EU-funded program supports young Greeks turning to agriculture to beat economic crisis

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In 2017, at least 12,000 first-time farmers will receive 17,000 to 22,000 euros per person as start-up aid via the Young Farmers measure, in the framework of the 2014 to 2020 Rural Development Program (RDP).

According to the European Commission, in six years, the RDP for Greece, which draws 4.7 billion euros from EU funds and 1.2 billion euros from national co-funding, is expected to provide investment support for a total of 6,300 agricultural holdings and start-up aid to 23,900 young farmers.

The call will remain open until Dec. 23, by which date the ministry of agriculture estimates that applications will exceed 17,000.

Over the past six years of deep economic crisis, a timid yet steady trend seems to be developing among Greek youth who, in increasing numbers, have turned to agriculture to make their living.

“Indeed, there appears to be a tendency and an established interest to return to agriculture and rural areas,” the Greek government’s secretary general of agricultural policy and management of European funds, Charalambos Kasimis, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

In a 2012 survey conducted for the ministry of agriculture in the country’s two largest cities — Athens and Thessaloniki, 68.2 percent of respondents said they had considered leaving the city.

“In my opinion, there are two main factors at play here. Firstly, the crisis and unemployment that have afflicted urban areas mobilize young people to seek opportunities and make good use of property they may possess in rural areas, where the cost of living is also much lower,” Kasimis explained.

“The second reason is that the agricultural sector appears to be more resilient to crisis, in economic terms,” the secretary general added.

In the landscape of the Greek economy, agriculture, forestry and fishery are in fact among the few sectors that have boasted positive figures: its employment rate increased by 1.2 percent in the years 2010 to 2014, its added value by 6.0 percent only in 2015, while its exports present a consistent escalation, boosting the primary sector’s contribution to the GDP by 0.9 percent since 2010.

It is no wonder why the Young Farmers’ measure was an instant hit. What’s more, it also serves higher national goals.

“The measure has two main targets. First of all, it will contribute to the demographic renewal of the rural population: you support young people to take up farming and this way you refresh the demographic composition of the rural population. Secondly, it will help us boost the competitiveness of Greek agriculture,” Kasimis highlighted.

As he underlined, the entry of young farmers is crucial for the future of Greek agriculture. Because they are not only young, but also well-educated and more open to innovation.

For Yannis Fafas, a 32-year-old vine grower, agriculture was a natural choice he made early in his life. Fafas’ family has been growing vines for the past 35 years in Myrtofyto, 30 km west of Kavala, a major city in northern Greece.

Although Fafas left his village to obtain a university degree in agronomy, he planned to pursue a different career than his parents.

The recession quickly brought him back to reality. He joined his family’s farming business a few years ago, supported by the financial aid he also received as a young farmer and the existent infrastructure.

“If you don’t have your parents or someone else to help you at the beginning, if you don’t have the land or the mechanical equipment, you cannot start off. Maybe this is the most important (obstacle to becoming a farmer),” said Fafas.

Combining his academic knowledge with his father’s experience, Fafas has considerably expanded the family business since he took over: he has increased production, introduced more varieties of grapes, bought more vineyards and has extended his product range.

“Business has changed for the better. Our products are exported to more countries inside and outside the EU, like the United Arab Emirates and Russia, and lately we have initiated some talks with China. China is a very big market and we are trying to move in this direction,” Fafas said.

With all the adversities and the rewards taken into account, did he believe he took the right decision going back to his vineyards? Fafas responded with a smile.

“Few have the privilege of working in nature. Fortunately, I’m one of them.”