In the wake of the devastating summer fires in Greece, a global campaign has been launched to restore the fire-stricken olive groves of Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Large swathes of agricultural and forest land around the archaeological site of Olympia were consumed by the blazes in August, the second time the area and the wider Ilia region in western Peloponnese suffered such a disaster after the 2007 forest fires.
We initially set out to replant 80,000 to 100,000 olive trees, but thanks to the enormous support of individuals and corporate donors… we managed to raise €800,000, enough to plant 150,000 trees.
According to recent assessments, more than 400,000 olive trees were burned down this summer, depriving local farmers of their means of livelihood.
The goal of the ‘Replanting Ancient Olympia’ fundraising campaign is to supply farmers with new olive tree saplings, serving the twofold purpose of helping the local rural economy recover from the fires and restoring the olive groves of Ancient Olympia.See Also:Greece to Compensate Olive Growers Impacted by Summer Fires
The campaign invites individuals, corporations and organizations to plant an olive tree in Ancient Olympia, with the results so far exceeding expectations.
“The response to our campaign has been overwhelming,” Yanos Gramatidis, former president of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and one of the spearheads of the campaign, told Olive Oil Times.
“We initially set out to replant 80,000 to 100,000 olive trees, but thanks to the enormous support of individuals and corporate donors, in a matter of a few short months we managed to raise €800,000, enough to plant 150,000 trees,” he added.
“Together with Nektarios Farmakis, the regional governor of Western Greece, we needed to do something to overcome the devastating impact of the fires and restore the local economy, which is largely dependent on olive and olive oil production,” Gramatidis continued.
“Even after we replant, it will take local producers years to recover,” he said, acknowledging the difficulties involved. “It is a complicated venture requiring the advice and supervision of agriculturists, and, most importantly, the assessment of the real damage.”
In the United States, the campaign is run by Dianne Tittle de Laet and Steve de Laet of the Arete Fund, an international nonprofit organization based in Mountain View, California. The project quickly gained popularity and received overwhelming support from local Californians and others.
“We have been amazed by how many Californians, whose homes and forests were also devastated by wildfires this past August, planted olive trees in Ancient Olympia as a way of giving thanks to the firefighters in their own communities,” the de Laets told Olive Oil Times.
“Individuals gave what they could in memory of a loved one or to plant trees for their families or to commemorate sports teams. Companies, nonprofits and the Athens International Airport planted trees for their employees,” they added.
The project is also expected to open up new pathways for improving the everyday work and the prospects of local farmers.
“This initiative is the first step toward starting conversations around promoting sustainability and entrepreneurship on these small farms, as well as discussions about how to prevent future wildfires,” the de Laets said. “Initial discussions are taking place to develop an agricultural school in Olympia to educate young farmers in all aspects of agricultural methods, sustainability and management.”
The de Laets also met with Farmakis, the local governor, and the mayor of the contemporary town of Ancient Olympia, Giorgos Georgopoulos, with all three sides pledging to do everything for the initiative to “take root.”
“These people came to tell us, not only that they are present, but that they have begun a process of attracting capital from the U.S. for the reforestation of the region,” Farmakis said after the meeting.
He noted the significance of planting the olive tree, which are the tree symbol of Greece and Ancient Olympia.
“Apart from being a symbol of peace and solidarity, it is also a source of livelihood for our region,” he added.
All campaign donors are relieved of the 24 percent VAT (sales tax) and other taxes. They will also receive a letter of appreciation from Farmakis, including a photo of the land that benefited from their contribution.
The organizers have also set a specific timeline for the first olive tree saplings to be delivered to farmers.
“Our deadline to purchase and deliver the olive trees to the local communities for replanting is the end of March,” Gramatidis said. “We are still counting on additional donor support to help us close the gap and meet our new goal of replanting 200,000 trees.”
“But it’s not just about the economic devastation,” he added. “Olympia is a recognized global symbol of human excellence, and the olive tree, whose branches crowned the victors of the games, a symbol of peace and harmony. It’s a symbol of the Olympic Ideal, but most importantly, the olive tree links us Greeks to our traditions, roots and values.”