Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Competence skills required in sustainable agriculture

We're not really as independent as we think or would like to believe that we are - we are now interconnected, and will always be dependent on each other.

To throw a spanner in the works, we rarely hear about how Scotland's food supply will be affected by the vote, do we? It's taken for granted, I suppose, that highly developed countries do not produce much of the food they need to feed their nation. It's not considered important to sustain their politico-economic survival; they happily import most of their food needs and take it for granted that these imports will always be plentiful.

Such countries also take into serious consideration food rules and regulations, and are very bookish, being highly knowledgeable about a wide range of topics without actually having direct experience of the topic in question, perhaps due to weather and landscape.

 As an English teacher in an academic environment, my job involves reading and translating a lot of scientific texts. I have been working on a translation (into Greek) of a report concerning what is seen as desirable skills to be taught in training programmes for sustainable organic farming courses, as suggested by questionnaire respondents from Greece, Spain, Hungary, Croatia, France, Italy and Austria. Based on my work, I present a (rather long) list of questions about sustainable farming, and how likely it is that your country can succeed in providing its citizens with food produced in your own country. It is based on the knowledge acquired over time by individuals, in order to maintain a sustainable farming business.

- understand the differences between conventional, integrated and organic farming in terms of inputs and farming techniques?
- understand the impacts of conventional farming practices on resources-vulnerability and irreversibility?
- understand the ecological basis underlying the dynamics of agriculture?
- understand the environmental complex-the behavior of the plant Is aware of the basic farming work skills?
- understand the interactions between several agro-systems in the scale of a territory?
- understand the importance and impact of the agro-ecology in the micro and macro environment?
- understand the connection of the agro-ecology with the market (better communication with the market)?
- design and apply management plans taking into account the ecological components and functions in various agro-ecosystems?
- communicate with farmers?
- understand the impacts of conventional farming practices on resources-analysis of the impact of agricultural management?
- understand the ecological basis underlying the dynamics of agro-understanding of the components and ecological functions in agro-ecosystems?
- understand the environmental complex, the sum of interactions acting on a growing personal and collective farm?
- apply ecological components and functions in different agro-ecosystems?
- use basic farming work skills?
- solve simple problems in the area of environmental protection and agricultural production
- link economic, social and environmental fields
- understand the technical basis of the agro-ecological transition, its conceptual design and technical and economic changes in the farm?
- know the Legislations and Regulations for the transition to organic farming?
- have a command of/be fully conversant with the relevant OA legislation & its application to certification standards to farming?
- have an awareness of the importance, methods and certification of organic production?
- Is familiar with the management and maintenance of quality?
- have knowledge of the basics of social psychology on the theme of resistance to changes (since Lewin, 1950’s)?
- understand the agro-ecological transition of planned changes for converting a conventional farm into an organic farm?
- know and understand Legislation and Regulations for the transition to organic farming?
- translate regulation requirements into changes of agriculture practices?
- master technical developments and measure economic impacts?
- find information and communicate via the internet ?
- understand the importance of the interaction between populations (biodiversity, functional diversity, ecological diversity) during farming production?
- manage biodiversity conservation and productive purposes?
- understand the role of agrobiodiversity in farmscape planning, plant protection, soil fertility and weed management?
- know the rules and expectations of seed-production, storage, processing, and preparation?
- understand the capabilities for raising maximum yield through a proper production plan, plant selection and protection?
- understand biodiversity, functional diversity, ecological diversity-is able to manage them effectively during farming?
- recognize the impact of certain plant cultivation activities on the environment and their acceptability in terms of biodiversity conservation?
- produce seeds?
- think the food autonomy for cattle in a farm scale, using density of animals and available surface areas?
- plan agricultural production with reduced harmful impact on biodiversity?
- understand the soil as a living medium - is aware soil components affecting soil quality and fertility and the importance of their ontogeny ?
- understand the dynamics of organic matter in the soil ?
- understand the role of organic matter in the soil and the importance of the living environment as a dynamic?
- control pests and diseases of edaphic origin?
- understand the role of the soil alive in the control of diseases and health of plant?
- understand the agronomic and pedodogic functioning of a soil?
- understand the mechanisms of maintaining and increasing soil fertility through litter and green manure crops?
- understand the importance of conducting soil analyses?
- understand the differences in the inputs for soil nutrition in different farming systems?
- know the differences between fertilizers and amendments, schedules for the inputs in response to crop needs, has mastered the mechanics of analysis of nitrogen balance, to manage correct fertilization?
- know the main green manures, their mode of culture, schedules for destroying them, principles of degradation (restitution of nitrogen into the soil)?
- produce production site analyses?
- maintain the organic matter and soil fertility high using OA accepted techniques?
- understand the soil as a living medium - Is able to identify the functionality of the data in relation to the production dynamics?
- understand the dynamics of organic matter in the soil?
- make decisions to improve soil quality and fertility, through self-fertilization and according to the law of the OA?
- control pests and diseases of edaphic origin?
- identify those components of biodiversity most important for management and control?
- know how to observe and analyze the soil functioning (using simple tools like auger, spade, to achieve profile analysis for crop diagnosis)?
- identify beneficial microorganisms in the soil and their importance in improving soil quality and fertility?
- make proper choice, use proper method and time of pesticide application ?
- make nutrient management plans individually, and include them into systems by cultures and by technologies, taking into account crop ?
- know the effects of production process (quality, application)?
- have a strong understanding of the N cycle and how this connects to N availability for plant roots?
- understand the parameters that affect a process?
- understand the different fertilization technologies, and include them into the possible technologies?
- understand the importance of organic matter for various crops?
- have some familiarity with the possibilities of the production and / or supply of compost?
- Is aware of decomposition process and application methods?
- understand composting competence?
- produce and apply compost/ green manure?
- understand the quality and maturity of compost?
-  understand and interpret analytical techniques and in situ techniques used to evaluate parameters related to the quality and maturity of compost?
