Animal feed, made in Greece

Environmental protection group Greenpeace has launched a campaign to promote the cultivation of broad beans, chickpeas, peas and lupins on Greek farms with the aim of creating an industry for the manufacture of animal feed.

The ambitious endeavor, which is expected to yield significant environmental, financial and social benefits, has already won fans among Greek farmers, as well as drawing activists to boost the drive. Already Greenpeace has managed to collect 10,000 signatures in favor of the campaign and aims to collect 10,000 more before presenting the plan to authorities and fodder manufacturers and get them behind the scheme too.

?At the moment, livestock all over Greece are being fed imported soy,? Sofia Tsigaridou, the head of Greenpeace?s consumer action network, told Kathimerini. She stresses that feeding animals imported soy means that the products such as milk, yogurt, meat and eggs that come from them cannot be strictly considered as being local and organic, especially given that around 90 percent of the fodder used is genetically modified and most of that comes from the United States.

The group estimates that of the 22 million tons of foods of animal origin consumed annually in all European Union member states, just 6 million tons are produced inside the bloc.

By replacing some of the imported soy with homegrown feed, Greece can restrict its import expenses, a problem that is compounded by the fact that the price of soy, which is mostly grown for the wholesale market by multinational agritechnology giants, has been consistently on the rise over the past few years.

And there?s more good news. Legumes used for fodder are a great replacement for soy in terms of nutritional qualities, caloric content and amino acid levels.

?It has been scientifically proven that the Mediterranean climate is conducive to the cultivation of legumes, as they do not require large amounts of water,? said Tsigaridou. Moreover, according to a report from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, legumes can thrive in all types of soil, meaning that they can be cultivated on Greece?s islands as well.

Legumes have the additional advantage of being perfect as rotation crops because they absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and need little fertilization, leaving the earth in which they are planted rich with nutrients.

?Even if the cultivation of legumes is not done using organic methods, they are [for the above reasons] a very sustainable crop that can contribute to the sustainability of Greek agriculture,? said Tsigaridou.

Other than the multiple environmental benefits, Greenpeace also stresses the positive social impact its campaign can have if it is broadly applied. ?Villages that have been abandoned will have a chance at revival, while new farmers will have something new to try their hand at,? said Tsigaridou.

The Greenpeace activist notes that there are thousands of farmers in Greece right now who are looking for new crops to replace old staples such as cereals, which no longer bring in the yields they once did.

?Once we have collected the desired number of signatures, we will be able to start convincing animal feed manufacturers to buy domestically produced raw materials, and in this way ensure both demand and supply,? said Tsigaridou.

One company has already made a commitment to this end, while Greenpeace estimates that others will follow suit.

Spyros Gikas, a farmer in Dervenohoria, west of Mount Parnitha in the prefecture of Viotia, had been cultivating cereals for 25 years on his 150-hectare farm, but saw his revenue dropping constantly.

?In 2009, I began cultivating broad beans,? Gikas told Kathimerini. ?The process is really simple because broad beans don?t need watering or fertilizing.?

The yields from his new crop were impressive.

?I reaped 500 kilos per hectare even though I harvested my first crop 10 days earlier because I was so eager to see the results,? Gikas said. ?The sale price is twice what I would get for cereal grains and the cultivation cost is negligible. I believe that half of the country?s farmers will begin replacing their crops with legumes for fodder.?

Gikas?s 32-year-old nephew Alexandros also believes that at least 70 percent of the fields in the region will be given over to growing produce for animal feed.

?Given the quality of the soil and the climate here, growing legumes is a no-brainer,? Alexandros, who has followed in his uncle?s footsteps, said. ?Last year, and despite the fact that the cold winter stunted my crop?s growth somewhat, I had a very satisfactory yield and sold it at 0.40 euros a kilo.?

According to past research conducted by the National Agricultural Research Foundation, the cost of producing organic chickpeas is 284 euros per acre.

?Around 27 percent of the expenditure goes toward renting the land plot and just 13 percent goes toward labor costs, as the cultivation is completely mechanical.?

As with broad beans, the cost of growing chickpeas is very low as they do not need watering and grow well in arid climates. The only drawback of a chickpea crop, the foundation?s report said, is that farmers need to find and buy special varieties that are hearty and resistant to pests and diseases.