By Jonathan Shkurko and Tom Cleaver

Potato and grain farmers began to leave their positions in front of the Presidential palace on Tuesday evening, on the promise of a meeting with Agriculture Minister Petros Xenophontos on Wednesday
The farmers had parked tractors and pickup trucks in front of the palace demanding more government support to deal with increasing costs of production.

However, Agriculture Minister Petros Xenophontos warned that their expected economic support could vanish if they persist with their demonstration.

Despite the rhetoric earlier in the day, however, tensions seemed to lower in the evening, as a meeting was arranged between the protesting farmers and Xenophontos on Wednesday.

Andreas Karios, authorised representative of the potato producers, told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that the ministry had informed them of a reinstatement of the government’s planned €4.2 million subsidy and a meeting to be held.

He added that following the arrangement of a meeting, they had decided to call the protest off “despite the fact that all the protestors expressed reservations about the effectiveness of the government’s proposal.”
Additionally, he said that efforts were being made to push back the meeting from its currently-scheduled time of 9am to 1pm.

Earlier, Government Spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis hit out at the holding of the demo.
“We think the [latest government] proposal is very good. The right to take any measures is respected, but you realise that these measures do not help and it is not best in the midst of discussions or consultations to take such measures,” he added.

The standoff had come in the wake of intense discussions initiated by the minister himself over the previous 24 hours. He engaged with representatives from both sectors, aiming to extend support amid soaring costs resulting from global conflicts in Russia-Ukraine, Israel-Palestine and the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the potato farmers, the agriculture ministry had proposed a €1.3 million state subsidy which the producers rejected, saying it did nothing to cover the expenses incurred from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

“We met President Nikos Christodoulides and he promised to satisfy us to a great extent and keep us informed through the director general of the agriculture ministry, Andreas Gregoriou. But this did not happen, which is why we are moving forward with our protest,” Andreas Karios had said during the protest.

Potato and cereal producers also made it clear that they are seeking adequate compensation for the ongoing drought affecting their crops, as well as the immediate payment of corporate subsidies by the Cyprus Agricultural Payments Organisation (Capo), which has been delayed.

police outside the presidential palace

“To cope with the drought, producers had to use more water than they were approved for, which incurs a fine of €45 per ton,” Karios said.

However, agricultural union Euroagrotikos has distanced itself from the protest, deeming it “unnecessary and without substance”.

“If we, as an agricultural movement, want to be serious and persuasive, when we agree and receive promises at the highest level, from the president of the Republic, we should not suddenly take to the streets in an extortionate and disrespectful manner towards the institutions,” the unions said.

For cereal producers, cabinet has greenlit an economic aid package of €574,358, a fraction of the €1,723,074 initially envisioned by the agriculture ministry. Potato producers found themselves without any support.
The government initially hesitated to provide support, citing the hike in retail prices as a balancing factor against the surge in production costs faced by these sectors.

However, following deliberations involving agricultural organisations and Christodoulides, to whom farmers sent a letter last month detailing their grievances, a decision was reached to extend supplementary support to both potato and cereal producers.

Consequently, the government earmarked €4.3 million, with €2.65 million allocated for cereal growers and €1.654 million specifically targeted for potato producers. This translates to €6 per acre for cereals and €55 per acre for potatoes.

farmers 3

Irate farmers outside the palace

According to Euroagrotikos, the proposals made should have left both sectors of agricultural activity thoroughly satisfied.

“We should, therefore, show understanding that there are other sectors of the agricultural economy facing much higher costs than the above two and support them,” the union added.

However, president of the Panagrotikos agricultural association Kyriakos Kailas defended the farmers’ right to protest and the reasons behind the demonstration.

“We came peacefully [to protest] to claim what farmers are entitled to today,” he told the media.

“When we asked for €7 million, up from the initial €4.2 million, it was to satisfy all agricultural sectors. Targeting farmers today is unfair,” he said, adding that many farmers in the mountainous regions couldn’t attend the protest.

Kailas further added that farmers would remain outside the Presidential Palace until their demands are met, namely state support reaching €7 million, covering all farmers financial support granted before Christmas.
“If this isn’t done, not only will we be out of a job, but Cypriot products will cease to exist,” he concluded.