- manage the composting process and to limit losses from wind and leaching?
- select the proper form of organic fertilizer for certain types of soil?
- determine quantities of organic fertilizers that are brought into agricultural area to minimize the contamination of surface and groundwater, and maximize nutritient availability ?
- organize collective actions?
- understand crop rotation and association?
- know the specifics of vegetables grown?
- understand cover crops and mulching?
- know how to apply different culture techniques as cover crops, intercropping, mulching?
- understand plant infrastructure?
- understand the role of auxiliary vegetation ?
- update your knowledge in organic and biodynamic agriculture?
- know insect-attracting plants ?
- connect organic farming techniques with their effect on agrobiodiversity, plant nutrition and crop protection?
- design appropriate rotation schemes and partnership?
- apply different culture techniques such as cover crops, intercropping, mulching?
- understand plant infrastructure?
-  choose and design hedges, borders, vegetable islands to diversify and protect crops?
- have knowledge of important  weeds and soil diseases?
- apply different ecological preparations for plant protection against diseases, pests and weeds?
- apply various technical interventions in agriculture, without adversely affecting the structure and quality of the soil (reduction of required actions in tillage )?
- use properly machines of cultivation?
- integrate technical exchange networks?
- use insectary plants ?
- understand the ecological management of greenhouses?
- have knowledge of different ecological cultures?
- know the principles of crop growth without soil on inert materials?
- know the specifics of growing plants indoors?
- understand specific features and risks of production in greenhouses?
- understand the different sprouting technologies and equipment?
- understand the closed sprouting system’s barriers, peculiarities, its special plant protection and maintenance?
- understand the proper techniques of non-degradable waste management and disposal of materials?
- understand energy issues (direct consumption and indirects energy costs, life cycle analyze,…) of equipment such as “greenhouses” and “shelters”?
- understand instalation and maintenance of plastic equipment and microclimate conditions?
- understand special problems of plant protection from diseases and pests in greenhouse conditions?
- understand the specifics of greenhouse production?
- have previous experience on greenhouse production?
- act in order to combat pests and diseases in greenhouses?
- understand the ecological management of greenhouses?
- schedule an annual crop rotation, maintaining soil fertility and control pests and diseases according to regulations?
- use different beneficial insects to combat major crop pests?
- master  techniques of organic control in greenhouses (crop auxiliaries etc) and of fertilization ?
- have knowledge of soil diseases and crop turnover?
- insert intermediate crops or green manures between or during crops, to promote soil biological activity through the presence of plants and living roots?
- master technical and economic constraints in greenhouse production ?
- apply ecological principles in  greenhouse conditions?
- produce vegetables indoors (sowing, optimal processing time and picking)?
- manage methods of biological control?
- use the proper techniques of non-degradable waste management and disposal of materials?
- understand basic features of the nutritional ecology of biological control agents?
- have knowledge of species of biological control agents available in the market ?
- have knowledge of conservation, biological control and ecological engineering methods used in open field crops ?
- know the theoretical foundations of ecology applied to plant pathology?
- understand the theoretical concepts that relate to soil-living nutrition and resistance to pests and diseases?
- understand the environmental risks of synthetic inputs and differential substances permitted in organic farming?
- know the importance of the role of weeds in agro-ecosystems and the theoretical foundations that allow the recognition of the most important species and their growth cycle?
- consider pests and diseases as regulators of  agro-system imbalances, and accordingly to use early preventive control and to strengthen the immunity systems of plants?
- understand the possibilities of purchasing ecological resources, and oftheir synergy?
- have knowledge of ecological preparations to protect plants from weeds, pests and diseases?
- have knowledge of the availability of the list of approved substances?
- have knowledge of the different possibilities for controlling harmful organisms in crop production?
- have knowledge of the permitted preparations/combinations in organic farming?
- understand their limited applicabilities and impacts?
- have knowledge of important local weed species and their growth and development?
- understand alternative techniques of plant protection, compatible with organic farming?
- identify pests and key species of biological control agents?
- make decisions regarding the management of prevention techniques and control according to regulations?
- have knowledge of trophobiosis as a unifying concept in agroecology?
- use the substances permitted in organic farming?
- master pests and auxiliaries' life cycles in order to promote biological control?
- make environmental protection agents?
- prepare pesticides from farm materials ("compost brew") or from plants from environment ("nettle brew", Equisetum extracts, Tanacetum cinerariifolium extracts etc.)?
- choose environmentally most acceptable methods of plant protection? 
- prepare an independent protection plan?
- recognise pest herbivores, illnesses, and disorders (visible symptoms caused by missing microelements)?
- apply the appropriate techniques to control weeds?
- master design approaches for innovative cropping systems?
- support the farmer in his agronomical technical reasoning?
- have knowledge of postharvest handling and packaging of fresh and processed products-knows what are the conditions to be met by a commodity and what are the factors of shelf life?
- have knowledge of regulations affecting the development of an ecological food-knows the rules governing the sector in postharvest ?
- understand storage principles and protection during storage of organic raw materials and products?
- have knowledge of methods of determining the period of harvest / picking, determine the physiological and technical maturity with chemical and organoleptic path?
- implement postharvest rules at the producer level or enterprise level?
- adapt to the rules governing the sector in postharvest?
- select the method of keeping the product with regard to its ultimate purpose?
- plan and execute harvesting, processing, transportationactivites and related operations?
- know the dynamics of the water cycle, biosphere level of the edafosphere and water balance in the plant?
- have knowledge of the theoretical basis from agroecology to facilitate water management in agricultural systems?
- have knowledge of the methods with the environment to ensure product quality?
- have knowledge of the quality of used water?
- understand  the advantages of irrigation?
- have knowledge of the importance of preventing pollution of watercourses and groundwater?
- have knowledge of methods to manipulate the environment to ensure product quality maintenance?
- have knowledge of the methods with the environment to ensure product quality maintenance?
- know how to apply dosages based on culture and stage of growth?
- understand  ecological principles in moisture conservation?
- have knowledge of irrigation methods?
- understands agro-climatic issues linked to global warming?
- understand irrigation methods which assure environmentally sound water management?
- advise farmers on optimum use of irrigation water/is able to provide/ take water samples for analysis?
