In what way is Greek family farming defying the economic crisis?

In what way is Greek family farming defying the economic crisis?
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The agricultural economy of Greece has been immensely important for its economic growth since the formation of the Greek State till the 1960s. However, the long process of Greek agriculture towards modernization and growth has been affected by large scale-transformations in the population structure, major shifts in the international division of labour and significant changes by the state's economic policy. The 19th century export oriented agricultural economy of Greece was transformed to a largely introverted autarkic agriculture in the interwar period; as a result of the financial and agricultural crisis (1892-1908) and the great transatlantic emigration movement (1900-1924) mainly from the rural areas to the Usa. The post-war agricultural economy has been modernized and growing but the agriculture income crisis was connected to rural depopulation and massive emigration towards Western Europe, Canada and Australia (1955-1974) (Petmezas 2008).
Family farming is a predominant form of organization in Greek agriculture. This term also implies that the rural households have the capacity to reorganize their production, labour and needs in response to the wider socio-economic conditions and global changes. They use their resources flexibly in view of their social and economic survival against the worsening economic conditions caused by competition and recession. It has been argued that family farming remains a defensive practice for numerous rural households in their struggle for coping with in a constantly changing global setting (Kasimis and Papadopoulos, 1997).
Also, it should be made clear that family farming is not just the outcome of an incomplete agricultural modernization process, but rather a systemic characteristic of households, communities and local economies in Greece. The structure and characteristics of family farming are part and parcel of the adaptive capacity and survival propensity of a extended number of rural households, while the notion of multifunctionality reflects the dynamic relationship of farming families with the local labour markets (Efstratoglou et al, 2004). Before presenting the data regarding the recent changes in Greek family farming in view of the economic crisis that has endured for the last six years, we will refer shortly to four major themes which are important for contextualizing the empirical information presented in the following sections of the paper.
Firstly, there is an intensifying process of de-agriculturalization of the Greek countryside that needs to be taken into account in any discussion about agricultural transformation. This process refers to the increasing disengagement of numerous rural residents from agricultural activity as their main employment and also the expansion of the rural to include off-farm and/or multi-sectoral activities as well as non-agricultural land uses. However, this process does not necessarily imply that agriculture has a diminishing significance in rural areas; rather the opposite is true (Kasimis and Papadopoulos, 2001; Kasimis and Papadopoulos, 2013).
Secondly, there is a mix of mobilities in rural areas which can be seen as the result of the deepening of integration of rural space in the wider European and global economy. This mix of mobilities is an aggregation of diverse outgoing, incoming and intergoing population movements in rural areas (Halfacree, 2012). More particularly, three sets of mobilities may be identified: One type of mobility is the well-known process of people's rural exodus from certain rural localities due to the declining agricultural activity and the lack of employment opportunities, which is related to the depopulation of the remote, marginal and disadvantaged rural areas. The end result is the movement of the people to the urban and more favoured rural or peri-urban areas. The second type of mobility is more recent in rural areas and refers to the inflow of migrants who originate either from urban/ peri-urban areas or from other countries. The former inflow is identified as 'counter-urbanization' or 'return to the countryside' movement and is depicted as a new demographic reality in developed countries (Halfacree and Boyle, 1998; Mitchell, 2004). The latter inflow concerns the novel phenomenon of international migrant population movements towards various types of rural localities in developed countries (Kasimis and Papadopoulos, 2003; Jentch, 2007). A final type of mobility is referring to the increasing spatial mobility of rural residents who move for work, leisure and/or tourism, and can be also considered as inhabitants or more than one locality. Hobby farming and time-sharing farming activities are new hybrid forms of involvement with agriculture and are classified under this type of mobility. All three types of mobility can be combined in various forms and are surely connected to the production and consumption aspect of rural areas.
Thirdly, the adaptive capacity shown by rural households, producers, rural actors, communities and local economies in view of the continuing economic crisis is a reflection of the so-called resilience of rural areas. Resilience is evident in the capacity of rural areas to absorb pressures and reorganize, while experiencing changes, so that they may retain their functions, structural characteristics, identity and flexibility of their activities (Schouten et al., 2009; Folke et al., 2010).
Finally, there is an increasing recognition of the role of rural areas for preserving common goods such as food and land; and an acknowledgement of the value of these goods for the sustainable development of rural areas. The rising focus on local and quality food as well as on short-value food chains and the expanding concern over the appropriation of land by large corporations and organized interests emerge as an appealing objective for farmers, rural residents and concerned citizens of urban localities (Wall, 2014).
To sum up, we have mentioned four major challenges faced by farmers and rural residents in Greek rural areas. Each of these challenges is connected to transformation processes which impact upon rural areas. However, we should also explore the interconnections between these challenges and the processes that accompany them, so that family farming is not just seen as a 'functional' production and demographic unit within a system that is completely transforming. We would rather argue that the small farmers - being the majority of Greek farmers - tend to reconcile a number of traits that are more compatible with the prerequisites of rural sustainable development.

