Give Greece A Chance

Recent media reports on Greece have been dominated by images of civil discontent and unrest.  As the country enters its fifth consecutive year of depression, the most severe since the Second World War, I rediscover another Greece.

Credit: geopavlos

The Greece of corruption and inefficiency, you hear so much of in the media is far removed from the Greece that I know. My country has historically been, and continues to be, a place of creativity, altruism, civilisation, hard work and thought. As household incomes decrease, resourcefulness is on the up and as the economic crisis hits home, the Greek people are once again looking to the country’s natural assets.

Greece’s  rural and agricultural history is unique. We have a range of micro-climates and a unique agro-biodiversity in which virtually any crop will grow. The Greek peninsula represents an important centre of crop diversity, and has been the bread-basket of European evolution since ancient times. Fava beans from Santorini for example, have been cultivated since 3500 BC, and the grains of selected wheat varieties can be found on prehistoric archaeological sites in northern Greece, dating back over 9000 years. With this in mind, the Greek people have much more heritage to protect than simply ancient ruins.

Despite the potential of our land, Greece now imports the majority of its food and on average we are the second most obese people in the EU. These abnormalities are largely attributable to the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, which has supported the growth and development of a very narrow range of large-scale monocultures, almost entirely for export purposes. The failures of the CAP have had a profound effect not only on our food culture and agricultural skills, but also on the landscape of the country. In just three decades, Greece has lost most of its local agricultural varieties and almost all of its dry land, low-input agriculture was pushed out of the market. In Crete, a large number of two-thousand-year-old olive trees were turned into firewood, within a very short period of time.

But there is change in the air, driven forward by the dynamism that is born of a people in crisis, albeit through a small, fragmented minority of interested young entrepreneurs. Younger generations are becoming more aware of the provenance of their food and have a renewed interest in the land, with great numbers of post-graduate students relocating to rural areas. Greek youth bring with them university degrees, the command of several languages and the knowledge and willing to harness the potential of digital technologies for agricultural innovation and productivity.   Their work to create a knowledge-based agricultural and rural sustainability sector is beginning to show despite the current economic stagnation. The first steps were made visible by the“potato movement” harnessing the potential of volunteer action and online marketing to expose the abnormalities of food distribution and the perverse role of middlemen in the domestic market. Social enterprises like Gine Agrotis (Become a Farmer) are using web-platforms in order to directly link young organic farmers with conscious consumers all over Greece, organizing CSA systems and green-box schemes. A large number of seed keepers and breeders from every corner of Greece are conserving and exchanging seeds from old, traditional crop varieties through a network called Peliti. And non-profits like Organisation Earth in Athens are working with educating children, aiming to develop a better environmental and social mentality. The role of Slow Food is also important in creating collaboration and promoting our activities.
A renewed focus on social values around food is not only about uniting people in an attempt to revamp the economy, Together these efforts are helping to shape a new identity for Greece, one that is founded in principles of equality, collaboration, entrepreneurship and pride in our culture and heritage.  The challenge is great and much will depend on whether we resist ongoing speculation over the country’s lands and resources, and a new new native mentality that has grown to depend on the consumption of imported commodities. From its sun-drenched coasts to its noble mountains, the small crisis-stricken country of the European south will not cease to represent land, sea and sun –all vital elements of nature and food.
My Greece is full of promise, solidarity and spirit, and it is up to the young generation to decide whether we will continue as an over-consuming nation, or if we will productively work together to create a better future.
Article originally published at: www.sustainablefoodtrust.org

The True Cost Of The Cheap Potato

Editor’s note: This article is one of three runners up for the 2012 IUCN – Thomson Reuters Environmental Media Award announced today.

Over the last decades, the EU Common Agricultural Policy achieved its goals of producing sufficient amounts of food in low prices. This came at a cost, as it helped create an unjust production/consumption model, resulting into the huge loss of biodiversity, over-production and mistreatment of animals.

These problems exceed national borders, as the jigsaw of industrial agriculture in the way it was encouraged by agrarian policy in the last 50 years is extremely complex. And I am wondering, what
future do we dream for Europe when:

Every year, 90 million tons of food are wasted in the 27 EU member-states. This equals to about 179 kg per person.

42 million Europeans live under conditions of severe deprivation, while 250 million are overweight.

In about just one century, 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost, while 30% of animal breeds are under the threat of extinction. We are losing about 6 animal breeds every month.

Only in the last years, the land used for soya production in Brazil for the European market equals to 19,500 km2 of deforested tropical rainforest. This is about 2/3 the size of Holland.

Soils contain 25% of the Earth’s biodiversity. Bad soil management costs more than a trillion Euro per year, globally.

Butterflies in European pastures are reduced by 70% since 1990. Between 1980 and 2008, farm bird populations were reduced to about the half.

At least 14 member-states and 100 million EU citizens are facing severe water shortages. Agricultural production uses 24% of Europe’s water resources, with this percentage reaching 80% in the European south.

3.3 cubic meters of water are required to produce 1 kg of eggs; 1.3 cubic meters for the production of 1 kg of wheat; and 15.5 cubic meters for the production of 1 kg of beef.

In 2011, every European consumed 85.7 kg of meat. This is double from the global average.

Large scale animal production is responsible for 85% of total agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases in Europe.

The annual cost of decontamination of water bodies from agricultural chemicals ranges between 522 and 847 billion Euro.

In the UK, health problems related to pesticides cost 206 million Euro annually.

Only 7% of European farmers are below the age of 35.

The EU will spend for its CAP 371.72 billion Euro between 2014-2020. This is more than 50 billion every year and equals to 37% of total EU budget.

Cheap food may spare us some money now. But with one or another way, the money required for
agricultural subsidies and for balancing the negative consequences of this production model must be paid at some point.