- analyze water data and present it as a basis for decisions?
- extrapolate knowledge of water systems (the dynamics of the water cycle etc) to the design of crop and soil management?
- use techniques of soil management, planting, seeding and crop diversification to conserve water and can optimize irrigation?
- manage water: inputs (saving systems), limiting losses through evapotranspiration (mulch and organic mulch), surplus management (drainage, shaping boards cultures), associations of beneficial cultures, to create microclimates (agroforestry)?
- plan the installation and use of irrigation systems?
- plan the required capacity of the irrigation system and related costs of installation and usage?
- create and manage water-saving irrigation?
- calculate optimal water consumption and analyze profitability?
- apply an irrigation program ?
- master techniques for water management?
- master irrigation systems?
- have a developed consciousness of the usefulness of irrigation in agricultural production?
- implement irrigation system on agricultural land?
- prepare independently the farm’s water management and irrigation plan?
- meet the water needs and control the dose to be applied depending on the growth stage of the crop?
- know the basic characteristics of the water used for irrigation?
- know the consequences of tillage and their behavior depending on the type of soil?
- explore the features of machinery for planting, application of manure and compost, forage, and crop cultivation?
- have knowledge of proper handling of tools and machinery on a farm?
- understand tillage?
- comply with hygiene rules and food safety regulations ?
- know the machines which are specially created for Organic Agriculture ?
- stay safe at the work according to national legislation by having attended relevant training?
- master the appropriate equipment for mechanical weeding?
- master spraying equipment to ensure proper application of bio pesticides?
- know how to properly maintain machinery?
- understand the advantages and application of  the planned preventive maintenance system?
- understand energetic issues (direct consumption and indirect energy costs, life cycle analysis) linked to agricultural equipment?
- know collective approaches for using agricultural equipment : group property, farmers groups, support societies?
- understand environmental impact of agricultural machinery use?
- have the appropriate handling certificates and is able to handle the machinery safely ?
- understand soil management with minimum tillage and no-till?
- fix the use of specific tools, at the right floor-and-tempering time for cultivation?
- prepare and execute machine handling and control instructions?
- drive tractors and garden tractors with implements?
- perform maintenance of the facilities?
- select and use appropriate equipment for each job, in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity, particularly in soil?
- safely and properly use machinery?
- provide proper first aid?
- know the rules regarding the labeling of organic products?
- understand the packaging industry at the national level and in exports?
- know the main functions of packaging in fresh and processed foods and the different characteristics of each?
- have knowledge of the legal regulations of processing and labeling of organic products? 
- have knowledge of the importance of proper harvest time depending on the purpose of the product?
- have knowledge of the principles of organic products preservation, drying techniques and preserving ecological products?
- have knowledge of the list of approved substances and ways of processing?
- understand the role of packaging as selling tool?
- have knowledge of and  introduce  and maintain a complex HACCP system?
- understand the basic semi-finished and finished product production technologies?
- have knowledge of the best professional practices, standards and specifications of packaging and stripping/wrecking?
- understand energetic issues (direct consumption and indirects energy costs, life cycle analysis) linked with packaging?
- understand the process for proper selection of packaging (reusable, bio degradable material)?
- understand processing and packaging technology?
- know the basics of environmental labeling?
- differentiate the peculiarities of the labeling of fresh produce and processed product?
- have knowledge of the packaging industry at a national level and for export?
- apply this knowledge (main functions of packaging etc) to decision making in business?
- process products respecting sanitary regulations?
- handle machinery
- use methods of analysis of food hygiene to map the organic quality in farming food processing
- understand marketing channels in the eco-sector
- know how to differentiate the characteristics of the ecological food chain and all possible forms of marketing and distribution sector
- understand short channels and markets nearby
- understand the characteristics and potential of this type of marketing
- know the importance of online market and social media
- understand the importance of innovative marketing
- differentiate the characteristics of the ecological food chain and all possible forms of marketing and distribution sector
- design strategies to optimize this type of distribution with small farmers and small markets or consumer groups
- work at the enterprise level in the positioning and dynamics of eco responsible products
- know the marketing channels
- design labels and packaging of eco products in order to attract customers
- make market research and recognize optimal business oportunity
- master marketing techniques
- raise awareness about sustainable agriculture among employees and the environment
- raise awareness of the consumer about the benefits of ecological products on health and the environment
- know the importance of the tourism sector in the rural economy
- understand farm and / or ecotourism
- understand the differences between agro-tourism and green tourism
- know the basics of tourism 
- understand ways of selling tourism offers
- understand the regulations and limitations regarding agrotourism (village tourism)
- be sensitive to different cultures
- communicate and transfer the culture of an area
- understand green tourism
- introduce the environmental factor within the tourism sector
- understand farm and / or ecotourism
- link concepts and requirements for greater economic diversification in rural and local areas
- quantify its project to assess its profitability
- create good communication channels in marketing promotion 
- discover / plan new facilities to attract visitors
- create their own agrotourist household (on the base of possessed agricultural farm)
- find product niches to get a better price (additional income, …), combination of offerings   
- master the standards required for hosting disabled people
- find advice for dealing with tourism
- make a business plan (a form of agricultural tourism, finance, market demands, marketing, resources, etc.)
- integrate agrotourism into the course of business of the farm
- deal with agrotouristic activity (i.e. to plan activity, to lead marketing, to organize the stay of guests in the household, to manage finance aspects of the activity)
- have mastery of organic agriculture communication in order to respect competition rules?
- know how to support decision making by a farmer in a context of uncertainty?
- know the basics of a Firm's Social Responsibility approach?
- have mastery of the techniques of active listening (identifying customer needs through an open questionnaire)?
- identify the difference between needs and the expectations of a farmer?
- have mastery of at least one foreign language?
- evaluate the overall performance of a technical proposal (environmental, social and economic impacts, stakeholders identification)?
- link a technical proposal and farmer 's strategic directions?
- master the stakeholders' identification in an organic farming project?
- support farmers' groups (at least, to organize meetings)?
- have some level of mastery of ICT tools?

