OPINION

Agricultural reform

The cotton subsidy dispute earlier this year exposed the special challenges facing Greece’s agricultural sector. An article published in Kathimerini’s Sunday edition explained the different aspects of the crisis and analyzed the gains that would accrue to society from a modernization of the sector. The structure of Greece’s agricultural production is woefully outdated. The parcels of land are relatively small and fragmented, a fact which discourages investment in machinery. The number of farmers is too big for the size of Greece’s population, while the actual figure must be lower than official statistics show. Many of them are moonlighting as farmers. Although they have turned to other professions, they choose to retain their farmer status to justify subsidies. It almost goes without saying that on Greece’s farms, most of the work is performed by foreign migrants. Until the mid-1990s, the generous European Union subsidies for agricultural goods compensated for the structural deficits in the national agriculture sector. Farmers’ incomes were guaranteed and that gave them a sense of prosperity. However, the money came from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with the aim of reinforcing social stability until countries managed to industrialize their agricultural production and adopt more productive farming practices. The problem is that Greece never really passed on to that stage. Farmers viewed subsidies as a source of profit and not as a means to upgrade their farms and compete against industrialized foreign sectors. Now that the EU is restructuring the CAP, Greek farmers will no longer be able to depend on money from Brussels. The EU is turning off the tap on funds and the Greek government will not be able to subsidize them either. Reform is a one-way street, only that farmers cannot tread the reform path on their own. They need state guidance to help them switch to new products, as well as incentives to merge their land properties, and know-how and support to get organized along entrepreneurial lines. The government must introduce incentives and provide information about alternative careers in order to trim the number of Greeks in the agriculture sector. There is no room for moonlighting farmers. Farming should be a primary source of employment and landholdings must be big enough to justify major labor and capital investment. Farmers must become more business-minded. It’s a tough but not impossible goal, given serious state effort and positive response from the agricultural population. Inaction, or a prevailing delusion that we can avoid change, will be disastrous.