Olive Growers on Evia Island Strive to Revive Fire-Damaged Groves

Some say government assistance is lagging behind efforts to bring new life to Evia’s wildfire-ravaged olive groves.

The aftermath of the wildfires in Evia Island, one of the largest environmental disasters in the country. (Photo: Associated Press)
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Mar. 10, 2023 21:58 UTC
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The aftermath of the wildfires in Evia Island, one of the largest environmental disasters in the country. (Photo: Associated Press)

In August 2021, dozens of cat­a­strophic fires burned across Greece, includ­ing the north of Evia Island in the Aegean Sea.

Evia, the sec­ond-largest island in the coun­try after Crete, runs par­al­lel with cen­tral Greece to the east, lying only a few kilo­me­ters off the main­land.

Reviving the destroyed olive groves is a her­culean task. It takes plant­ing lots of young olive trees and requires tons of water for irri­ga­tion. And a lot of labor, of course.- Dimitris Papanastasiou, local olive miller

Around 50,000 hectares of for­est and agri­cul­tural land were rav­aged by the wild­fires on the island 18 months ago. In the affected areas, the flames con­sumed thou­sands of olive trees.

After the dis­as­ter, farm­ers and millers in north­ern Evia grap­pled with restor­ing their liveli­hoods on the burned land.

See Also:Researchers Predict More Intense Wildfires in Europe

Reviving the destroyed olive groves is a her­culean task,” Dimitris Papanastasiou, an olive mill owner based in the coastal vil­lage of Oreoi, told Olive Oil Times. It takes plant­ing lots of young olive trees and requires tons of water for irri­ga­tion. And a lot of labor, of course.”

Almost 80 per­cent of the olive groves in our area were burned in 2021,” he added. However, the promised state aid has seri­ously lagged, and strug­gling olive farm­ers have few resources to put into reviv­ing their groves.”

The state handed out some money after the fire, but not all olive grow­ers have received it yet,” Papanastasiou con­tin­ued. Even more, the recon­struc­tion com­mit­tee for north­ern Evia handed out some olive trees to farm­ers, and now they are nowhere to be seen.”

Papanastasiou also said the region’s olive trees have expe­ri­enced reduced fruition due to the unsea­son­ably mild win­ter weather in the area since 2019.

Only this crop year, the trees that sur­vived the blaze were almost back to nor­mal and able for a mod­est olive oil yield,” he said. Olive pro­duc­ers secured some small rev­enue, but the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fi­cult.”

Others in Evia’s olive sec­tor also com­plained that com­pen­sa­tion for the fire-stricken farm­ers had fallen behind.

The gov­ern­ment is giv­ing money for [recon­struc­tion] stud­ies but has not yet com­pen­sated the farm­ers for the fires,” said Kostas Tzavaras, the assis­tant direc­tor of the union of Evia’s agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tions.

Some money was ini­tially dis­trib­uted by ELGA [the Greek orga­ni­za­tion of agri­cul­tural insur­ance], includ­ing the one-off ben­e­fit, and then noth­ing,” he added. Apart from the money for the trees, the olive pro­duc­ers have not yet been reim­bursed for the dam­age to their machin­ery and facil­i­ties.”

In the wake of the 2021 fires, the Greek gov­ern­ment set up a com­mit­tee under Stavros Benos, a for­mer min­is­ter of cul­ture, to plan and direct the recon­struc­tion of the dam­aged agri­cul­tural regions in north­ern Evia.

According to the progress report of the recon­struc­tion pro­gram, 30 of the 71 sub-projects the pro­gram includes are already mate­ri­al­iz­ing.

Our job was to iden­tify the steps required for the recov­ery of the agri-food sec­tor of the impacted areas in north­ern Evia,” Xenofon Kappas of CVF, a foun­da­tion that worked with the com­mit­tee to com­pile Evia’s recon­struc­tion study, told Olive Oil Times.

The dis­tri­b­u­tion of finan­cial aid to impacted farm­ers per­tains to gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies,” he added. What is more, a num­ber of olive trees were ini­tially dis­trib­uted to farm­ers by some other pri­vate ini­tia­tives, not the com­mit­tee.”

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Our study is appli­ca­tion-ori­ented and includes spe­cific sug­ges­tions, which high­light the work needed to revive the agri-food sec­tor of north­ern Evia,” Kappas con­tin­ued. Some of the sug­ges­tions have started to take shape, and some have already been com­pleted, such as installing smart cul­ti­va­tion sys­tems in the Rovies olive grove.”

Rovies, a well-known area in Greece for its vast olive groves for table olive vari­eties, was hit hard by the 2021 wild­fires.

Around 30 to 40 per­cent of the main Rovies olive grove was destroyed by the fires in the sum­mer of 2021,” Nicos Vallis, an olive grower and head of the agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion of Rovies, told Olive Oil Times. There were also many more olive trees in other groves toward the nearby town of Limni, which were razed to the ground.”

The region is home to around 50,000 trees of the local Protected Designation of Origin-cer­ti­fied Konservolia table olive vari­ety and 15,000 trees of the Kalamon vari­ety. Around 5,000 trees of other vari­eties used for olive oil pro­duc­tion are also grown in the area.

The restora­tion of the olive groves advances rather slowly in the area,” Vallis said. Local olive grow­ers have waited to see the exact impact of the fire on their olive trees. However, some of the trees have started to regen­er­ate on their own after the right prun­ing was applied to them.”

I plan to con­vert some of my dam­aged trees into wild olive trees and hope­fully pro­duce olive oil of dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tics,” he added. However, other grow­ers cut down their burned trees or planted new trees.”

Some also plan to switch from olive trees to other crops such as fig trees, which are broad-leaved trees and more resis­tant to fire,” Vallis con­tin­ued. However, nobody is cer­tain how the tran­si­tion to other types of cul­ti­va­tions will affect farm­ers’ rev­enue.”

According to Vallis, the state finan­cial aid has already reached some olive grow­ers in Rovies.

Impacted olive pro­duc­ers received around €50 in advance per destroyed olive tree, but only full-time farm­ers were eli­gi­ble for the sub­sidy,” he said. The state has spec­i­fied that the rest will get some money at a later stage.”

The recon­struc­tion com­mit­tee installed smart sys­tems in the area’s olive groves to mea­sure impor­tant para­me­ters, such as air tem­per­a­ture, humid­ity and soil mois­ture,” Vallis added. So, their help was mostly about tech­ni­cal improve­ments in our cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices, such as sav­ing water by skip­ping water­ing the trees if the soil is moist enough.”

He said that the win­ter was ade­quately cold, and those of the olive trees that could bear fruits yielded a sub­stan­tial amount of olives this crop year.

Nevertheless, what many table olive pro­duc­ers had in the region were destroyed by the fire, as all their trees were burned down,” Vallis said.

These pro­duc­ers’ liveli­hood depends on their olive trees, and they pro­duced noth­ing this sea­son,” he con­cluded. They do not know if their trees will ever be able to recover.”



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