If you answered YES to a good deal of the above questions, then you probably have the right skills to be an organic farmer and manage a sustainable farm competently. You are also most likely to be a good listener, and a good decision maker, and will be able to survive a bout of bad luck (eg finance or climate oriented) to a great degree. Such skills are what is keeping Greece afloat at the moment: while most developed countries disregard their food supply as playing a great role in their economy, and importing most of their food needs, Greece produces a great deal of fresh food that is used in its raw state by Greek citizens, as well as being exported. What's more, Greek food is considered very highly among the global community.

Make what you wish of the competences stated above. They are based on skills, competences and knowledge which are believed to be inherited informally and non-formally from one farming family member to another, especially through experience, and which are slowly being lost over time as people gradually move away from farming as a career/main job, hence the need to formalise such training in recognised courses for would-be farmers.

Some skills cannot be taught just from a book, while others need a substantial period of time to be understood to the point that a person can practice them. Farming depends on hands-on experience. Once such skills are debased, then the big-business agro-industry rightfully must become a standard feature of our lives.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


I've been away from blogging for a bit, due to our London holiday. We always prefer cooler weather for vacationing due to our own climate which is generally too hot. From our first day there, we felt very lucky with the weather, which was generally fine and sunny, not too hot, and no rain or even wind, perfect for enjoying the outdoor London life.

I'd like very much to blog about what I saw and what we ate, but we came back to our busy life, and have only just managed to catch up with our home life this weekend. So I'll leave my travel stories for later, when I have gathered and organised my thoughts a little. In the meantime, you can enjoy my photos here.

If I were to pick the one photo that summarised our trip for me, it would be this one. It may look very insignificant to most people, but put yourselves in my shoes (ie my red sandals): the last time I walked on grass and could feel it on my legs was when I was last in NZ (over a decade ago). All my subsequent visits to London have taken place in cold weather so my legs were always shoed-and-socked. This is the first time I have visited in September. The feeling of cool grass blades cooling my toes took me right back to my childhood. In Hania, you cannot find grass long or thick enough to do this. If you sit on it, you'll get a brown bum.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Greek tourism boon

Finally, the end of August has arrived. It was a long month in Crete for most of the residents, because it was very hot and very busy, with tourists weighing down the island. As the high summer season comes to an end (and the low season starts, which is at least two more months here in Crete), it's time to reflect on that great Greek success story of this past year: tourism.

Tourism in Greece has always been a major economic force, and this is unlikely to change in the future. Its role in the economy cannot be underestimated: Tourism composes 16.3% of the GDP of Greece, and it employs 1 million people, providing 20% of the jobs in Greece. So the tourism sector should not be treated lightly.

Breaking records
In the last two years, tourism to Greece has seen an unprecedented rise: more than 20 million visitors have passed through Greece so far this year, breaking all the Greek records from previous years, bringing in revenue of approximately €12 billion euro. At the same time, Greece has been struggling with economic depression in the last 6 years, and a very negative global image. 2013 was a landmark year for Greek tourism, with 18 million arrivals and 2 million cruise ship passengers making Greece their holiday destination. In 2014, revenue from tourism is expected to rise by 28% from the previous year, while arrivals to Greece had already risen by 26% until the end of March this year, and they continue to rise, with 4 months to go to the end of the year. So we really need to ask ourselves: What is it that has made Greece so popular in just the last two years? Why did tourists literally flock to Greece this year, probably making Greece the most popular summer destination? It's a question that interests me immensely, not least because I live in an area which is very touristic and the livelihood of most people invariably depends on tourism; but the welfare of my children's future also depends on this continuing success.

Stability amidst conflict
I think it's mainly got to do with stability - political stability, economic stability, stability in general. Up until 2012, the BBC and The Guardian, bastions of "impartial" news reporting, bombarded their news sites with a barrage of negative news items about Greece, culminating with the premise of the potential threats posed by Grexit (which is amusing in retrospect, given how Brexit surfaced this year). Since then, global media news reports about Greece have admittedly become quite subdued, with most economic analysts agreeing that there appears to be some kind of Grecovery taking place - quite the opposite from the doomsday predictions that were being smeared all over the web news up until just under two years ago.

We can't deny that stability has played a major role in Greece's rise in tourist arrivals, given the shocking state that her eastern and southern neighbours are in: the Arab world is embroiled in some kind of war. Arab spring broke out only a year after the Greek economic crisis, while the Ukraine Crimea crisis showed us just how far people were prepared to go to protect their sovereign rights. Iraq and Syria do not seem so far away from Greece. We've seen how Greece's neighbours express their anger over political decisions. Despite the fact that Greek politics deeply divided Greek society, Greeks didn't actively seek to exterminate each other. It is no coincidence that Greece is seen as a safe country in an area surrounded by turmoil. The internet has helped to spread the image of Greece as a safe and peace-loving nation.