Basic characteristics of Greek family farming

Agriculture has been historically important for Greece, accounting for 13.8% of employment (476.4 thousands) (Elstat, 2015); this is due to the economic recession that has severely affected the country as will be seen later. Agricultural products account for 18% of the country's total exports (2013). Moreover, agriculture contributes 3.4% to Greece’s Gva (almost 2.5 times larger than the EU-27) (EC, 2015). The agricultural sector, in general, is characterized by low productivity, a fact which is shown by the relatively low level of Gva per person employed (44% of EU-15) (McKinsey, 2012). The apparently low productivity of labour in the primary sector is due to the large number of family members employed in their farm holding and the small number of working days of family labour. As will be seen in the following section, employment in agriculture is for the vast majority of farmers an activity in which they are actually underemployed due to the fact that farming lot cannot secure full-time employment all around the year.
Small size and high fragmentation (exceeding 6 parcels per farm) of farm holdings epitomize the historic, cultural, geographic and geomorphologic construction of modern Greek agriculture. More specifically, the late land reform of the 1920s, the socio-cultural traditions of inheritance and dowry, as well as the unfavourable geomorphologic environment of narrow, often hilly, land zones have contributed to the survival of a late farm structure resulting in increased costs of production and low competitiveness (Kasimis and Papadopoulos, 2013).
By 2010 the number of land holdings were 723,000, which has been a significant decrease (-11.5%) compared to year 2000. The average size per holding has been 4.8 hectares, which very low compared to the rest of the EU member states. Only Romania (3.4 ha), Cyprus (3.0 ha) and Malta (0.9 ha) have smaller average size.
The above mentioned holdings occupy nearly 3.5 million hectares of utilized agricultural area (Uaa), while the majority of holdings (76%) have a size of less than 5 hectares and a similar proportion cannot ensure full-time employment for more than one person. However, these smaller holdings occupy just 25% of the utilized agricultural area. On the other hand, the holdings with a size over 100 hectares represent over one tenth of the total number of holdings and occupy 57% of the Uaa (Eurostat, 2012).
Although there seems to be a relatively low land concentration in large holdings, the actual size of the farm apart from the owned land includes the land that is leased by other farmers. The land tenure data show that only 62% of the Uaa were farmed by the owner in 2010, and 35% were farmed by tenants. The regions with the highest proportion of rented land are: Western Macedonia (55%), Central Macedonia (52%), North Aegean (45%), East Macedonia-Thrace (44%), Epirus (38%) and Thessaly (36%). At the other end of the spectrum, there are regions with high proportion of land farmed by the owners, such as: Ionian Islands (82%), Attica (82%), Peloponnese (80%), Western Greece (76%) and Crete (76%).
Land leasing is related to the type of land use, which in the case of Greek agriculture differs a lot compared to the other EU member states. In 2010, the Greek Uaa mainly consisted of arable land (51%), permanent crops (27%) and permanent grassland and meadow (22%). Between 2000 and 2010, the area of arable land fell by 10% to 1.8 million hectares and permanent crops also reduced in area by 5.1% to 950,270 hectares. In contrast, land under permanent grass and meadows increased by 24% to 750,660 hectares in 2010 (Eurostat, 2012).
Farm holdings seem to have increased their specialization in recent years possibly due to their particular orientation in the local agricultural economy and the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) support. Specialized olive farms made up the largest share (38%) of the farms, followed by general field cropping farms (10%), specialized in cereals, oilseed and protein crops (9%), various permanent crops (8%) and specialized fruit and citrus fruit farms (8%).
A similar trend towards concentration of production and specialization which was found in agriculture can be also observed in the case of livestock production in Greece. More particularly, there were 2.4 million livestock units (Lsu) in 2010, which meant a decline by 5% from 2.5 million in 2000. EU member states with similar size of production are Hungary (2.5 million Lsu) and Portugal (2.2 million Lsu). However, the number of holdings with livestock decreased by 30% to 273,160 farms in 2010. Nearly 199,800 farms with animals paused their activities and/or sold their livestock in the last decade. This led to an increased of the average Lsu per farm, from 6.4 Lsu per holding in 2000 to 8.8 in 2010. The most common livestock is sheep with over 900,000 Lsu in 2010 which represented 38% of the total livestock population. Cattle is the next most common livestock with less than 500,000 Lsu accounting for 19% of the total. Goats are the third most common livestock in 2010 with over 420,000 Lsu, which despite the sharp decline of their numbers, represent 18% of livestock population. The region which specializes in cattle breeding is Central Macedonia (30%), while Western Greece (16%) and Thessaly (13%) have the largest proportions of sheep population (Eurostat, 2012).
Organic agriculture is a relatively recent activity for Greek farmers. The number of organic farmers in Greece has been growing from 250 in 1993 to 23,433 in 2013. But they account for a small percentage of the total number of farmers (3.3% in 2013). The area under organic farming increased in various time periods mostly due to the support provided by the Cap and also due to the . Today the organic agricultural land is 383,606 hectares (mostly cultivating olive trees, cereal, protein crops, vegetables etc.) which represent 4.6% of total agricultural land (Willer and Lernoud, 2015). It should be mentioned that the tendency is for medium and large farmers to engage in organic agriculture because of the capital investment required to shift their cultivation to organic and also because of the increased needs for technical support, specialized knowledge for trading and marketing their produce and so on.

