Cyprus’ Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Nicos Kouyialis explains the country’s steadfast support for finding a new global paradigm for low-carbon, resource-efficient economic growth that respects rather than ravages the environment while maximizing natural potential.
How is Cyprus preserving its environment and combating climate change and CO2 emissions, which are among the main aims of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, in Paris?
The global economic crisis of recent years, and the effects on the environment by the unprecedented economic growth of past decades and the increasingly intensive and inefficient use of resources that has been driven by the need for development and growth have gradually led to a recognition that development models based on rising resource consumption, pollution and environmental degradation are not viable.
Cyprus endorses the idea of a green economy, which presents a new economic model whereby development and growth should not necessarily be based on the continuing and ever-increasing environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources. Such a base for the economy seeks to promote growth and an improvement in living standards, whilst simultaneously ensuring protection of the environment and social justice. Our key objective today is to restructure our development paths towards a more competitive, resource-efficient, low-carbon green economy that will sustain growth, create new financial opportunities, improve productivity, boost competitiveness, and create new green jobs as an answer to the rising unemployment patterns.
Cyprus has a rich natural environment that can be considered as a biodiversity hotspot. This allows us to invest in the environment, unveil the natural beauties of our country, and develop new touristic activities like ecotourism, agro-tourism, diving, and maritime tourism. These new forms of tourism can open new markets in the tourist industry and attract a more diverse group of visitors. The Akamas area, the Troodos area that includes the Natural Forest Park and the Troodos Geopark, as well as the crystal clear waters of our beaches, can become the pillars to develop our green and blue economy.
Cyprus requires more than ever before a restructuring of the economy and innovative measures and policies to support growth, production and the provision of services, including thorough improvements in efficiencies, reduction of waste and pollution, and the safeguarding of our natural capital and ecosystem services. We are currently in the process of adopting our National Action Plan for a Green Economy, which includes measures for all key sectors, such as agriculture, water resources, biodiversity and green infrastructure, forests, energy, transport, industry, waste management, tourism, climate change and adaptation. Our National Action Plan for a Green Economy addresses matters of resource efficiency and environmental protection in line with economic growth though legislative and market-based instruments and the up-take of new technologies and practices. The objective is to gradually drive the transition to a low-carbon resource-efficient economy, influence market demand, and create new investment and employment opportunities. Another key objective under the sustainable development agenda in Cyprus is the transition to a circular economy with respect to waste and material use.
The National Waste Prevention Program and the Municipal Waste Management Plan have been updated, with the ultimate objective of decoupling economic development from the environmental impacts associated with the production of waste. Detailed measures have been adopted that encourage resource efficiency and reductions in the consumption of energy, including reductions in fuel consumption in the transport and industrial sectors, and the reduction of electricity in the private and housing sectors, and water, particularly in the agricultural, tourism, industrial and housing sectors.
Without a doubt the legal framework and structure of the new Agreement which we hope will be achieved in Paris should apply to all, taking into account the possibilities and peculiarities of the Parties of the Convention. What worries us particularly, which emerged once again in the recent negotiations in Bonn, is that the different approaches of the parties involved could hardly be reconciled. We believe that in order to achieve an agreement in Paris, this should strengthen social welfare, environmental protection and economic growth. This can only be achieved through a transparent and in-depth evaluation of the effectiveness of this Agreement and of the objectives that will be decided.
Gaps and shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol should be the basis of a new concept. The adaptation to climate change should be an important pillar of the future Agreement and undoubtedly a key issue in the negotiations. The adaptive capacity of countries, particularly the most vulnerable ones, will require further analysis, setting priorities, planning and action at all levels of governance and the involvement of local communities and other stakeholders.
France, an agricultural engine in Europe, is a major player in the definition of EU-wide agricultural policies. Could you tell us about the synergies that can be traced between both nations and ways to increase further cooperation at political and economic level?
The Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment of Cyprus is in close cooperation with both the Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry and the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy of France. Having common objectives in the fields of our competence and guided by the desire to promote a sustainable and environmentally friendly development, we cooperate in the field of environmental protection, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation.
We recognize the fact that Cyprus and France are facing similar challenges with respect to sustainable management, protection and utilization of water resources. In this framework we promote areas of mutual interest, such as wastewater treatment and reuse in the Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework and Marine Directives and Water, Marine and Nature Directors.