If we simply stick to the premise that Greece is a safe country to travel in at a time when her part of the world is experiencing conflict, then this amounts to saying that Greece's success has rested on others' demise. Is this what has really happened? Do we really want to believe that people are coming to Greece because they can't go to other places? In other words, when stability returns in North Africa and the Middle East (and it will to a certain degree, as all crises do pass eventually), Greece will be forgotten and the true stars will shine. I find that impossible to believe. Given the rise in urban crime, notably in Athens, it can be concluded that there are safer places to go to than Greece. So there must be something else pulling people to our shores. What is that other thing? 

According to the Secretary-General for Tourism in Greece, Panos Livadas, who recently came to MAICh to give a talk to students, entitled Tourism as a Vehicle for Economic Development and Growth, the crisis provided the impetus for people to change tactics: since the beginning of 2013, there has been a shift to the use of the internet and all the new means of media in marketing Greece. So Greece has now adapted to current marketing trends, and is being marketed online through heavy use of social networks. Since was created, it has been visited by nearly 10 million people, and bureaucracy has now been decreased to a certain extent to allow the private sector to deal with tourism without too much state interference. Tourism has diversified, and there are plans to create an enriched and balanced all-year-round Greek tourism product.

An information-based world
At the same time, there has been a shift in the people who deal with tourism in Greece. Tourist businesses have learnt the value of competition, and have since become more competitive. Sometimes, it all boils down to the basics; for example, it has been noticed that more and more Greeks who deal with tourists... big breath.... smile more than they used to. (I remember the days when they did not, when you were more likely to get a hoity toity scowl ,so this tiny detail does actually mean a great change has taken place.) Not only that, but more and more of the 'right' people are involved in tourism: as the state has become more competitive to beat off our competitors, so have the people become more competitive in offering better services and setting good prices. Greece is now also making firm connections with the new markets, notably China - it's the first year there is a direct flight connecting Athens with a Chinese destination - and Brazil - a huge campaign took place during the Mundial event.

So there lies the answer: Greece has had a massive increase in tourism in the last two years because... tourists have access to more information about Greece than they ever did before and they can do their own research about Greece before deciding which destination to choose. And the information they are getting leads them to the assumption that Greece is not only safe, but it is also a very cool - and cheap! - place to go on holiday. So the answer to the question about why tourism has boomed lately in Greece was a simple one: people are better able to learn about Greece on their own.

Sustainable tourism
Another thing that Mr Livadas mentioned in his speech was the human scale of Greek tourism. This is also identified in the experiences that tourists to Greece have, and how they disseminate these experiences to others. Greece's growth in toursim is based on sustainable growth, something that can be repeated year after year, without destruction to the social fabric that Greek society is made of, and this is something that travellers want to hear, given that the modern world lays emphasis on the sustainability of the environment. In other words, don't expect Greece to create a Las Vegas style resort, or skyscraper hotels along the Greek coastlines. A lot has been said about the Greek coastline in recent times, but some things that are spreading like wildfire on the internet are not even conceivable; this rests on knowing what to believe and what not to believe on the internet, and Greece is getting better at disseminating information, and counter-reacting against negative reports.

There is of course one thing that few people can deny about Greece which attracts people to Greece as a tourism destination: Greece is a beautiful country, and Greece's beauty transcends the nature of recreation while on holiday. Greece's beauty allows Greece to serve many different segments of the tourist market. Greece offers a diverse tourist package to cater for the great variety of people that humankind manifests itself! And the vote of confidence in Greece couldn't have come at a better time for Greece than now.

Hospitality from the heart
According to Mr Livadas, what distinguishes Greece above all in the way that a Greek tourist product is presented is that Greek people offer hospitality to the tourist from the heart, not just as a product. So in Greece:

  • You can rely on the lady who said she will be waiting for you to let you into the remote hotel or villa, even when your boat or plane comes in in the wee hours of the morning. 
  • You can ask a Greek for information and they will give it to you gladly; they will not treat you like a full wallet, nor will they expect to be paid for the yielding of information. 
  • You will be remembered on your second visit by the people who you met on your first visit, and this is what will make you want to re-visit in the future. 
  • You will be invited impromptu to join into a stranger's family meal and you will be made to feel welcome - and you will probably admit that this would never take place in your homeland. 
  • You will receive food gifts from Greeks, plastics bags full of fresh fruit and vegetables thrust into your hands - and again, you will admit that this would not happen in many places anywhere else in the world.

If you have come to Crete on holiday, you must have experienced one or more of the above. It is little wonder that people who have visited Greece come back again. Greece offers a variety of landscapes to explore, it is a safe destination for families, it never gets boring, it is impressive, and above all, it is the Greek people who make your stay memorable. Greece creates that feeling in you that makes an impressionable mark on you. Greece is that thing. You leave Greece with the feeling that you have made friends here.

Cheap flights, not cheap people
A lot has also been said about cheap tourists, and cheap forms of tourism. For example, people believe that Ryanair and Easyjet, both cheap seasonal flights airlines, bring 'poor' tourists who don't spend much money in the destination. It is also believed that all-inclusive tourism doesn't leave much money either. Both these beliefs are myths; here in Hania, we have evidence to the contrary. For a start, it should be noted that only about 30% of tourists  to Greece come with all-inclusive packages than have been pre-paid in their country of origin, so they are a significantly smaller portion of Greece's tourist numbers.