Trends and challenges of Greek family farming

Greek family farming is highly heterogeneous when one closely scrutinizes the available data and looks behind the average numbers. There are a number of trends which illustrate a rapidly differentiating family farming during the last decades and reveal an internal polarization between small-scale and large scale farming; the latter being very dynamic is specific rural areas which have specialized their crop production, used high labour intensity, adopted innovative techniques and/or intensified their production.
An analysis of the farmers by age category illustrates to some extent the succession problems faced by Greek agriculture, which is evident by the fact that the proportion of farmers younger than 35 years has declined to nearly 7% in 2010 compared to 8.6% in 1991 (Figure 1). On the other hand, the farmers aged 65 years and over have increased their share in the total number of farmers from 25% in 1991 to 33% in 2010. It is also true that the recent agricultural census of 2010 shows somehow improved numbers compared to the previous farm structure survey of 2007. There is some optimism in the fact that the intermediate age categories reflect some relative improvement of farmers demographic picture. For example, the age category of 35-44 years has improved by 0.5% between 1991 and 2010; the age category 45-54 after some years of decline seems to have stabilized to 22%; and the age category 55-64 has declined from 29% in 1991 to 22% in 2010. 

Figure 1 - Distribution of farmers by age category, 1991-2010 

Source: Elstat, 1991-2010 & Eurostat database

Figure 2 shows that the farmers who belong to the younger age categories tend to have on average larger farms that those of the middle-aged and aged farmers. More particularly, farmers less than 35 years of age have on average about three times larger farms compared to the farmers over 65 years of age. This trend remains valid for all the time period since 1991 and implies that the younger farmers in order to enter farming require a relatively larger farm compared to the older farmers who remain in farming despite their smaller farm size. Moreover, the measures to support the entry of young farmers into farming also require that the older farmers transfer their land to the young ones; while also younger farmers in order to pursue their farming profession they enlarge their farm through land leasing and/or buying.
Farm size is an important aspect of farmers' employment, the employment of the family members or for employing wage labour. Smaller farms tend to be rely more on family labour compared to large farms which due to their size have to employ large numbers of non-family labour. Moreover, the labour intensive character of Greek family farming and the seasonal needs, make the use of wage labour a horizontal characteristic of farms. Still, however, one needs to compare small and medium-large farms in order to have a clearer picture about the family and non-family labour mix. For example, the farms with size smaller than 2 hectares represented just over half (52%) of the total number of farms and occupied less than one tenth of Uaa (9%) in 2010. In those farms, there is a large number of family labour (574.3 thousand persons) employed part-time, who, in other words, are actually underemployed in their farms. If this family farm labour is turned into full-time labour then it becomes clear that they represent 25% of the total farm labour. Moreover, it is important to note that in those small farms, non-family labour accounts for 13% of total farm labour in this category. On the other hand, the farms over 2 hectares employ a somewhat larger number of family labour (612.2 thousand persons) that if it is calculated in full-time labour it accounts for 58% of total farm labour. For medium and large farms, non-family labour accounts for 19% of total farm labour in this category (EC 2015)
The main argument here is that small-farm employ less non-family labour, while medium and larger farmers tend to be based more on non-family labour. By saying non-family labour throughout the text we actually refer to migrant labour, which constitutes the vast majority of wage labour in Greek farming. According to empirical findings, migrants account for over 90% of those who work as wage labourers in agriculture. In fact, numerous empirical research studies that have been carried out in rural areas since the year 2000, but also in previous years, have shown that migrant wage labour has been a basic asset for Greek agriculture, due to the fact that they initially arrived in rural Greece in order to fill the long overdue gaps in agriculture as well as in local and rural labour markets, but soon after they became a structural factor for Greek rural economy and society (Kasimis et al., 2003; Kasimis and Papadopoulos, 2005; Lawrence, 2007; Labrianidis and Sykas, 2009; Papadopoulos, 2009; Kasimis et al., 2010; Papadopoulos, 2011). The contribution of migrants has been important for ensuring that family farms would be fully operating and also they also manage to increase their productivity in the context of the wider situation which favours the off-farm employment of family members due to the increasing returns from their employment in the non-agricultural sectors of the economy.

