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AGROTICA 2024: GAIA EPICHEIREIN initiatives on the developments of the CAP and the digital transformation of Greek agriculture

‘Flagship Open Smart Farm’ informative session in Thessaloniki

In the presence of representatives from the political and business leadership of the country, the local government, the academic community and the farming world, the informative event jointly organized by GAIA EPICHEIREIN and co-hosted by NEUROPUBLIC on “The Common Agricultural Policy now and in the future: ecological and digital transition for a sustainable Greek agriculture” took place on Friday, February 2, 2024 in Thessaloniki, on the occasion of our participation in the 30th Agrotica international exhibition, the most important agricultural fair organized in the country every 2 years and attended by the entire Greek agri-food ecosystem.

The event brought together institutional representatives of the food system (farmers, agri-food businesses, consumers), policy/decision makers and opinion leaders (journalists, influencers) at EU/national/regional level to set the scene, highlighting the relevant policy themes/messages and raising awareness on the CAP’ s sustainability related objectives and policy tools. Participants were informed on the most recent CAP related developments (progress in the implementation of Strategic Plans, impact of the EU enlargement, CAP post 2027).

The role of the digital transition as a catalyst to achieve the ambitious EU objectives, tackle challenges and enhance the resilience and sustainability of the agricultural sector was a specific thematic focus of the event. This is closely linked not only to the cross-cutting objective of the CAP but also to the strategic orientation and joint investment that we have made at national level as GAIA EPICHEIREIN with the support of our IT partner NEUROPUBLIC already since 2016, through the development and implementation of the gaiasense smart farming system.

CAP4Food leaflets available at the entrance of the event hall

In a packed room at The Met Hotel, Mr. Christodoulos Antoniadis, President of NEUROPUBLIC, kicked off the evening by welcoming the attendees to Thessaloniki and to “this important event co-organized by GAIA EPICHEIREIN and NEUROPUBLIC on an issue that is both relevant and of particular importance for our country”. He also stressed that “it is well known that the two companies have been playing a leading role for several years in informing and supporting producers and their collective schemes, while leading the drawing of the roadmap for the development of the agri-food sector”.

Mr. Christodoulos Antoniadis

Then, the President of GAIA EPICHEIREIN, Mr. Christos Avgoulas, addressed the event by saying that one can criticize the CAP as much as they like, but cannot overlook the fact that “it is a valuable toolbox for the support and development of the sector which should not be rejected outright when conditions are difficult, but we should make every effort to make the best use of it at national level, but also to seek to improve it together with our EU partners for the benefit of the sustainability of the farmer and the countryside”. “GAIA EPICHEIREIN’s work and communication activities will continue unabated in the coming period, with a number of initiatives we will undertake to contribute, as always, to the informed public debate on agricultural policy issues and the CAP,” he concluded.

The Minister of Rural Development and Food, Mr. Lefteris Avgenakis, who delivered the keynote speech, mentioned the current agricultural news and, in particular, the issues of the farmers’ mobilizations. “We understand the anxiety and the insecurity of farmers given the current situation. The climate crisis has taken over and the phenomena are not over with the disasters in Thessaly. We must work wisely and with a long-term perspective for the next period,” he argued, and referred to the aid package announced by the Prime Minister. In conclusion, the Minister spoke about the prospects opened up by the establishment of agricultural departments in the Chambers of Commerce as well as the actions that our country has undertaken for cooperation with the countries of the South (EUMED-9) on issues related to climate change in the primary sector.

The Minister, Mr. Avgenakis.

Mr. Paolo de Castro, Member of the European Parliament and former Minister of Agriculture of Italy, then addressed the participants via a video message. “European farmers are not opposed to innovation and the green transition”, Mr. de Castro made the point clear, while stressing that innovation, smart farming and the work that GAIA EPICHEIREIN is doing in this direction is particularly important. “It is possible to achieve the environmental goals, but it is possible through projects that involve farmers. Therefore, a Europe that pursues this great transition together with farmers and not against them,” he argued.

“We need to work together and see how we can continue to produce safe food, taking into account the food sufficiency that is at stake right now in the European Union, while at the same time ensuring that we continue to have a profitable activity for our farmers and better protect natural resources, the climate and adapt to climate change,” Ms. Catherine Geslain-Lannéelle, Director Strategy & Policy analysis (AGRI.A) at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture & Rural Development, said in a video message.

The Common Agricultural Policy and the challenges faced by farmers in its implementation were addressed by Mr. George Katsoulis, President of the Association of Agricultural Cooperative Enterprises of Greece (SASOEE), since, as he said, “we are obviously not satisfied with this new CAP, which seems to have forgotten the economic dimension of agricultural activity, the agricultural income and has turned all its attention to the environment and climate, treating us as ‘criminals’”.

Mr. Giorgos Katsoulis

Ms. Roza Gargalakou, CEO at NEUROPUBLIC, in her speech, spoke about the digital transformation of the agricultural sector, which “is a one-way street and we have been supporting it as a company for more than a decade”. “We all need to work collectively, the state, academia, agribusinesses, cooperatives, agricultural advisors and especially farmers, in order to create the prospects for the development of agriculture,” she concluded.

Ms. Roza Gargalakou

The first part of the event was concluded with a closing statement by Ms. Elli Tsiforou, CEO at GAIA EPICHEIREIN, who stressed that “there should be an end to the tension, the polarization between the economic and environmental/climate dimensions of the agricultural activity and the corresponding objectives of the CAP’s Green Deal. We must strike a balance between the economy and the environment-climate”, while adding that “the debate on the CAP after 2027 should start now, putting on the table data such as the unstable geopolitical environment and Ukraine’s accession to the EU, but also the state of affairs in agricultural income, production costs and the degree of self-sufficiency of the Greek agriculture. This time, we need to anticipate, to prepare, to see how the sector should be supported from now on and to realize that we cannot go back to the CAP of the previous decades”, Ms. Tsiforou concluded.

