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CYPRUS: Agriculture can play an important role in economic recovery

31 July, 2014

The Ministry of Agriculture can contribute to growth and job creation, said Minster of Agriculture Natural Resources and Environment Nicos Kouyialis in an interview to CNA, pointing out that the registration of halloumi cheese as a product with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is crucial to this effort.

Cyprus filed earlier this month an application to the European Commission to grant halloumi/hellim a certificate of PDO.

"I think that this Ministry can play an important role in the recovery of our economy," he said, noting that both agriculture and livestock can contribute to this and grow even more.

At the same time, he said, the Ministry aims to green growth and to a low-emission economy that will help create new jobs.

On Wednesday the Cabinet approved the Rural Development Programme, which will allocate an amount of € 240 million to support the rural world in the years 2014 - 2020. At the same time the Operational Programme for Fisheries will allocate € 53 million for fisheries.

"The Rural Development Programme is the tool for growth of our Ministry. The program provides € 240 million to be allocated for rural development through various measures to be launched, "he said.

Regarding the Plan for Fisheries he said that the €40 million from the € 53 million come from the European Union.

"We managed to increase these resources from €20million to € 40 million for these seven years which was a great success for our Ministry," he said. He added that the program will support the fisheries and aquaculture, and will include many measures for research and innovation, which will create many “blue jobs”.

"The Ministry is changing. Our vision is to create a productive and developing Ministry, we can offer many projects and jobs in our country through the funding of programs we handle and will try in every way we can to contribute to the recovery of our economy, "said Kouyialis.

Halloumi registration to benefit all productive sectors

The Minister said he was optimistic for a quick registration of halloumi as PDO. He said that during his recent contacts in Europe he asked for a quick review of the file.

"The Commission is familiar with the matter, the file is similar to that sent four years ago and I think that within the next six months we will have the first positive response from the Commission," he said

Referring to the disagreements within Cyprus, after the file was submitted, the Minister clarified that he does not tolerate any pressure from economic interests, however there were some reactions by cattle farmers and cheesemakers in Cyprus. He noted that the application has been filed, after 10 years of discussions.

“I believe that the way we are trying to go about with the registration, will benefit all productive sectors, cheese producers, sheep farmers as well as cattle farmers, some in the short term and others in the long term and will surely have a positive impact on the local economy "said the Minister.

He also said that the submission of the file provides a transitional period of adjustment in which the halloumi will be prepared with 20% goat and sheep`s milk and not 50% plus as provided in the file, thus production and exports will not be affected.


Foreign Investors express interest in livestock

During this week the Ministry of Agriculture announced an investment measure for the modernization of existing livestock farms and the creation of new. After the approval of the Rural Development Programme by the European Commission in October, a package of approximately €80 million for livestock is expected to be launched.

"Several of these measures have to do with animal welfare and the financial support in order to increase the production of goat and sheep milk and correct the problem of seasonality of production to support the efforts for halloumi registration, "explained Kouyialis.

Asked whether there is interest from young farmers to enter the profession, Kouyialis said that the halloumi file has radically changed things in livestock, since there is a need to produce more goat and sheep milk and to grow forage crops.

Saying that there is already interest by many Cypriots to benefit from the Ministry`s programs, he also added that foreign investors from countries such as Latvia and Israel have come to Cyprus to collect information about investing in livestock.

He also said that through the Rural Development Programme, there are several steps and significant amounts to be spent on education and training of farmers, aiming to place agriculture and livestock of Cyprus on a scientific basis.

25 million cubic meters of recycled water for agriculture

Cyprus does not face any more a problem with drinking water as it can buy water from desalination plants, despite the fact that production is expensive, said the Minister, noting however that the island`s longstanding problem is water for irrigation purposes.

The Ministry has already begun planning ahead of the imminent drought and in 2015 will begin to integrate recycled water in the counrty`s water reserves.

The Minister expressed the hope that within the next three years there will be 8 million cubic meters of recycled water in the water reserves of Cyprus and 25 million cubic meters over the next seven years, which will be allocated for agriculture and livestock purposes.

He also referred to the restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture according to the World Bank`s report, saying that the Ministry should make good use of its human resources and reduce its operating costs

Reform, he added, is critical for organizations under the Ministry as the Cyprus Agricultural Payments Organization, the Organization of Agricultural Insurance and the Cyprus Grain Commission.

About the Grain Commission the Minister said that it needs to be reformed aiming at lower prices for producers and securing stocks in case of an emergency.

"Right now there is a Commission which in my opinion is very costly and requires better management so that we can drastically reduce grain prices," he added.

The Minister had asked the Board of the Organization to present a reform program. As he said, if this program does not satisfy the government, then "we must see what can be done with the Commission."

"There are many foreign investors who would like to use the facilities of the Commission, but I repeat that the priority is the reform plan," he said. He added that if the reform plan in not satisfactory, then the Commission can be sold or rented to a strategic investor.

As far as the Cyprus Agricultural Payments Organization is concerned, the Minister clarified that his personal opinion is that this organization is costly and can operate with lower costs. He said that he had asked the Commissioner of the Organization to prepare a reform plan and has also asked the Department of Administration and Personnel to make its own report.

"After evaluating these two reports, we will take the final decisions," he said adding that in any case the staff of the above organizations will be absorbed by the public service.

Action Plan for the Environment

The Minister acknowledged that Cyprus is not fully in line with its European obligations, in relation to the penetration of Renewable Energy Sources (RES).

"Cyprus is a small and isolated island and the sudden penetration of RES creates stability problems in the system. But it is a commitment that we take. Gradually the penetration of RES will increase. We have programs both in our Ministry and the Ministry of Energy, "he said.

He said he was convinced that in the next years there will be a large increase in RES, as it is an area that creates green jobs that can help combat youth unemployment.

Furthermore, the Minister said that Cyprus should be improved in the field of source separation and recycling. He added that the Ministry will submit an action plan for waste management that will cover the next seven years and within this action plan there will be many projects, involving recycling and source separation.

Around € 30 million will be allocated in the coming years to achieve these goals, said the Minister, saying also that this is also a field that will create new jobs.