Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — Wildfires that swept through southern Greece in 2007 claimed 84 people, over 25,000 cattle and sheep and destroyed more than 667,000 acres of farmland, homes and forests. Three years later, small family farms on the Peloponnese Peninsula may become the next victims of the disaster as Greece's economic struggles and the difficult farming conditions challenge the economic viability of the region's small farms.
A $300,000 grant from the Greek Fire Relief Fund of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) aims to help young families in the Prefecture of Ileia to modernize their small family farms and help them become economically viable. The six month project will focus on the areas around Zacharo, Oleni, Pinia, Andritsena, and Alifira.
"Many of the young farmers I spoke to following the fire were determined to restore the land and adopt new techniques that will help them to become more competitive in a global economy," said His Grace Bishop Andonios of Phasiane, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America who visited the region soon after the fires. "This grant will provide the opportunity for farming families to implement some of these changes and build upon the assistance they have received previously from our Archdiocese and the Greek Orthodox faithful of America to recover their farms and maintain their way of life."
Two hundred young farmers and their families in Ileia will receive grants to assist them in meeting short-term agricultural needs or in improving their farming equipment. The grants will be repaid through in-kind support provided by the farmers to meal distribution centers of the Church of Greece and the Municipality of Athens.
The advanced age of many farmers in the Peloponnese region discourages them from investing in their farming facilities and from adopting new practices, which are critically needed in order to meet the demands of international markets for farming products. By providing assistance to young people with families, the grants are intended to help families maintain their farms rather than being forced to migrate to urban areas.
In addition to the grants, farmers in fire-stricken areas will receive assistance through soil analysis. Priority will be given to farmers who produce olives, grapes and vegetables. Technicians will take samples from the farmers' fields and perform the tests. Using data gathered through the soil tests, technicians will provide instruction to farmers on how to use the data to improve their yield.
The soil laboratory, constructed by IOCC beginning in 2008 in Pyrgos, the capital of the Prefecture, was funded through a grant from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and The Pancretan Association of America. It has been in operation since the middle of 2009 to provide for reliable, local testing of soils for farmers in the region.
To date the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has provided a total of more than $3.6 million to fund projects carried out by IOCC following the fires in Greece. In addition to the soil lab, emergency provisions of animal feed and forage seed were provided to more than 2,000 Greek farmers in the provinces of Ileia and Arcadia who lost livestock and pasturelands in the fire. New equipment was also provided to firefighters in the region.
IOCC, founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), has implemented programs in more than 35 countries around the world.
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