NAOUSSA, Greece, May 9 (Xinhua) — The crisis in Ukraine has cast a long shadow over the sun-drenched apple orchards of the Agricultural Cooperative of Naoussa (ACN) in northern Greece.
„The fruits we grow here are among the first ones that are hit in the markets,” Kostas Tabakiaris, the cooperative’s president, said.
The ACN produces an average 20,000 tons of fruits per year for the domestic and international markets. They grow peaches, nectarines, cherries, apples, apricots, plums, lotus and kiwis.
Before Russia banned all imports of fresh produce from the European Union (EU) in 2014 in response to EU sanctions on Russian banks and businesses, 70 percent of the cooperative’s production was exported to Russia, and in recent years at least 20 percent was sold in Ukraine, Tabakiaris told Xinhua.
In Greece, where agricultural commodities account for one-third of the country’s total exports, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has forced farmers to scramble for new markets and to simultaneously press the government for aid to keep them afloat, they told Xinhua in interviews.
„Directly and indirectly, Greece is losing some 400 to 500 million euros (422-527 million U.S. dollars) in revenues per year from exports of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables,” George Polychronakis, special counselor of INCOFRUIT-HELLAS, the Association of Greek Export and Consignment Enterprises for Fruits, Vegetables and Juices, told Xinhua in Athens.
About half of the losses are directly linked to the suspension of exports to Ukraine, Russia and Belarus (some 160,000 tons, accounting for 10 percent of all exports in 2020-2021), and the other half is caused by a drop in consumption and a downward pressure on prices across the EU due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, he explained.
Before the 2014 ban, which is still in effect, approximately 12 percent of Greece’s exports of fresh produce went to the Russian market, Polychronakis said.
Since 2014, Greek producers have shifted their focus to the exports of processed products to Russia. Until the outbreak of the conflict, 35 percent of Greece’s peach juice exports had been destined for Russia, and 23 percent of its exports of fresh peaches and nectarines were shipped to Ukraine and Belarus, Christos Giannakakis, vice chairman of ETHEAS, the National Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Greece, said.
Today, Greek producers have to struggle to fill in the gaps.
„Some (government) aid has been given mainly for the energy cost and a little to alleviate production costs, but these are insufficient,” Polychronakis said. „The cost of production has risen. It has already skyrocketed to over 35 percent compared to before 2022.”
„The prices of nitrogenous and nitrate fertilizers, which are basic fertilizers we use in the field of our production, have almost tripled,” Giannakakis also told Xinhua.
Previously, large amounts of such fertilizers were imported from Russia, he explained. Today, the situation is dire because of the rocketing freight rates caused by the fuel price hikes and the heightened competition among the European producers for bigger market shares.
„The quantities of products are concentrated in a limited geographical area and in this limited area, the purchasing power will be smaller than what we knew to date. The consequences are significant and multiple, and we do not know how to deal with this,” Giannakakis said.
Tabakiaris said that the producers, who are members of the cooperative, are also anxious to cater to the local market, where the purchasing power of households is likewise squeezed hard in recent months by rising inflation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Christos Ioannidis, co-owner of Kronos SA and Agrophoenix SA, two leading fruit manufacturing companies near Veroia in northern Greece, was also worried.
„I do not know how easy it will be to get back to normal,” he said, adding that he hopes that at least their exports to Ukraine will „be restored quickly” if the conflict ends soon.
As they are exploring ways to overcome the new challenges, Greece’s agricultural exporters are also eager to strengthen their long-standing cooperation with China, among others. (1 euro = 1.05 U.S. dollars) ■