We also promote regional cooperation in the Mediterranean, focusing on the protection of our marine waters. Both Cyprus and France have extensive technological expertise in areas of mutual interest and in this respect, we promote communication and exchange of expertise, through scientific and technical workshops, conferences, training programs, seminars and courses.
What are your thoughts regarding the new path of growth that Cyprus is now on and how important is the development of its agricultural sector to the diversification of the economy?
Cyprus’ economy is in a much better condition and there are good prospects for growth and development. We are coming back to the markets; markets and investors show trust and it is a matter of time before new investments materialize in Cyprus. We are very optimistic in particular for the agricultural sector because of the reforms in agriculture we are promoting, such as climate-smart agriculture, and the turn to quality rather than quantity.
We focus on quality agricultural products, such as the Protected Designation of Origins Products (i.e. halloumi) that will change not only the agricultural sector but also the whole economy of Cyprus.
We opt to spot niche markets and satisfy these markets, as we have good products that can penetrate them. Moreover, our touristic product shall be enhanced through our gastronomy.
Which are the main axes of the programs implemented of your ministry and the goals that have been achieved so far?
The ministry’s long-term strategy is to achieve a greener, blue and resource-efficient economy, as well as a more competitive and sustainable agriculture and fisheries, contributing to the stimulation of the economy with the creation of new employment opportunities and growth in rural and coastal areas, while ensuring the quality of life and the protection of the environment.
The ministry’s medium-term strategy consists of the following strategic goals: agricultural economy reform and the enhancement of its competitiveness, promotion of green and blue growth, contributing to the restructuring of the economy, protection of the environment, and promotion of the efficient use of resources, as well as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to climate change, and prevention of risks and improvement of services provided in relation to food safety and public health.
The key priorities to set for 2016 are the following ones: we will continue the effort to reform the rural economy and promote sustainable development, within the 2020 horizon, which includes the Rural Development Plan 2014-2020 for the promotion of blue growth, which is financially supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) 2014-2020, is also very important. And obviously a shift in production and promotion of high quality value-added products (PDO and PGI) and the introduction of climate-smart agriculture in the primary production sector are promoted.
We will also promote water projects to meet water supply needs and improve the reliability of the drinking water supply system, maximizing the utilization of recycled water as an alternative water resource, in order to provide reliable quantities of water for irrigation and strengthen the water balance. We are also developing the strategic plan for the management of solid waste and promoting necessary measures and actions to meet the targets for recycling.
As you may know the contribution of Cyprus’ agriculture to the GDP was around 2.7% (2013 data). The contribution of the Cyprus’ agricultural products (primary and secondary sectors) to the total exports value was around 30-35% (€200-230 million). The agricultural trade balance is negative due mainly to the imports of processed products (€900 million in total).
The Utilized Agricultural Area (UAA) is 118,400 hectares (2010 data), 72% of which is arable crops and other annual crops, 26% permanent crops and 2% pasture land.
Around 2,000 hectares are cultivated under organic farming conditions.
The irrigated land is around 28,290 hectares (24% of the total UAA).
Generally the structure of agricultural holdings and the number of individual holdings show that entrepreneurship is rather high in Cyprus (around 40,000 holdings, out of which 99% are personal companies). However the small size of holdings and land parceling are adversely affecting the equitable and efficient management of agricultural investments. According to the most recent data, 75% of the holdings have size less than 2ha, 20% of the holdings are between 2-10ha, and only 1.6% of the holdings have a size of more than 30ha. The average parcels number per holding is six.
Land consolidation needs are high in all sectors except in the fields of citrus and potatoes. In addition to this, there is a strong need for modernization and restructuring of the agricultural sector due to the technological progress and the continuous evolution of the consumers’ needs. This, in combination with the dry/hot climate, the low soil fertility, the lack of water and the ageing as well as low education of the rural population (something that hinders innovative actions) is a factor that contributes to the deterioration of competitiveness of Cyprus’s agricultural economy. It has to be noted that only 2.6% of the farm managers are less than 35 years old.
That’s why the reform of the agricultural economy is vital and we are trying to increase the efficiency and in some cases terminate the operation of semi-governmental organizations that operate in the primary sector, such us the Grain Committee, the Vine Council, the Cyprus Potato Council, the Agricultural Payments Agency, and the Agricultural Insurance Organization, in order to preserve monetary and human resources.