Figure 2 - Average farm size in hectares by farmer's age category, 1991-2010

Source: Elstat, 1991-2010 & Eurostat database

Figure 3 shows that the number of employed persons in agriculture has dropped rapidly from over 1.6 million in 1991 to nearly 1.2 million in 2013. This decrease by 22% in the number of the employed persons implied a drop by 32% in terms of full-time employed persons in agriculture. A qualitative remark is that less people from the ones that have remain on agriculture are working full-time on their farms.
The severe decline of family-labour over the last fifteen years was met by an increase in the number of migrants working regularly or seasonally in agriculture. This shift was of immense importance for family farms who lost a significant proportion of family labour, on the one hand, but they benefited a lot from the large inflow of migrant labour in all sectors of the economy and more particularly in agriculture, on the other.

Figure 3 - Evolution of regular farm family labour in persons and annual work units, 1991-2013

Source: Elstat, 1991-2013 & Eurostat database

Table 1 depicts exactly a situation of a diminishing number of family members engaged in agriculture and also an enlarging number of non-family wage labour employed regularly and seasonally. More particularly, at the time when family labour decreases, the number of regular wage labourers increased four times between 1991 and 2013, and also the farms which employ regular wage labour increased at the same rate; representing by 2013 some 2.3% of the total number of farms. Moreover, the number of farms that employed seasonal labour had been increasing (by 48%) in the period 1991-2007, while also the number of working days of seasonal workers increased (by 73%) during the same period. In the following period 2007-2013, possibly due to the economic recession, the employment of seasonal labour went back to a situation similar to that in 1991 in the number of farms that employed seasonal labour and also numbers of working days. But today the extend of employment of seasonal labour, despite the decline in numbers, has been proportionally higher than at the beginning of the 1990s.

Table 1 - Evolution of family farm labour, regular and seasonal non-family labour, 1991-2013

Source: Elstat, 1991-2013

Figure 4 offer a wider picture of the fluctuation of wage labour employed in Greek agriculture in the period 1991-2013, while at the same time the contribution of wage labour is provided by mentioning the share of this employment in total employed in the farms. More specifically, it is clearly stated that the number of full-time employed in Greek family farms peaked in the year 2003 and from then onwards the number has been declining, but it is clear that for quite a long period 2003-2010 the proportion of wage labour in total farm labour was important. Despite the fall in numbers, still in 2013 the wage labour contributes nearly 15% of total farm labour, which is a proportion that had been reached in the year 2000. It should be mentioned here that the number of people employed as wage labour as well as their working days are generally underestimated during the whole period, mainly due to the fact that the vast majority of seasonal labourers were irregular migrants and therefore there is a tendency not to record their employment.

Figure 4 - Contribution of non-family labour in farming (calculated in full-time equivalents and as share of total labour on the farms), 1991-2013

Source: Elstat, 1991-2013

The worsening situation of employment and unemployment in the context of economic recession in Greece, as it is shown in Figure 5, has had a significant impact on full-time wage labour in all economic sectors and less on agriculture. The most important development is that gradually, all employment positions that had been created in the period 1998-2008 were lost within just a four-year period 2008-2012. This had an immense impact on people's lives especially in large cities where most of wage labour existed and where most of the economic activity was located; especially in services, construction and manufacturing.

