the past two years using only organic methods. Products organically farmed for one to two years are considered to be in transition and are marked accordingly.