A modest proposal

The problem with the farmers is not whether the cotton producers, who yesterday blocked the national highway, are right or wrong, nor whether the government can ignore EU regulations and give the farmers what they want. What looks like a dead end today will be solved, sooner or later. The real problem is that our farmers, as a group, are in decline. The number of people involved in agriculture has dropped from 20.8 percent of the active population a decade ago to 12 percent. According to Eurostat, the corresponding average in the EU after its latest enlargement is 4.18 percent. It is clear that there is still lots of room for the number of Greek farmers to decline further. In the age of globalization and free markets, merchants and consumers everywhere seek cheaper produce. This means the Greeks, who produce neither vast quantities nor have cheap labor, cannot compete in terms of price; so Greece must seek markets through the quality of its produce. Unfortunately, the national association of exporters noted this week that agricultural exports dropped by 16.2 percent in the January-September period last year. Obviously, produce is not being marketed well enough. But for it to be sold it must also be attractive. Greece has a natural advantage in its climate, which helps produce high-quality products. Also, the small lots, which are a problem for mass production, actually encourage the intensive work demanded by organically grown products. If Greek farmers could break free of the dependence on subsidies, which encourages them to grow lots of produce of indifferent quality, they would be able to win new markets and establish their country as a brand. Greece’s politicians should make clear that the era of subsidies cannot last. But it is up to the farmers as well to demand long-term policies from their representatives. It is their future that is at stake.