The Oranges Are Falling: the plight of the Greek farmer
One of the reasons we chose Nafplio for our home base is because it is the home of the oranges! Theoretically we hoped that this meant it would stay mild year round and would be a good location for the winter months. We arrived in the middle of the season of the oranges, and our Airbnb was located in the middle of an orange grove. The trees were completely loaded with oranges, their branches sagging under the weight, and as a bonus, our Airbnb host left a delicious bowl of fresh sweet oranges for us. It was heaven, and for the first few days we enjoyed it with blissful ignorance.
As the days went by we noticed more and more oranges on the ground and started to wonder when the farmers were going to harvest their crop. We asked a local, and we were told that the farmers were trying to negotiate prices.
I grew up on a Dairy farm in Ontario, Canada, and so the topic of agriculture is close to my heart. It seems that, all over the world, it is getting harder and harder for small family run farms to operate. To try and understand the situation with Greek farms, I took a deeper look into the history that has shaped current Greek farming trends.
In 1981 there were a series of subsidies given to cotton farmers in Europe. These subsidies are known as “cotton aid”, and were responsible for a boom in cotton production in Greece (Laspidou, 2019) . Cotton farming continued to yield high pay into the early 90s. The landscape of Greece of mountains and islands once made community living a necessity, but modernization of Greek farming forced farmers, typically small family run businesses, to be in competition, to grow cash crops, and to buy fragmented pieces of land to allow for more crop growth.
When the prices for cotton decreased, land abandonment began in Greece. For those who decided to keep their farms, it became harder to make a living, and many families turned to a second source of income in order to supplement the income that came from their farms. Now more and more Greek farms are run by immigrants, or employ non-Greek workers to reduce costs. Even shopping from the street markets that are abundant in Greece can only do so much, as the stands are often run by a middle man and not a farmer.
Recently there has been a push for a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) that would allow Farmers a greater profit from their crops, and allow for the sale of local products at lower prices. This would be an asset to Greek farmers, communities and agro tourism. For now the farmers are unhappy with the 0.25 Euros they earn per kilo of oranges, and in retaliation the oranges are dropping off of the trees to rot rather than be sold for less than their worth (Martinko, 2018).
While the couple we house sat for in southern France complained about the flavorless Spanish oranges grown in greenhouses, delicious oranges grown in the open air are going to waist in Greece, which has the most potential for future orange production. Currently the bulk of the fruit is sold to the Balkan regions for financial reasons, but it really does feel like a tragedy.
There was a big rain storm just before we left Greece, apparently rare for the area, which knocked off a large percentage of the oranges and flooded entire orchards. It is tragic to learn of the hardships in such a land of plenty.
I had a lot of difficulty finding detailed information on this topic, so if anyone has a piece of Greek agricultural history that could complete the picture of the current agricultural crisis, or more information on the current orange crisis in Greece, then please post in the comments or send me an e-mail.
Laspidou, C. (2019). The impact of Cotton aid and agricultural subsidies on water resources in Thessaly, Greece. [online] Future Earth. Available at: http://www.futureearth.org/blog/2018-aug-6/impact-cotton-aid-and-agricultural-subsidies-water-resources-thessaly-greece [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
Martinko, K. (2018). Agroecopolis fights for food security in Greece. [online] TreeHugger. Available at: https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/agroecopolis-fighting-better-life-greek-farmers.html [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].