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Civic organization broke the monopoly of middlemen in agricultural trade

27 February 2012 / 15:02:27  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Over the past two years, the Greeks have lost more than a third of their monthly income. More and more households are struggling to secure basic foodstuffs, while the Ministry of Finance continues to levy new taxes frequently as never before.

But despite the cuts in wages and pensions, prices in supermarkets and even in the open markets in the neighbourhoods are still equal to those before the crisis and are even increasing.

Members of a civic organization, a voluntary action group in Katerini, have decided not to just complain, but to take drastic measures. They sparked media interest by successfully connecting potato growers from the village of Kato Nevrokopi with consumers in Katerini, seeking the greatest possible mutual interest. Citizens in Katerini managed to buy potatoes at 25 cents per kilogram, when the price in supermarkets and markets is about 70 cents. And the growers do not have to leave their produce to rot in the warehouses and even sell it at a price double the prices offered by wholesalers.

"The idea came when we saw the protest act of potato growers from Kato Nevrokopi in an attempt to show that their warehouses are full of produce. Therefore, we decided to contact them. We told them that if they are willing to sell their produce, we could provide them with buyers. They accepted and we agreed on a certain price.

What we had to do was to inform our members. Our group has existed for 4-5 years now and has held many campaigns. That is why we have a very large database of people with which we get in touch when we organize something. It took us about 12-13 hours to fill out the applications for the order of 24 tons of potatoes.

The consumers had to enter our site, fill out the necessary details and the quantity of potatoes they wanted to buy. The whole procedure took no more than 15 hours. When we were ready, we agreed with the growers on the date of delivery of the goods. On Saturday morning, 24 tons of potatoes arrived in Katerini. We had informed the people about the exact time in order to avoid crowding. Ultimately, everything went very well. The consumers are satisfied with the product they bought and the sellers - with the profit they made.

The price per kilogram of potatoes in Katerini is about 70 cents and the producer price to us was 25 cents. It was very good for the consumers, but for the producers too. They sold their products at double the price wholesalers offer them and received their money immediately without having to wait for the date of payment of bank cheques," the teacher Konstantinos Tzomidis  told GRReporter.

In practice, the volunteers have broken the "vicious circle" in which wholesalers buy agricultural products at very low prices, but the end consumer pays for them a surcharge well above 100 per cent.

The group of voluntary action in Katerini is engaged with various social problems. "We have recently held a campaign against the extra property tax. We have a "social grocery" where we collect food for needy families. In the summer, we have three watchtowers in the mountain region of Olympus to inform the fire service in case of need. We have held campaigns for pedestrian crossings to schools and bike lanes. Furthermore, we gathered about 100 donors’ organs the data of which were sent to the National Transplant Agency and many others."

The citizen’ interest in the sale of potatoes directly from their growers was so great that "we have ordered another truck for next Saturday in order to meet the needs of everyone in Katerini. We received calls from many producers who wish to offer their products such as olives, olive oil, oranges and others. This obliges us to make a better organization."
For their purchases, the consumers from Katerini received receipts from the producers, who are permitted to sell their products at retail. "In fact, we were just the link between the producer and the consumers. We would not be able to organize the campaign, if the producer could not issue receipts." The organization cooperates with a group of lawyers and has the support of the Bar in the city. "They informed us what to do to act fully within the law."

The organizers are more than happy with the citizens’ interest and hope other cities will follow their initiative. "If the campaign is as good as they say, then we hope there will be followers. Consumers must understand that power is in our hands and we have to decide to use it some time or other."

According to sources from the city, the campaign of the organization has forced local supermarkets to reduce the price per kilogram of potatoes. "Intentionally or not, we will not comment. We leave it to the discretion of the people. But the fact is that the price in a local supermarket chain has fallen from 70 to 34 cents per kilogram," added Konstantinos Tzomidis.

Many traders have negatively responded to the citizens' initiative. However, it has found its followers in other parts of the country. Under the slogan, "Break the expensive prices. No middlemen" the citizens in the Athenian district of Neos Kosmos organize a virtual "market" for goods like olive oil, pulses and even fresh chicken. Those, who wish, can fill in their details and quantities in the website of volunteers, and go and get the goods directly from the manufacturers on Sunday.

The initiators from Katerini emphasize that their organization has no connection with politics, has a zero budget, refuses to dispose of cash and receives financial support from no one.

Tags: SocietyVolunteersCivic organizationAgricultural productsProducersConsumersLow prices
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