A Global Return to the Land

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Local Lebanese farmers plow their land. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Rami Zurayk

Published Saturday, May 12, 2012

European countries, particularly Spain, Portugal and Greece are experiencing a deep and systemic economic crisis that has driven protesters onto the streets. Symptoms of this crisis include recession and high unemployment among young people.

This led governments to adopt austerity measures, which meant that crucial sectors, such as education and health, have had their budgets cut. These are the sectors mainly used by the middle classes.

However, these measures have not led to a reduction in unemployment figures. Evidence of this can be seen among Greek youths, especially those with university degrees, who are still trying to find alternative ways to earn a living.

Some of them have remembered their rural roots and returned to the land to find refuge from the vagaries of modern life. In this way, a good number of them have succeeded in reviving their grandparents’ farms, abandoned for many years, and rediscovered production methods that were on the verge of being forgotten.

For almost six months, Greece has been witnessing an exodus of young people from the cities to the countryside. With their university education, they have improved traditional skills to become local producers contributing to the local economy and exporting specialist products, such as mastic [arabic gum], historically produced from mastic trees on the island of Chios.

This phenomenon is also spreading to other European countries, such as Portugal. Recently, Reuters had an news item on unemployed Portuguese going to work in the countryside in search of a better life.

The Portuguese government is encouraging this move by lowering taxes for land owners who put their land at the disposal of these “new farmers.” This change has led to food exports rising by 17% since the beginning of the crisis.

All this is happening at a time when the Arab countries, with Lebanon at the forefront, are suffering from deepening crises. Their governments are uncertain about their economic options. So what are we waiting for to support a return to the land, encouraging our young people to root themselves in their own country?

Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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