For the past several years, Greece has found itself in an economic downward spiral that has decimated the nation’s middle class, shattered its citizens’ trust in government, disenchanted its youth, and left scores of its people in unimaginable debt. Young Greeks, defined for our purposes as under the age of 40, are reluctantly fleeing their homeland in search of better employment and living opportunities.
Despite this bleak backdrop, the crisis offers tremendous opportunity for innovative ideas and systemic changes that can help Greece utilize its national strengths and natural resources to reduce youth unemployment and drive economic growth.
Seeking to activate the potential of Greek youth, many entities, as large as the European Union and as small as local non-governmental organizations, are encouraging young people to take the lead in their country’s recovery. One such entity is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), which is making bold investments in both immediate relief and long-term solutions. While all business sectors will benefit from youth’s energy, ambitions, and skills, recent studies affirm that agriculture and food sectors, which have long been integral parts of the nation’s cultural identity, offer particular promise for “recharging” the youth.
Through a generous SNF grant, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and its Greece-based program partners—the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA) and the American Farm School (AFS)—spent the last eight months of 2015 examining a select group of agrofood sub-sectors, as well as the overall existing agrofood infrastructure. The primary goal was to create a bold implementation plan to engage youth, expand capacity, and create pathways to employment.
The team conducted 16 sectoral studies, two feasibility studies on farm and food processing incubators, an e-commerce study, and a study on identifying young people as potential new farmers. Along with the studies, the partners also developed four technology-based pilot applications specifically designed to support data collection, community and industry development, agro-tourism, and ongoing youth engagement. The studies’ findings were subjected to a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to help synthesize the collective insights and develop priorities and programming recommendations.
The implementation phase of the New Agriculture for a New Generation project builds upon the research, partnerships, and networks developed in the planning phase and begin to develop the actual training programs, support systems, and infrastructure that can turn our collective hope for an agriculturally-led revitalized Greek economy into a reality.