Yiorgos Psychas on Crisis, Land Access & Deep Change

Yiorgos Psychas is member of a grassroots network in Greece called Iliosporoi (sunflower seed) working towards social, political and ecological transition in rural and urban areas of Greece. He is agronomist and master in landscape architecture, enjoys making ceramics, lives in Athens and soon on the island of Evia – and has engaged in the movement “access to land” on a European level. ARC2020’s Hannes Lorenzen spoke with Yiorgos.

Yiorgos Psychas
Yiorgos Psychas

HL: How would you describe what Greece is currently going through?

YP I see it as an opportunity for leaving the errors and failures of our recent development behind. As virtually the entire economic and political system is under question this leaves room for new creativity and vision. During my studies in Denmark I have learned a lot about the social aspects of food, of how people can re-connect through food and farming in urban and rural societies and how important it is to improve our relations with nature. We all need to take a step back and get a more holistic approach of what we are doing to ourselves, to animals and plants.

HL: You spoke in Berlin at an international conference on access to land. Is land concentration and access to land a major problem in Greece?

YP Access to Land in Greece is a rather delicate issue that has not witnessed much attention from the public nor the grassroots’ movement in the past. Land ownership is still something like a sacred thing in Greece where private ownership, especially large estates remain unquestioned. Since the Ottoman Empire the Orthodox Church controlled much land which was then rented by smaller farmers. Since the crisis farmland is being increasingly accumulated by large farmers. Common land is being privatized with fast track procedures through the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED) or taken over by banks due to unpaid loans and then sold through actions usually by major bidders.

Olive Trees, photo by greekfood-tamystika

HL: Is there room for creativity and transition for grassroots movements?

YP Few activists and associations are involved in access to land issues. Most of the movement projects involve land reoccupation and creation of collective orchards in urban or suburban areas, instead of collective ownership and stewardship of land for farming purposes. As Iliosporoi network and CannaBio hemp cooperative, along with other collectives, we are considering the purchase of a 300 hectare land in Evia island and transform it into a productive hemp farm and green entrepreneurship hub.

HL: How do farmers and rural people look upon your initiatives?

YP We are regarded with a critical eye by rural people. We are mainly young activists from an urban environment with many different expectations, capacities and skills. What we are convinced about is that we cannot continue business as usual, not in economic, social or cultural terms. We have to fundamentally change our relations between us and with our environment. As an agronomist, landscape architect, ceramicist, and someone who believes in non-violent communication and in vegan nutrition I see the urgent need to change our daily life and our educational system, so that we can prepare transition towards resilient and sustainable lifestyles. We must question our food habits. 75% of farm production today is for industrial livestock with all its negative impact.

HL: What kind of education do you have in mind?

YP Children have to get in contact with real life again, with the basis of their existence and the challenges that lie before them. We need new curricula with very practical information on what we need to do to preserve and sustainably use our natural resources, living soil, water, energy and so on, prepare for climate change and incalculable weather, preserve local seeds and biodiversity and so on. We have support for this approach through the EU Erasmus plus program from which we got a top evaluation as “change makers” and we are representing Greece on the European Youth Week next May which focuses this year on solidarity and social commitment of young people in Europe. We hope that we can reconnect farmers and consumers, professionals and activists to form a collective transition process throughout Greece.

HL : You will be part of the organising group of European Rural Sustainability Gathering which will be organised in Karditsa, central Greece in May this year. What would you like to put in the focus of that gathering and what should come out of it?

Greek lanscape, photo by milivanily

YP: I believe that we will have an excellent opportunity to gather ideas from across Europe on how to deal with moments of crisis such  as we have in Greece; to share our own problems and solutions from local initiatives to national attempts to use the moment for changing what needs to be changed. We will be working with professionals like the Karditsa development agency who have gathered much knowledge about social economy, with seeds savers like Peliti, with grassroots initiatives and hopefully many inspiring people who come to join us in Greece.  60% of all young people in Greece today are without jobs. 300.000 have already left our country. Poverty is growing fast.

We believe that change comes as a realization of the individual responsibility that can be reflected and supported through collective actions. We are not trying to change the world. We are trying to change ourselves. We are trying to learn how to listen, observe, feel and understand natural mechanisms. We want to support our empathy for one another. This is our immediate purpose.

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About Hannes Lorenzen 46 Articles

Hannes Lorenzen was senior adviser to the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg from 1985 to 2019. Before starting his career in the European institutions, he carried out research, coordination and evaluation work on rural development projects with the Technical Service of the German Government. On the international level Hannes Lorenzen is co-founder of Genetic Resources Action International (www.grain.org) and co-president of the European Rural Development Network Forum Synergies (www.forum-synergies.eu). He is also co-founder of PREPARE, the "Partnership for Rural Europe" network for Central and Eastern European Member States (www.preparenetwork.org), serving as chairman and president until 2016. He co-founded ARC2020 and is its president since 2016. Closer to home, Hannes chairs a local rural development organization on his home island of Pellworm in North Friesland, Germany, which works o organic farming, renewable energy production, soft tourism and nature protection projects in a local dimension.

Hannes Lorenzen a été conseiller auprès de la Commission de l’Agriculture et du Développement Rural du Parlement Européen à Bruxelles et à Strasbourg de 1985 à 2019. Avant d’entamer sa carrière au sein des institutions européennes, il a effectué des travaux de recherche, de coordination et d’évaluation de projets de développement rural au sein du service coopération du gouvernement allemand. Au niveau international, Hannes LORENZEN est co-fondateur de Forum Synergies, réseau européen de développement rural (www.forum-synergies.eu). Il a cofondé ARC2020 et en est le président depuis 2016. Hannes préside aussi une organisation locale de développement rural sur son île natale de PELLWORM, en Allemagne. Cette organisation travaille sur des projets d’agriculture biologique, de production d’énergie renouvelable, de tourisme doux et de protection de la nature à l’échelle locale. Sur l’île il est aussi engagé avec des jeunes agriculteurs dans le développement et la reproduction des semences paysannes en bio et la biodiversité en agriculture. Hannes a toujours vu l’agriCulture française au cœur de l’intégration européenne. L’amour et le respect des français pour leurs paysans et l’appréciation de la “bonne bouffe” ont aussi été une flammèche pour se lancer dans cette nouvelle aventure du projet “La résilience de nos compagnes” de ARC2020. Même si un petit virus empêche Hannes de voyager pour l’instant, il est déjà en route pour rencontrer plein de monde qui bouge pour une transition juste et attirante…