For the last four years, an annual survey on tourism, organised by MAICh in conjunction with the Hania Hoteliers' Association, takes place in Hania, spanning 4000 respondents per summer season. The findings over the years give solid information about the kind of tourists that come here, and what they expect in terms of services. Scandinavians form half the tourist arrivals in Hania; in fact, they are the ones that are more likely to book an all-inclusive package. Because Crete has mild weather, the tourist season is extended here compared to the rest of Greece. Those who visit Crete earlier (ie April-May) or later (ie September-October) in the season are more likely to be high income earners in their country, with a high educational level, and a greater interest in the history and nature of the area. They are also more likely to return to Crete for another holiday here, even within the same season.

One of the most important findings to come out of the survey was a direct result of Ryanair's appearance in Hania. Ryanair uses Hania airport as a travel hub for their flights, meaning that Ryanair flies in and out of Hania to approximately 25 European destinations. Ryanair passengers were particularly targeted as the group of interest due to the nature of the airline they were using; Ryanair is known to be a 'cheap' airline. It was discovered that people using Ryanair to get to the island come from all income levels, refuting the myth that cheap seasonal charter flights bring cheap tourists. Not only that, but those who use those cheap flights are also more likely to organise their own hotel bookings, so they are more likely to be independent travellers rather than package tourists. More than 75% of those surveyed find the prices of tourist services in Hania to be very satisfactory, breaking down another myth, that tourist prices in Greece are over-priced. Generally speaking, tourists in Hania are very satisfied with the level of services catering for them. Among their complaints is the road network - they are unhappy with the state of some roads, and the lack of signage. On a positive note, they find public transport services, including both buses and taxis, to be at a high level.

The package tourist
The Greek tourist package has undergone massive changes from the early days of mass tourism to Greece. In this article, the writer remembers a time in the 1970s when the owner-operators of village kafeneia (which acted more than just as cafes: they were also the local grocers, the receptacle for post mail, and the local men's meeting point) had no idea what to charge the odd European or two who passed through their village, for what seemed to the tourists like a three-course meal, because they (the kafeneio owners) were used to serving food out of love, and not for money. The writer concludes that tourism in Crete and Greece in general has gone from «value without money» to «value for money».

As for those all-inclusive tourists - the ones that book their holiday in their own country and come to stay in a resort hotel which offers them in-house meals so that they don't need to go out and spend money at restaurants - they are highly visible in Hania because... they wear a coloured paper/plastic bracelet, a bit like those bracelets that you wear when you are hospitalized (NB: we don't wear such a bracelet in Greek hospitals). Many people have the impression that they don't spend much money in the destination because most of their expenses have been pre-paid in their own country.   

The classic sign of the all-inclusive package tourist is the 'βραχιολάκι', meaning 'bracelet' (the package toursits wear one throughout their stay, to distinguish them as paying guests and not freeloaders at resorts); all -inclusive toursits are regarded as cheap tourists whose money spent on their holiday doesn't go into Greek pockets - seriously?

My own observations make me find this difficult to believe. This photo was taken at my local beach which tourists generally don't visit because they don't know about it (it's a local's secret). It may look like they are spending money on cheap supplies, eg water, ice cream, beer, crisps, sandwiches, etc, but as I observed this particular family for about an hour, I noticed just how much they had actually spent at one little cafe at the beach. I wondered if they would do this every day on their holiday for their 5-member family (parents and 3 kids). To be honest, I am not well off enough to do this myself every time I go to the sea. But this family - I think they were Scandinavian (not German or British for sure) - would do this every time they went to the beach or sat by the hotel pool. I estimated that they had easily spent 15-20 euro on the afternoon that I saw them. I have not counted the little girl's dress, which is made of batik coloured cotton, and has a meander running around it - even if it wasn't made in Greece (I suspect India), it was bought here, not before she came to Crete! So this family was definitely pumping money into the Greek economy. Even if they pay for their holiday before arriving in Greece, everything they buy outside of the resort goes into the Greek economy, and staff at the resorts are paid salaries. It may be presumed that the beach cafe owner was not ringing up the takings on the till, so that he can cheat the taxman - but I know for a fact that this particular cafe runs up all the orders, and we are always called back to pick up the receipt when we forget to wait for it to be issued! People who make these assumptions are generally believing their own myths. Tourists are spending money for sure, and my workplace has proven this for Crete.

And here is a close-up of the activity going on in the sea while we were at the beach on the day that the Scandinavian family was there - three mini-cruise boats (I was playing with the settings of the camera, hence the pop-art and dramatic scene look of each photo) were packed with tourists sailing round the harbour. It's not locals going on these trips - it's tourists, and mainly non-Greeks tourists.

Spending power
All tourists are the same in one respect: it all depends on the size of your wallet, what you feel you can afford, and how much money you are willing to spend in order to have the kind of time you want to have. During July and August, the tavernas in the old Venetian harbour of Hania were all doing very good business from what I noticed every time I was in the area. Some were full to the brim, others were mainly full at the front tables (ie near the seafront), but all of them were doing some trade (none remained empty). Tavernas are not necessarily preferred by family tourists (it's not just Greeks minding the pennies), as they will add to the cost of a holiday. Family folk will go to the local supermarket and make up their extra meals in this way by buying bread, ham, cheese, tomatoes, crisps, beer, wine, etc. And if they really do want to try a taverna meal outside the resort, there are deals for that too, all devised by local restaurant owners who are thinking up of ways to get those small spenders into their stores. But they are still spending money in the country! Coincidentally, when we travel to London, we do something similar; we stay with friends, we bring some of our own food, we don't go out to restaurants every day we're on holiday - we know what we can afford. 