Ms. Elli Tsiforou

The evening wrapped up with a seated dinner where the attendees had the opportunity to enjoy a fine, specially designed menu with products from producers and businesses that use smart farming practices and, in particular, the innovative gaiasense by NEUROPUBLIC.

The event was attended by New Democracy MPs, Mr. Stavros Kalafatis and Mr. Fanis Pappas, PASOK-KINAL MEP, Mr. Nikos Papandreou, the Secretary General of Rural Development and Food, Mr. George Stratakos, the former Mayor of Thessaloniki, Mr. Yannis Boutaris, the interim President of the Greek Payment Authority of Common Agricultural Policy Aid Schemes (OPEKEPE), Mr. Kyriakos Babasidis, the President of GEOT.E.E., Mr. Menelaos Gardikiotis, the President of the Interprofessional Organization of Cotton, Mr. Efthymis Fotinos, the President of the Interprofessional Organization of Meat, Mr. Yiannis Fasoulas, the Team Leader for Digitization from the DG Agriculture of the EC, Ms. Evangelia Mourmoura, the former New Democracy MP, Mr. Kostas Kiltidis, the interim Vice Presidents of OPEKEPE, Mr. Eleftherios Zervos and Mr. Kourdis Ioannis, Mr. Alcibiades Alexandrou, General Manager of Agricultural Banking of Piraeus Bank, representatives of the LATSCO Family Office, who hold a minority share in NEUROPUBLIC, representatives from large agronomic offices and Presidents of Agricultural Cooperatives – shareholders of GAIA EPICHEIREIN from across Greece, and many others.

CAP4Food roll up banner available at the entrance of the event hall

The Municipality of Thessaloniki was represented by the Deputy Mayor of Entrepreneurship & Citizen Services, Mr. Pantelis Kazantzidis, who also addressed the participants.

Visit to get to know smart farming in Episkopi, Imathia

Following the event, on Saturday, February 3, representatives from the European institutions, including Mr. Nikos Papandreou, Member of the European Parliament and Ms. Evangelia Mourmoura, Team Leader for Digitisation from DG Agriculture of the EC, together with representatives from the management and executives from GAIA EPICHEIREIN and NEUROPUBLIC, visited the Agricultural Cooperative of Episkopi “Alexandros” (in Episkopi, Imathia) which implements the gaiasense smart farming system developed by NEUROPUBLIC.

The aim of the visit was for representatives of the EU institutions and national collective agricultural and cooperative organizations to be informed in a direct and interactive way and to raise their questions on the economic, environmental, and social benefits of smart farming for both producers and citizens/consumers.

The visit started from the stone peach farm of Mr. Sotiris Papadopoulos, farmer, and member of the Agricultural Cooperative “Alexandros”, where a gaiasense smart farming station has been installed in early 2023. The farmer described both the digital mobile app he uses and the operation of the agro-meteorological station and the ways in which he has benefited from seeing the data recorded every hour. At the same time, executives from GAIA EPICHEIREIN and NEUROPUBLIC described the way of digital recording important data related to the atmosphere, soil and plant (temperature, humidity, wind direction and intensity, leaf wetting, salinity) related to the best cultivation practices adopted with the support of smart farming.

The delegation then visited the premises of the Agricultural Cooperative “Alexandros”. The participants were welcomed by the President of the Cooperative, Mr. Stefanos Daoukas, who referenced the uninterrupted twenty-year operation and continuous development of the Cooperative, with the active participation of about 200 members and its recognition as a Producers’ Organisation (PO) of fruit and vegetables in 2019.

Regarding the contribution of the gaiasense smart farming system to the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of the cooperative, Mr. Ilias Papanikolaou, Commercial Director for Northern Greece of GAIA EPICHEIREIN, stressed that the continuous interest of producers and all POs of Imathia since 2015, has contributed to the implementation of many smart farming projects, resulting in the collection of a wealth of data used by producers to enhance their sustainability. At the same time, he mentioned the largest project to date to record the carbon footprint in the cultivation of kiwi and peach in 2021 and 2022 with the co-financing of the Region of Central Macedonia and the cooperation of all the POs of the prefecture.

As far as the new activities of the Cooperative in the field of high quality cotton production are concerned, including the implementation of gaiasense, remarks were made by Mr. Mohamed Darausse, former Director of the National Cotton Classification Organization and since the beginning of 2024, advisor for the organization and quality of the Cotton POs established in the region of Imathia on the initiative of the Director of the Consortium of the Cotton POs of Imathia and President of AS “Alexandros”, Mr. Stefanos Daoukas.

The visit was concluded with the intervention of Mr. Panagiotis Papadopoulos, co-founder of Open Farm, who pointed out the ways in which farms that apply smart farming systems, on an individual or collective level, can be showcased to citizens/consumers as public interest in nutrition, health and environmental issues is constantly increasing and the empirical way of getting to know them certainly brings better results.

The participants were greatly impressed by the scientific, technological and operational dimensions of the implementation of smart farming at both farm and collective level, and had the opportunity to share their insights with the representatives of the Cooperative and the organizers, transferring their own experience from the implementation of similar practices in the EU.

The above initiatives were organized within the framework of the “Open Smart Farms” action of the CAP4Food programme “Sustainable Agricultural Sectors for Sustainable Food”, the IMCAP project for period 2023-2024 which is implemented by GAIA EPICHEIREIN and supported by Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission.