Greece — Desperately Seeking Data

In search of a new, resilient economic model, the country needs enhanced understanding for managing its natural resources more sustainably.

One of the things that Greeks have understood over a decade-long struggle with an enormous crisis, is that the problem far exceeds the realm of economics. Still, vested interests of traditionally strong groups, short-sighted policies, and a collective persistence on lifestyles that can no longer be sustained by the economy and the planet have trapped the society in all sorts of narratives, that distract from a fundamental problem: no one really knows what needs to be done, for the country has NO DATA.

Greece’s very diverse terrain is located in the frontline of rising temperatures and climate change.

Agriculture and food processing are among the very few sectors to survive the crisis, at least so far. This is not to say that these sectors flourish.They are still just making it in a limbo economy, which saw Greek GDP shrinking by a staggering 27% in the last 10 years.

Some years back, many young Greeks returned to their family homes back in the countryside, often living off their parents’ ever-shrinking pensions, and started learning more about farming. Using old rusty tractors and machinery, asking for tips from the elders but also self-educating themselves online, many of them turned into organic, small-scale agriculture. The most dynamic of these ventured into manufacturing and branding their organic, artisanal products.

The short documentary video-blog “Farming on Crisis?” explores the stories of young Greeks looking back at the land in seek of employment and opportunities. Available online: www.vimeo.com/foodpolitics

During this time, Greece has actually observed an increase in the number of organic products sold in shops. The first delicatessen and organic retail outlets appeared, and more Greek quality products became visible in international markets. However, less and less land is officially declared as certified organic. Naturally, the question emerged: how is it possible to have a decrease of organic agriculture, while observing an increase of organic products? The answer is simple: no-one knows, for there is NO DATA.

The problem is also evident in a recent report by FiBL, which states that there is no official organic retail data for Greece since 2010. The situation is the same for some other EU countries, such as Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary.

Retail data is, of course, just one piece of the wider picture, though an important one. In the absence of such data, it is very difficult to obtain the evidence that can drive the reforms necessary for the country’s economic recovery. As a result, it is impossible to advocate for appropriate policies and attract investments that will support the majority, who are small scale family farmers.

The same applies for data related to the land. Not knowing enough about key environmental factors, which are intrinsically linked to the country’s agricultural and rural economy, is probably the largest risk for a country located on the frontline of climate change and many other sustainability-related challenges.

Last month, the GROW team was invited to join a vibrant crowd of growers, food communities and experts gathered in Greece for this year’s European Rural Sustainability Gathering. Following the gathering, we were called by greek participants over their unmapped farms and gardens.

We went on the road, from remote mountains and plains, into cities, over hundreds of kilometres and encountered courageous, innovative greek growers. We visited The Trinity Farm — Greece’s first large biodynamic farm, the urban community garden of PerKa, the Aetheleon oregano farm and learned about their lands, their ideas, their practices that remain unknown by the mainstream. This was also an opportunity to introduce GROW’s vision of collectively generating our own data, through simple experiments and the use of low cost sensors, which could help bridge the country’s enormous data gap.

GROW designs a series of simple experiments that will allow growers and communities get a better understanding of their soils.

Our vision at the GROW Observatory is to inspire a large community of citizens, in order to generate, own and openly share this much needed data on our soils. An international team of growers, scientists, designers and technicians are working together to develop an open framework for this exchange to take place online, with transparency and for free.

The GROW Observatory brings together an international, interdisciplinary team that aims to engage citizens across Europe to collect and openly share soil data.

Our first online course on “Citizen Science: from Soil to Sky” attracted more than two thousand participants from all corners of the world. At the GROW Forum we invite a vibrant dialogue for exchanging knowledge on soils, regenerative practices and good food. And we are now preparing a series of exciting calls to action, online educational resources and experiments for everyone to join our Citizens’ Observatory, co-learn and help put a massive effort to better understand and protect our soils and our land.