Figure 5 - Fluctuation of employment and unemployment in times of crisis, 2001-2015

Source: Elstat, Labour Force Survey, 2001-2015

Of course rural areas were affected relatively less from the economic recession as it is evident in Figure 6, in which the unemployment rate in rural areas is for the whole period of recession lower than that in the urban areas. For 2015, the unemployment rate in rural areas is five percentage points lower compared to the urban areas. In my opinion, the high reliance of rural areas on agriculture has provided a basis for this slightly better picture of unemployment.

Figure 6 - Evolution of the unemployment rate by level of rurality/urbanity, 2001-2015

Source: Elstat, Labour Force Survey, 2001-2015

Moreover, according to Figure 7 the rate of employment loss in the non-agricultural sectors has been very rapid in the last six years, while the proportion of the employed in agriculture has been increasing. The share of people employed in agriculture in total employment increased from nearly 11% in 2008 to about 14% in 2015. This was mainly caused by the relatively lower rate of employment loss, but also by the fact that farming is connected to self-employment. This situation reflects, as already mentioned, the worsening situation of the wider economy, but it also implies that family farming has provided some sort of defending mechanism against the economic recession. Moreover, family farming offered certain employment opportunities for those who aimed at lower returns for their work, and saw in farming a alternative way of living.

Figure 7 - Fluctuation of employment and agricultural employment in times of crisis, 2001-2015

Source: Elstat, Labour Force Survey, 2001-2015

Figure 8 provides an interesting disaggregated picture of the trends within agricultural employment in the period of crisis, but also before. Please note that this data is provided the Labour Force Survey and they do not directly correspond to the Agricultural Census and Farm Survey data presented in previous graphs and tables.
It is important to stress that the number of a particular segment, that of (self-employed) farmers has been surprisingly stable in the last years, despite small fluctuations. The number of farmers who employ wage labour has been declining since 2010 possibly due to the recession. However, the number of the family members working without remuneration in their family farm has declined very significantly (by 131%) in the period 2001-2015. Certainly this decline is related to the wider trend of family members to seek for employment in the non-agricultural sectors and also to the increase of unemployment rates in rural areas, because of lack of employment positions in the services and other sectors. The only segment of the agriculturally employed population that increases in the whole period, despite some fluctuation, is that of wage labourers. In fact, the number of wage labourers has nearly doubled in the period 2001-2010, while there was a decline by 17% in the period 2010-2015. It should be mentioned that the number of wage labourers in agriculture (for example 41,100 in 2015) does not directly correspond to the number that was mentioned earlier because of the fact that many people who have their main employment in other economic sectors, may well be employed in agriculture seasonally and/or irregularly.

Figure 8 - Evolution of farming population by employment category, 2001-2015

Source: Elstat, Labour Force Survey, 2001-2015

Despite the relative decline in family farming, its role remains important for supporting an employment status and a way of life in rural areas that allows rural residents to lead their living with some security. In many cases farmers may obtain food security and also the survival of their households in times of austerity.


The analysis has revealed that Greek family farming is highly heterogenous, but there are increasing trends which further differentiate family farms toward two basic directions: on the one hand the medium and large farms which have enlarged their size and seek for better ways - by intensifying their production or differentiating their cultivation or adopting new crops - to increase their production and income, and, on the other hand, the majority of small-sized farms who struggle to survive within a wider worsening economic setting, by using defensive strategies of labour and flexible management of their resources.
In such situation, the employment of wage labour, and more particularly of migrant labour, has been an immensely important development that created new opportunities for medium and large farmers to expand but also allowed small farmers to improve their production by lowering their labour costs. Certainly, the labour power of migrants has benefitted Greek family farming not just by providing cheap labour but also by offering new ways of labour management and spread of the various agricultural skills. It goes without saying that there is no turning back to a situation in which farmers did not employ wage labour. The latter has been a factor which favoured the further integration of the vast majority of farmers into capitalist agriculture, even of those farmers who employ only seasonal wage labour.
In the current context of the economic crisis, there is significant 'room for manoeuvre' on the part of small farmers in the sense that they are less exposed to market forces and more able to cope by mobilizing their own resources (land, labour) while also turning to alternative food crops and safeguarding the environment. For large farmers there are limited choices as the increase of their production remains their only objective. In many cases they have opted for the further worsening of the living and work conditions of migrant wage labourers and in other cases their activities are at the expense of the environment and common resources. The future of family farming appears to be at a crossroad, but there is hardly a time that this was not the case.


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