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Greece Agriculture
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Despite the nineteenth-century transformation of Greece's agricultural sector toward export crops, the tradition of smallscale landholdings fragmented into several work locations has persisted throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The pattern was reinforced by the application of state land distribution programs that divided national lands to endow landless peasants with holdings of their own. The only exception was in Thessaly, where tenant farmers cultivated cereal crops on large estates until the early twentieth century.

    Consistent with the primary sector's declining role in the economy, employment has also declined. In 1981 some 972,000 persons were employed in the sector, representing 27.4 percent of national employment, as compared with 22 percent in 1991, when only about 873,000 persons were employed in the primary sector. Over that decade, about 10 percent more of the female work force than of the male work force remained employed in the primary sector, however. A major reason for this disparity is that in agricultural areas second occupations are available predominantly to men, while women remain tied more closely to their agricultural pursuits.

    Greece's total utilized agricultural area is close to 3.7 million hectares, of which 59 percent is in the plains and 41 percent is in mountainous or semimountainous areas (see fig. 7, Geographical Regions , ch. 2). Two-thirds of the land under cultivation is used for arable crops, and about one-quarter for tree plantations. The remainder is used for vegetables, pasturage, and vineyards (see fig. 9). In 1990 the number of individual agricultural holdings was estimated at 924,000. Thus, the average area per holding is slightly less than four hectares. By contrast, the average holding in the EU as a whole is fourteen hectares. A similar comparison applies to hectares per working person in agriculture. In Greece, land area per agricultural worker is five hectares, whereas in the EU as a whole it is fourteen hectares. In 1987, about 24 percent of all holdings were less than one hectare in size, and another 67 percent were between one and ten hectares. Only the remaining 9 percent exceeded ten hectares. The small size of holdings in Greece is a major cause of lower agricultural productivity compared with other EU countries. The economies of scale offered by modern farming methods have limited impact in small plots of land.

    Differences in landscape and climatic conditions have led to differences in cultivation methods in various regions of Greece. Thus, for example, at the end of the 1980s, in Thessaly and Macedonia 85 percent of cultivated land was arable cropland. In Crete, on the other hand, two-thirds of utilized agricultural areas were vineyards and tree plantations. In the Peloponnesus, almost two-thirds of cultivated land was arable cropland, and one-third was used for vineyards and tree plantations.

    Animals and animal production comprise about 30 percent of the total value of Greece's agricultural output. The largest components of Greece's animal population are sheep and goats (estimated at about 14 million head), whose meat and milk, respectively, provide 6.2 and 6.6 percent of the agricultural total. Hogs and cattle numbered about 1 million and 655,000, respectively, at the end of the 1980s. Greek farmers also possessed an estimated 28 million chickens, 1.8 million rabbits, 1.3 million pigeons, and 1.2 million beehives at the end of the 1980s. Whereas most of the animals are evenly distributed among the agricultural regions of the country, about half the cattle are found in Macedonia, where large plains dominate the landscape. Beef and cows' milk account for 5.8 percent of agricultural output, chicken meat and eggs another 5.5 percent, and pork meat 3.5 percent.

    The shares of major crops in total agricultural production in 1989 were as follows: industrial plants (mainly tobacco, cotton, and sugar beets) contributed 15.7 percent, cereal grains 10.8 percent, vegetables and fruits 10.5 percent each, olive products 9.7 percent, and grapes 5.5 percent. The last two products, traditional leaders in Greek agricultural exports, have now declined to relatively small parts of total agricultural production value.

    The agricultural contribution to export values comes primarily from plant products, especially grains, fruits and vegetables, and tobacco. In 1992 Greece exported more than US$1.5 billion of plant products for consumption or industrial use. The very limited export of animal products is confined mainly to cheese, whose export value in 1992 was US$21 million, and leathers, which earned US$38 million the same year. On the other hand, a large portion of food imports into Greece are meat and milk products, purchase of which cost US$1.4 billion in 1992, 7.2 percent of total Greek import expenditures.

    Since the World War II, public policy has supported agriculture strongly, partly because the devastation of the Civil War necessitated immediate reestablishment of populations in agricultural areas to regenerate the food supply. This state support took three forms: income and price supports, special credit conditions, and organizational aid.

    Income and price supports, which were mainly administered through a list of national minimum prices for crops, have now been largely eliminated by the subsidy restrictions placed on EU members by the union's Common Agricultural Policy. In 1992, agricultural support funds from the EU to Greece amounted to US$3.3 billion, or 62 percent of all funds flowing from the EU to Greece. Domestic expenditures for agricultural subsidies, supports, and public projects amounted to US$1.9 billion, about 7 percent of the state budget in 1992.

    Greek agriculture traditionally received special credit conditions from the Agricultural Bank of Greece, which had been founded in the late 1920s for that purpose. However, the banking liberalization that began in the late 1980s under European directives is reshaping the Agricultural Bank of Greece into a full commercial bank. Moreover, no sector can receive favorable lending terms under the competitive credit conditions that are now taking over the Greek money market. Nevertheless, agriculture remains an important segment of the credit market because the demand for "cultivation loans," which are essentially working capital facilities, remains high. By the end of 1993, agricultural loans accounted for 15 percent of total bank credit outstanding.

    Organizational aid to agriculture has taken a variety of forms. Land consolidation programs have been on the agenda for a long time, aiming to overcoming the extreme fragmentation of landholdings. Greece has had a voluntary consolidation program since 1963 as well as compulsory consolidation in coordination with large irrigation projects. However, consolidation, which is essentially a voluntary process, occurs only very gradually. Between 1985 and 1989, the yearly averages of hectares consolidated and villages participating were 11,700 and fifteen, respectively.

    The formation of agricultural cooperatives has been another method of streamlining agricultural production and overcoming the limitations of small landholdings and fragmentation. Farming cooperatives were first officially established in Greece in 1915. Eventually the cooperative structure was built up vertically with provincial cooperative unions and a national federation of unions, which still exists. Every Greek government has supported cooperatives, or some aspects of their activities, as part of its agricultural policy. Cooperatives also take specialized forms, such as credit unions and marketing ventures. Under the socialist governments of the 1980s, cooperatives were greatly enhanced. A large portion of agricultural credit was allocated via cooperatives. Investment incentive laws, which were primarily directed to manufacturing and tourism, were also extended to cooperative farming investments, and the direct marketing of agricultural produce was encouraged in order to bypass frequently monopolistic private wholesalers of produce. At the end of the 1980s, some 7,300 local cooperatives were operating with an estimated membership of 940,000.

    Data as of December 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece Agriculture information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece Agriculture should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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