Another way I could observe how full the town was with tourists this year was when I was standing at the traffic lights in the town centre, waiting to cross the road. Because our roads are generally rather narrow, there were times I literally could not see the traffic lights. I felt like I was in London waiting at the underground, and not being able to jump into the first train to arrive because it filled up too quickly. There are the stories my cabbie husband tells me: he spent most of July and half of August at the airport - they are the best cab fares in Hania. According to my husband, there were days when the taxi drivers weren't able to keep up with the demand for taxis at the airport! And here's another observation which struck me as a little strange: I was at Bershka with my daughter in the first week of this year's summer sales, and the store, together with its neighbours Pull and Bear, Zara and Stradivarius were full of tourists - they must be finding our high street shop prices lower than theirs! The town was constantly congested with cars and people: we know a rental car when we see one, and we know the behaviour of the drivers (a little reticent, they feel uncomfortable driving on our busy narrow roads) - and foreign tourists drive differently from Greek tourists in Hania (who come from the mainland - they drive like Athenians). 

Confidence boosters

If Germans are choosing to take their holidays in Greece after all the negative press about Greece in Germany, that's a promising sign. When a major German tourism firm is willing to invest in Greek tourism, then I'd say the real reason why people are coming here is because Greece is seen as a relatively nice and cheap and safe place to take a holiday in. (Ask the increasing numbers of Israeli tourists about this one.) If this means that some touristsn want to stay in all-inclusive resorts, then that's what we have to give these people in order to get them here: Northern Europeans like to arrange their travel through an agent like these tourist companies. Generally speaking, they like pre-arranged holidays, they want to know who to blame when things don't go right, and they want to know what they can expect in advance. It may sound like it takes away the romance in travel, but then again, if that's what a segment of the market wants, that's what we have to give them. What's more, there is enough variety in Greece to cater for the demands of a wide variety of tourists. I would never want to stay at an all-inclusive here or abroad, but that's me and my tastes - we aren't all the same. Thankfully, there is a great variety of tourism types to choose from in Greece - we are all catered for in some way. 

Tourism is the number-one driving force of the Greek economy at present. The economic scale of tourism cannot be compared to the novel ideas arising from the highly acclaimed private tech start-ups that are often touted as the key to economic development in Greece; they require a lot of investment and can be lucrative ventures for their creators, but they rarely employ many people, therefore limiting their wider economic impact. A big step forward in Greek tourism is to offer all-year round tourism. The biggest problem in this respect is trying to convince airlines to keep flying in the 'off-season', ie between November and March, so that the purpose-built tourism infrastructure (namely hotel complexes) can continue working throughout the year. Ryanair has come to the rescue as a first step to solving this problem: for the first time, the toursim season will be extended by a month this year in Hania, as Ryanair will continue flying from Hania to London twice a week in November. This is possibly a trial run for something bigger. Ryanair has complained of the high taxes imposed on winter flights, at a time when there are generally no tourists, and the Greek state could therefore lower the costs for airlines using the airport (ie drop the 12-euro tax per passenger). Sure, this can be done: but Ryanair must have sniffed something good happening in Greece, otherwise it wouldn't be doing us this favour, would it?! And look at one of The Guardian's recent pieces on Greece - towards the end of the high summer season, they are admitting that Greece looks to be back on track after all. Even Google is onto Greece: this week, it launches a program (piloted in Crete) to help Greek tourism grow online

Final words: image is everything
So it's all looking good: as long as we can maintain a good image and just as importantly, focus on keeping on track, we can't be doing that bad. Certainly, many problems did surface even in this record-breaking year: we still need to address very basic issues such as road safety, road construction and rubbish disposal allowing tourists to throw away their rubbish in an environmentally friendly way which is something they are already used to doing in their own countries (eg giving them the opportunity to separate their trash at the beach, which is not being done now). While there is definitely room for improvement in all sectors (notably in the lack of tourism education), we can't avoid the inevitable either: there will always be a crisis around the corner that will hit us just when we least expect it. One way or another, you will face a crisis and you will not be able to predict its form (unless it is a self-created crisis - Greeks learnt the hard way); you won't be prepared for it, but in order not to destroy your credibility, you need to react to it in some way that shows you are handling it well. But all crises pass, and the world continues to grow and develop after such events. Even though such events dampen our confidence levels, we can't let the culture of mediocrity hamper our development. Why should we pave the road to others' success when we can be part of the success story ourselves?

UPDATE: Ryanair certainly knows a good thing when it sees it; more destinations from Hania come next season.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

The Mediterranean Diet as a lifestyle (Η Μεσογειακή Δίαιτα ως τρόπος ζωής)

Here is an article I wrote that has just been published as a leaflet, for distribution at the second Mediterranean Diet Fair, which is being held next month at Tavira (Portugal) between the 5th and 7th of September, 2014. The leaflet is being produced by the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (my workplace) since it has been charged with the responsibility of the Coordination Point for the Mediterranean Diet until April 2015. You're getting a sneak preview of it. 
The Mediterranean Diet,
as inscribed by UNESCO
in the List of Intangible Heritage
Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania

The Mediterranean Diet

When talking about the Mediterranean Diet, emphasis is often placed on the actual food consumed by people who live in Mediterranean countries. This emphasis is perhaps misdirected: the Mediterranean Diet should be seen as a lifestyle, not a diet in its literal sense:

The Mediterranean Diet – derived from the Greek word díaita, way of life – is the set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions, ranging from the landscape to the table, which in the Mediterranean basin concerns the crops, harvesting, picking, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly sharing and consuming the cuisine. It is at the table that the spoken word plays a major role in describing, transmitting, enjoying and celebrating the element.” (UNESCO)

Therefore, safeguarding the Mediterranean Diet in modern times is not based on the safeguarding of specific recipes; it stems from the rapid breakdown of a changing social fabric which once helped to safeguard the continuity of a lifestyle passed on from one generation to another, making it difficult to pass on this knowledge to future generations. Without a community base, there would be no ‘Mediterranean diet’; it would simply be called 'Mediterranean food'. The food of the Mediterranean is also found in other parts of the world, and can easily be copied, but this is not true about the lifestyle - it is actually the way of life (δίαιτα) that UNESCO wants to protect as Intangible Heritage under the general title of the Mediterranean Diet. 