I would like to mention that for a cost reduction/improvement of competitiveness in the primary sector and the promotion of environmentally friendly agriculture through a targeted RDP 2014–2020, we are also motivating the use of solar panels in agriculture (for the reduction of the energy cost used in agriculture and mitigation of the CO2 footprint) and motivations for the use of technologically advanced irrigation systems to preserve the most important natural resource, water.
Taking into account this agricultural sector overview, which are the top agricultural products of Cyprus and their strengths?
The most important Cypriot agricultural products are the typical Mediterranean ones like potatoes (mainly early), vegetables, citrus fruit, olives, olive oil, and wine products. Although water shortages are a perennial problem, the Cypriot climate also provides the island’s famers with certain competitive advantages. The Cyprus potato can be harvested and exported to northern Europe as early as March, beating locally grown competitors into the shops by several weeks. Substantial quantities of wine and grape products are also exported every year, while the Cyprus government believes the island can increase its export share further by also selling fish and meat abroad.
Our vision and primary governmental policy is the shift of our agricultural economy towards quality. Recent success in marketing halloumi cheese as an international brand has demonstrated how the island can establish a unique identity for its products.
For this reason we have intensified our efforts towards registering a number of agricultural products as Geographical Indications (GI), like olive oil, fruit, vegetables and potatoes, thus strengthening Cyprus’ reputation as the source of high quality produce for which the consumer will pay more.
We want to give identity to our products, to promote their quality and of course we want to put Cyprus on the gastronomy map of Europe. The registration of our national product the “halloumi cheese” and a number of other traditional products like Pafitiko loukaniko (sausage), loukanika, lountza, choiromeri of Pitsilia, kolokasi Sotiras, and rodostagma Agrou will lead to the development of our rural areas, will enhance the income of our farmers, will create new SMEs and new job positions, and will improve the standard of living in the rural areas.
Moreover, the comparative advantages offered by the soil and the microclimate of Cyprus can improve the competitiveness of our farmers and guarantee environmentally friendlier agricultural activity. Furthermore, the GI registration of agricultural products will enhance our gastronomy and hence our touristic product, and may provide another weapon to attract tourism.
Although water shortages are a perennial problem, the Cypriot climate also provides the island’s famers with certain competitive advantages. The Cyprus potato can be harvested and exported to northern Europe as early as March, beating locally grown competitors into the shops by several weeks. Substantial quantities of wine and grape products are also exported every year, while the Cyprus government believes the island can increase its export share further by also selling fish and meat abroad.
After more than 40 years of conflict that have left the nation divided, the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leaderships are making progress towards their shared vision of a united, federal Cyprus. How do you perceive the current state of the talks?
Since May 2015, President Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Akinci, have been engaged in a new round of negotiations for a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem. While there is certainly an improved climate in the negotiations, and some progress has been achieved, significant challenges remain in important aspects of the Cyprus problem.
President Anastasiades has stated on various occasions that he remains committed to working tirelessly to reach a settlement on the Cyprus problem on the agreed basis and in line with European law, values and principles that will end the unacceptable status quo and the anachronistic division of our country.
At the same time we must refer to the role that we expect Turkey to play in the efforts for a settlement. We expect Turkey to demonstrate genuine political will and contribute concretely to the efforts to reach a settlement.
A European solution will benefit Cyprus, Europe and Turkey. A settlement to the Cyprus problem can act as a catalyst for economic development of the island in the coming decades, with great potential and benefits in important sectors of the economy. A settlement that will restore the sense of righteousness and trust between the two communities and create the necessary conditions and the prospect, through mutual respect, for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to jointly cooperate, collaborate and co-create, will safeguard the full utilization of our great potential and prospects for economic growth, development and prosperity for all Cypriots. Since seeing the combination of political and economic security and stability, our capacity as an EU member-state and also the significant natural gas reserves in the Levantine basis will further highlight the competitive advantages provided by our geographic position and the geostrategic role that Cyprus can assume as an investment attraction destination. We do understand that there is concern as regards the economic cost of a solution to the Cyprus problem, but, based on the above, we are confident that the economic benefits once a solution is to be reached offset and neutralize any temporary or short-term economic costs to be incurred.