As Economy Implodes, Young Greeks Begin To Flee Cities For Safe Haven In Ancestral Lands

Greece's deepening economic crisis is prompting some lifelong city-dwellers to return to their ancestral villages, where they are taking up farming, opening B&Bs and rediscovering the quiet charms of rural living.

A farm in Paleomonastiro, Greece
A farm in Paleomonastiro, Greece
Gunnar Köhne

DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

Olga Palavidou cautiously inserts a small spoon into the waxy cell of a honeycomb. The larva inside has to be moved to what's known as a "peanut" cell so that worker bees can raise it to become a queen bee. The job requires a lot of patience, and it's one that Palavidou, a wiry woman in her late thirties, is already handling with ease.

Six months ago, this retail buyer was sitting at a desk in an Athens office. On weekends, she and her friends—just like hundreds of thousands of other Athenians—would go bar and taverna-hopping; annual vacations were spent in the Cyclades. Then the crisis caught up with her. From one day to the next, Palavidou found herself out of work. "Trying to find another job in Athens was hopeless," she says. "Then somebody told me about beekeeping, how it was a good way to get into farming."

So here she sits, protective netting over her red hair, in a forest clearing on the Peloponnese peninsula, making her beekeeping work look easy although it's not. "There were a lot of set-backs at the start, in fact I had to write off my first hive," she says. But now this burgeoning "royal jelly" specialist is hoping to supply a niche market with the protein-rich secretions that worker bees produce to feed larvae and queen bees.

Olga Palavidou is one of some 40,000 who have joined the ranks of Greece's farming community in the past two years, according to the Greek farmers' association. People are leaving cities in droves, emptying out entire streets formerly full of crowded offices and businesses. More and more residents of Athens and Thessaloniki are trying their hand at farming or fishing, reversing the journey their parents made one generation ago. In many cases their parents migrated to cities from the countryside, in search of work or a better education, leaving a village house or a piece of land that they can now return to.

A rural "homecoming"

That's what 27-year-old Konstantina Papanastasiou decided to do after losing her government job in Athens: go back to the village her parents live in. Her grandfather's house in Levidi, a Peloponnese village with a population of 900, had been uninhabited for years. With significant help from a European Union (EU) fund that subsidizes young entrepreneurs, Papanastasiou converted the property into a tasteful bead and breakfast with dry stone walls and wooden balconies.

There are still relatively few guests. ‘"Greeks don't have the money, and foreigners tend to prefer being near the sea,"" says Papanastasiou. Still, she doesn't regret her move. ‘"It's not that you're going to earn more here, the crisis has hit all over the country,"" she says over a cup of thick Greek coffee. ‘"But the vibe is better here than it is in Athens. It's easier to keep head above water, and the local support network is fantastic.""

Papanastasiou says she was welcomed with open arms back in the village, where her father is the baker (she also helps out in his bakery), and where her husband, Konstantinos, has taken over management of the local taverna. There may be fewer kebab orders than there were a couple of years back, and the ouzo might not flow as freely, but luckily there's still a good week-end market in wedding parties. No matter how bad the economy, people aren't stingy when it comes to a wedding bash.

Since returning, Papanastasiou has given birth to a first child, a daughter. ‘"In Athens, we wouldn't have felt we could bring a child into the world,"" she says, referring to the prevailing climate of uncertainty. ‘"But here...I'm certain more and more young people are going to move to the country, and that life in the villages will go back to being the way it was before so many people left in the 1950s.""

Greece's new engine of growth?

The Greek farmers‘ association, meanwhile, is having a hard time keeping up with all the information requests it has received of late. ‘"We get questions about what crops grow best in a given area, where to buy second-hand tractors, the right way to use fertilizers,"" said a spokesperson. The new farmers, the representative added, are "motivated, good learners, and with their laptops and their e-mail they are modernizing rural life.""

It is estimated that one out of every two residents of Athens (population 4 million) migrated to the city from the countryside. Economist Theodoros Pelagidis says that even if all of them return to their villages and take up local economic activity like farming, it won't be enough to save the Greek economy.

‘‘Short-term, we could be looking at a slight rise in the social product from farming income, particularly if we focus on niches like organic products,"" he says. ‘"But there's no way we can pay back our loans on that. To do that, you'd need a project with much greater economic impact.""

For her part, Olga Palavidou says she's ‘"had it up to here"" with politicians. The strikes and demonstrations in Athens are three hours by car away from her grandmother's farmhouse. Here, she and her boyfriend can sit on the balcony over a supper of wild asparagus, looking out over a field of blood-red poppies and the mountains beyond.

If what she makes from sales of honey, pollen and royal jelly is only just enough to cover what the couple needs to live, so be it. ‘"The air out here is clean and the people are fantastic,"" Palavidou says. ‘"Young people especially should get out of Athens. Businesses are dropping like flies, there's nothing there anymore. But out in the villages, there's plenty of farm work. And there are so many abandoned houses. If the countryside came to life again, the energy could be contagious and have a positive effect on the whole country!""

Having found her own happy solution to the desperate position her country is in, beekeeper Palavidou says many friends from Athens have been out to visit, investigating the situation for themselves. ‘"Apparently the hot tip making the rounds in Athens these days is that snail breeding is the coming thing."" The course at the farming association has been sold out for months.

Read the original article in German

Photo - The_Skinny_Boy

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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