The origins of the phrase "Mediterranean Diet" are founded in Ancel Keys' well known 1960s study about the food habits of various Mediterranean people, which took place not too long after the devastation caused by World War II when many European countries were still underdeveloped, people lived on the farm, and there were many food shortages. Their food habits, which constitute the Mediterranean Diet, were regarded as healthy due to the low incidences of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high cholesterol. Additionally, high life-expectancy rates existed among populations who consumed a traditional Mediterranean diet. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet gained much recognition and worldwide interest since the period after the original study, as a model for healthful eating.

Seen in the old town of Hania, outside a taverna.

Ancel Keys' Mediterranean Diet pyramid is based on the healthy eating and lifestyle habits of the people living in southern Italy and the Greek islands, notably Crete, in the early 1960s.

Photo: Bread, olive oil and wine constituted the triptych of the Greek diet for many centuries, just as they do today.

A modern Greek meal is like taking a trip through Greece's history. Food names, cooking methods and basic ingredients have changed little over time. Bread, olive oil and wine have constituted the triptych of the Greek diet for many centuries, just as they do today. The first cookbook was written by the Greek food gourmet, Archestratos in 330 BC, which suggests that food and cooking has always been of great importance and significance in Greek society, which remains true even today.

The Mediterranean Diet as a lifestyle

Food events in the Mediterranean are an integral part of the Mediterranean people’s socialization; they are a perfect display of the Mediterranean lifestyle. They invariably involve a group of people who all play their own role in ensuring that a seasonal food event takes place according to plan. From the soil to the plate, each stage in the process is followed. Omitting any stage can sometimes be the cause of misunderstanding, although it is possible to alter a stage to suit the conditions. The alterations to such seasonal activities are how traditions are formed over time in each of the individual communities involved. The Mediterranean Diet is, therefore, not limited to terrain or particular food products: it is a shared understanding of the continuity of traditional values associated with eating patterns. Every different Mediterranean country has its own rituals and traditions associated with food, so there is no single diet. It is a coincidence that similar food items are often used, although they are combined in different ways according to many factors, such as one's locality, religion, available seasonal produce, customs, etc.

Many of the lifestyle events involved in the Mediterranean Diet are one-off occasions. They cannot be repeated due to their seasonal nature, and therefore their results will be lost for the year if they are not conducted accordingly. When things don't go to plan, there is always a Plan B to follow, so that the ritual's offering will not go wasted. The Mediterranean lifestyle revolves around the same seasonal activities that, at any given moment, are being done by different people at exactly the same time, and this is what is so special about the Mediterranean Diet: this is in fact the Intangible Heritage that UNESCO wants to protect under its label. It is not just the food, but the way of life that the food revolves around which needs to be protected.

The Mediterranean Diet in food security

In modern times, there is a great need to protect the Mediterranean Diet, due to the fact that it is now under threat from the forces of the globalisation and internationalisation of lifestyles. These movements cannot be prevented, nor is it desirable to stop them from taking place. But they are the main reason why the farming populations of Mediterranean countries are gradually being reduced, hence the reason why the Mediterranean people are losing contact with the land as they become more urbanised. These events are also accompanied by an increasingly homogenized and globalised food production system that disconnects food from its natural landscape.

It should therefore be seen as a vital goal to promote the Mediterranean Diet in its place of origin (i.e. in the countries of the Mediterranean basin) in the framework of a lifestyle. Our lives are becoming interconnected, and we are merging in many ways, but there are some things that will keep us distinct, and they are to be treasured, for that is where our sense of uniqueness comes from. The aim of the Mediterranean Diet newsletter, in conjunction with the Mediterranean Diet website, is to initiate discussion into how to maintain and preserve this unique identity.

In the process of being editeds

Intangible Heritage - UNESCO

Upon the completion of negotiation rounds headed by the Ministry of Rural Development and Food of the Hellenic Republic, Greece has been assigned the coordinating role of the Network of the seven Member Countries subscribed to the Mediterranean Diet in UNESCO's representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, from 1 May 2014 to 30 April 2015. At an intergovernmental meeting held in Agros, Cyprus, on 28-29 April 2014, which was attended by the National Committee of UNESCO, the proposal of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food of the Hellenic Republic to undertake the coordination of the Network was adopted. November 16 has been set as the Flagship Day to celebrate the Mediterranean Diet.

This effort of the Greek government and specifically the Ministries of Rural Development & Food, and Culture & Sport, regarding the need for a coordination tool, was launched in 2011, immediately after the recognition by UNESCO of the Mediterranean Diet as Intangible Cultural Heritage, following the submission of a portfolio to the UNESCO Committee. On the Greek side, Koroni in Messinia was chosen as the flagship of the Community, an area rich in agricultural products such as olive oil, olives, wine, raisins, figs, a large variety of vegetables, herbs and aromatic plants. The Member Countries and Emblematic Communities of the Mediterranean Diet as Intangible Cultural Heritage are Koroni (Greece), Brač and Hvar (Croatia), Agros (Cyprus),  Cilento (Italy), Chefchaouen (Morocco), Tavira  (Portugal) and Soria (Spain).

The Ministry has assigned, as the coordination point, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh/CIHEAM), which has the necessary scientific and research expertise to undertake joint actions and initiatives, both to preserve and disseminate the values of the Mediterranean Diet.

If the Mediterranean Diet is seen as just a pyramid of a suggested diet regime, then we are only looking at the food and not the lifestyle. The significance of the Mediterranean Diet includes so much more than just the food.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.