Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Monkey business

As soon as from the first of October it is allowed to make fires in Greece, the farmers start burning pieces of land that are overgrown with small bushes. When the smoke close to the top curls up right to heaven it makes some mountains look like real volcanos. After the first rains you see the black earth turn green, thanks to the juicy new grass that form a real treat for the sheep and goats.

I hated these fires: they destroy the beauty of the landscape by many black burned patches and not all farmers are as careful as they should be. Last November a pretty big piece of nature on Rhodes went into flames because a farmer was not careful enough.

But landscape in Greece is not only there to be beautiful. The land is used as well by farmers for herding their sheep and goats. The farmers use the parts of land that are not used, making new land owners angry when they find their land eaten by the goats because they did not fence their land well enough.

I have been thinking about all this and came to the conclusion that the farmers here on the island (and off course elsewhere in the country) are facing difficult times. More and more land is sold and becomes a no go area for their sheep and goats. In the past they could herd their animals all over the mountains, now their region consist of go and no go pieces of land. Even if the land was not theirs, the owners who did not do anything on their land were happy that their plot kept passable thanks to the sheep and goats. After the big wildfires that raged through the country at the end of the summer in 2007 there even was a discussion about these land burnings: they could prevent fires.

When the animals do not eat all bushes and grass, the land can get overgrown, when the animals eat too much the land becomes bare and a danger for land or mud slides. There are many inhabitants here, especially western foreigners, who scold at goats and sheep because they destroy the landscape and are often enough as well a danger on the roads. They do not agree with the land burnings for new grass and they do not appreciate at all that a sheep farmer herds his animals on land that he does not own.

Modern time is gaining land, as well here on the island. And it looks like there is no place anymore for the traditional sheep and goat herding. Then I ask myself, what will happen when farmers stop working, like they do now in numbers? Will there be no free-range meat from goats, sheep and cows anymore, like is the tasty speciality on the island? And how are they going to make feta or lado tiri?

It may be clear that modern time and old cultures like herding goats clash. That does not mean that I do agree with everything concerning farm products. I am happy that finally they give penalties to the cheese and milk factories around Vatoussa, Andissa and Skalochori because they pollute the rivers. It stinks so much there that I even do not want to get out of the car whenever we were planning a walk in that region.

More and more farmers stop their work not only because their working areas get smaller but as well because cattle-fodder becomes too expensive and the sales of the animals and the milk do not bring enough money anymore. You do not earn any money anymore and you can barely live on herding sheep and goats.

However it are not the stock-farmers who turn Greece into a new chaos. It are the agriculture farmers all over Greece who are demonstrating now already for ten days. They use about 9000 tractors to block frontiers to Turkey, Bulgaria and FYROM, roads like the main road from Athens to Thessaloniki and even on Crete they close roads. Neighbor countries are getting mad because their truck drivers get stuck, shops in Athens are not provided anymore and today even the traffic controllers of the Athens airport want to support the farmers by a strike for a day.

The farmers are angry because Europe give too low prices for wheat, cotton and olive oil, the subsidies get lower and the government refuses to help.

Although here on Lesvos the farmers do not demonstrate, they as well are angry about the low prices of olive oil, milk and vegetables.

It is said that especially the middlemen get rich over the backs (Dutch expression) of the farmers and the consumers. Take a kilo of broccoli. In Molyvos a farmer sells the broccoli for 40 cents a kilo to a vegetable seller who sells it for 1,40! While the farmer has to plow, seed and harvest this vegetable seller only had to sell it and walks away with most of the money!

And it is not only the farmers that do not earn enough money. Wages in Greece are way too low so do not wonder that many Greeks regularly demonstrate or strike. Due to a bad tax system and a culture of corruption life gets even more expensive. Since the introduction of the euro Greece became the most expensive country of Europe.

If we do not take care farmers will die out, just like the meandering goats and sheep in the landscape. Modern time will take care that there will not be anymore local free-range meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit and olive oil. Greece will become just like Holland where you only can get packages of meat and vegetables from who knows which country or from the glasshouses and where most of the children do not know that meat comes from a cow or pig and the milk comes from the cow.

Copyright © Smitaki 2009

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