Greece is experiencing low corona-related mortality rates, but the measures imposed came early and were as harsh as in other, more stricken countries, placing severe strain on a society and an economy in shambles due to the ongoing economic crisis.
As in many other EU countries, COVID-19 hit small agro-ecological Greek farmers very hard. Strict restrictions on movement and the provisional closing of many businesses meant that places like small restaurants, hotels, and farmers’ markets suddenly became inaccessible for most of them. In addition, they do not receive subsidies or compensation and rely on short supply chains for their survival. This is critical, not just for their livelihoods, but for the continued existence of family farming in Greece.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers, who usually operate on a more local scale, also faced difficulties as in many cases they were not allowed to travel and had to use the services of already overwhelmed delivery companies instead, adding cost and subtracting quality from their produce. Furthermore, until now most CSA schemes in the country have operated informally; there is no ‘contract’ signed between the two parties, and there is no formal national association to promote or advocate for their interests.
Furthermore, the movement restrictions served to highlight many underlying pathologies pertaining to the agricultural sector and food production in Greece, but also to show how the globalised food systems we rely on can collapse, and how the most effective solutions for food security, not to mention food sovereignty, have to be based on the foundations of agroecology and localization.
Consumers were suddenly faced with a new reality: that the place where the majority of them get their food (the supermarket) is no longer safe, and that food purchased there will have to be washed with soap in order to eliminate the possibility of getting infected. The problem of a food system fraught with intermediaries is showing its face again, not in terms of profit accumulation, but in terms of endangering public health.
Agroecopolis – The Hellenic Network for Agroecology, Food Sovereignty and Access to Land (AEP) – wanted to face this situation to find real possible solutions. In order to assess the situation and decide on collective action, in mid-March it instigated an e-meet as a way of bringing together small producers from all over the country; representatives of organic growers’ associations; members of EcoFest networks; and individual farmers. As an urgent and immediate response, it was decided to run a nationwide digital and social media campaign promoting local direct links between producers & consumers all over the country.
Within a few days, a collective of food activists with no direct personal gain, under the coordination of Agroecopolis, started developing the campaign and were even able to create a short promotional video while being unable to shoot new footage! They all came together because they realise the importance of standing by the farmers; now more than ever!
Unexpectedly, without any access to resources or prior organisation, at a time of extreme uncertainty, they were able to organise four different groups, working on different aspects of the campaign, including content creation, dissemination, liaising with producers and organising the final ‘match-making’. The main message of the campaign is: #Support local small food production# #We are staying in our fields and cater for your household needs#
Agroecopolis aims to reach a much larger audience than the ‘usual recipients’ of similar actions organised by eco-activists and bio-farmers in the past. It is addressing the average coronavirus ‘quarantinees’: consumers living in urban settings (from big cities to small towns), who are now concerned about the safety of big crowded stores; are interested in eating healthily; and wish to protect and cater for their families in times of uncertainty.
The campaign will run until July, each week focusing on a different aspect: why it is important to eat locally; why agroecology is the solution; showcasing producer profiles from different areas, etc. As this is an urgent matter, and not a planned campaign, it is quite tricky to organise resources and create a model that works, immediately! Agroecopolis’s first goal is to make sure ‘not one more leaf rots unpicked in a field’.
Drawing from the principles of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Reko (The Finnish alternative), the interested consumers in one locality and the chosen producers in another are brought together using Facebook groups (experienced volunteers have created a ‘vetting system’ to make sure they comply with the same principles as us). There Agroecopolis volunteers set up each group, instigate interaction and monitor first steps until members take over and self-organise. The idea is to promote self -management of needs and citizens’ mobilization on local level, thus creating conditions for higher levels of autonomy and food sovereignty in local terms. Agroecopolis has teams of volunteers working on the creation of content and the dissemination of the campaign so it generates responses from consumers all over Greece, and it aims to have groups in each major city, in each prefecture, by the end of June, to make sure networks of consumers support all these small farmers. In the first four days of going ‘live’, the action received more than 400 responses from consumers. The goal now is to make sure that demand and supply can match.
COVID19 limitations have enabled an experience to be created in Greece that serves as a fertile ground for the creation of Participatory Guarantee Systems and Community Supported Agriculture networks. These will further solidify the Food Sovereignty movement on a national level, a necessity in the uncertain times that are coming, and not only in a country that has already been exhausted by the ongoing ten-year economic crisis.
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