Drought-Hit Cretan Farmers Braced for 40% Loss of 2018’s Crop



The Cretan landscape may be beautiful but it is vulnerable to drought, which can hurt its farmers.

By Heini-Sofia Alavuo

As reported earlier this year by Greek Reporter, the island of Crete has been suffering from a difficult drought.

In April, the island had only seen only 3.8 billion cubic meters of rainwater since September 2017. This insufficient amount causes a lot of problems for people on the island, no more so than its farmers.

Ironically, northern parts of the Greek mainland are facing the opposite problem — Thessaloniki in particular has been hit by deadly flash floods brought on by torrential rains. Like drought, such a glut of water is also bad for crops.

The rainwater does not seem to be distributed evenly in Greece this year.

In Crete, drought has started to become a recurring problem. Dry winters make it hard for farmers to prepare for the season, and irrigation needs to be started early. Although the plants and the crops of the island have adapted to the very dry climate admirably well, this unusual lack of moisture is testing their limits.

Konstantinos Mamalakis is a farmer and the president of the Organic Farmers of Messara Cooperative. It was founded in 1998 and has 44 members. They wanted to share their love for the land, their trust in sustainable agriculture and also bring healthy food to their families. But this bone-dry climate is hurting their business.

Mamalakis has 2,000 olive trees in southern parts of Heraklion and a lot of experience in how drought affects his living. He recalls how he started watering his fields in November, since the winter was so dry.

“The water that we put to our farms is to only take out the thirst, but it doesn’t feed the plants,” he tells Greek Reporter.

Rain is very important for plants, because it washes the leaves and brings nutrition – when the plants are watered through pipes, the water goes only to the roots and nothing else is provided.

Among other colleagues of the cooperative, the farmers have estimated that they will most likely lose 40 percent of their crops due to the drought — without watering they would probably end up losing 70 percent.

The loss of income is harder to estimate. Mamalakis gives an example: they have already dropped their prices from €4.6/kg to €3.7/kg. It is only the end of May, so the losses will most likely be bigger after the long, usually rainless, summer.

He tells Greek Reporter that they will see how the drought affects their income by the end of next year, and that the effects of such dry weather on his olive trees will be seen over the next two years. For farmers, drought seems to be a long-term problem.

Mamalakis also points out that this year is bad not only because of the lack of rainwater, but also because of very warm winds. They strip away humidity, which is essential for crops –- especially at the times of water shortages.

Unfortunately not much can be done when the drought hits –- and not much can be done to prepare for it. Mamalakis says the island may have some problems with drinking water this year as well, since the drought hit Crete very early.

The government might have to take action to provide drinking water for the people. For farmers, this would mean an end to the watering of crops – all supplies would need to be saved to quench the thirst of the people first, rather than plants’.

Although this year is not treating the farmers of Crete well, Mamalakis says it is not the worst he has seen: “According to my memory, 2012 was even worse –- I have 2,000 olive trees but that year I made only 350 kilos of olive oil.

“That was catastrophic.”