As its name implies, the responsibilities of the Cyprus Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment are many and cover a wide range of policy areas. Successful Business talks to the man leading the effort, Minister Costas Kadis, about the challenges and prospects of agriculture, environment protection and sustainability, the new ‘Pay As You Throw’ scheme, and even the EU certification of Cyprus potato.
What were the Ministry’s milestones in 2020?
Without any doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges with severe economic consequences for our farmers. Since last March, responding to the Covid-19 impact on agriculture sector became our main objective.
To this end, we immediately took measures to ensure the sustainability of agricultural businesses, preserve jobs, ensure that the supply chains of agricultural products remain open, and support the agriculture sector to recover as quickly as possible once the lockdown restrictions would gradually be eased and eventually lifted. In this context, we took a series of measures to assist farmers; fishermen; sheep and goat breeders, who were also affected due to reduced demand and lower meat prices; vegetable and herb growers; as well as those who sell their produce in public markets.
What are the objectives of your Ministry for 2021?
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis still holds many challenges. With tourism sector and demand from restaurants and hotels virtually non-existent, it is very difficult for our farmers to sell their products. Therefore, responding to the pandemic impact remains our priority for 2021 too.
Moreover, to support our agricultural sector, we are preparing a series of measures that will be announced soon, within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, and the Rural Development Plan. The measures will focus on modernising our agricultural sector and making it more competitive and at the same time more environmentally friendly.
In parallel, we are preparing to fulfil our obligations regarding the new Green Deal launched by the EU, which is actually the new development model of the union. The Green Deal aims to make the EU's economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities. Addressing the challenges of climate change, promoting circular economy, and protecting biodiversity are among the main priorities of the Green Deal, which are also within the responsibilities of my Ministry.
One of the main challenges that we have to address in Cyprus is sustainable waste management. In 2021 we hope that the new legislation for the separate collection of municipal waste will be introduced, and the ‘Pay-as-you-throw’ systems will be implemented across Cyprus. The smooth introduction and the success of these systems is one of our most important objectives for this year.
This new pricing policy will be an incentive for households to change their waste disposal practices. It will promote recycling adoption and support local authorities to achieve the goals of waste reduction, increased recycling, and control of waste disposal costs. The implementation will be difficult at the beginning, but we are confident that the citizens will embrace these new programmes, not only for the economic benefit but also for the reduction of waste and the important effect on climate protection.
In general, waste management is a big challenge in Cyprus. A big campaign will follow within the next few months to clean our island, our home from waste, and we will appreciate any support in this initiative.
The ‘Pay-as-you-throw’ programme looks like a very interesting initiative. Would it include the separation of food waste from supermarkets, restaurants, from personal consumption, etc. Would that be more than a separation process?
The ‘Pay-as-you-throw’ scheme will cover not only the households but also the business sector. It has already been implemented on a pilot basis in Aglantzia Municipality of Nicosia and proven to be very successful. We have learnt a lot and we are going to apply the experience of this pilot trial to expand the scheme all over Cyprus. The organic part of the waste will be treated separately on the specifically developed plants.
Currently, what are the main challenges for agriculture and farming in Cyprus? Where do you see the most potential (markets, sectors, etc.)?
In absolute terms, agriculture’s contribution to the economy and employment in Cyprus is small. However, its impact on the economy as a whole and the well-being of its citizens has multiple benefits, such the well-being of rural areas’ residents, supply of safe and high-quality foods, protection of the environment through cultivation of farmlands, which prevents desertification and allows for the supply of food materials to the food-processing industry. What I am trying to say is that agriculture can be a significant part of solutions related to the social, environmental, and economic challenges of the future.
Our aim is to exploit our comparative advantages and promote high value-added agri-food produce, such as products registered and protected as Geographical Indications at the European level, and the traditional products of Cyprus. We also want to help small establishments – which constitute the majority of farms in Cyprus, to expand their product range, and supply high-quality products to the market. We also support the introduction of young farmers to agriculture and of new ideas in this field, increasing subsidies for new farmers and creating a vibrant modern segment of employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture.
What is the situation with the European certification of Cyprus potato? Will the product be protected?
Indeed, Cyprus potatoes enjoy a very good reputation in the EU and other markets abroad as regards their quality. Potato production in Cyprus is closely monitored in terms of plant health and quality, to ensure that potatoes comply with all EU and international regulations. The Ministry aims to pursue the registration of Cyprus potato as a Protected Geographical Indication or Protected Designation of Origin (PGI or PDO).
Let me also tell you that we are very pleased because last week, the European Union included two traditional Cypriot products, the sausage and lountza of Pitsillia region, in the list of EU-protected geographical indications (PGIs). We welcome this significant development which will contribute to further strengthening of the economy, both national and local. These two new names bring the number of protected food names in Cyprus to eight. We hope that potato will be added to this list in the near future.
Comparing that to the halloumi case, I don’t think the registration of potato will be as difficult. We have learnt from that experience, and left outside all political issues that challenged the registration of halloumi. We think that these political issues will be addressed very soon, and we will have halloumi registered as well.
Why does Cyprus continuously underperform in the field of environmental protection, particularly allowing development in sensitive and protected zones? What can be done to improve the situation?
I would not agree that Cyprus underperforms in the field of environment. I would say there is room for improvement. Some time ago, Cyprus established a procedure to appropriately evaluate the impact of these projects before their authorisation. This procedure has been improved over the years, minimising the development of projects which are not compatible with sensitive protected sites. And I can assure you that over the past few years, many development projects have been proposed but not been approved because of the negative impact they would bring to nature and biodiversity.
Cyprus has a significant number of protected sites which have been included in the Natura 2000 European network of protected sites. Actually, Cyprus is among the EU countries with the highest percentage of their territory included in the Natura 2000 network. Although Natura 2000 does not prohibit all activities within its boundaries, projects and activities with expected negative impact on the sites are being avoided, to ensure satisfactory conservation status.
Are there any plans to clean up forests, land and sea in Cyprus from human-caused pollution?
As I have explained earlier, addressing the waste pollution by taking specific measures is one of our main priorities. To achieve this, inspectors have been designated by the local authorities and strict fines are imposed for illegal waste dumping. With the introduction of the new legislation for the separate collection of municipal waste, and through the amendment of the Waste Law, which is expected to be enforced within a year, the system for controls and inspections will be further improved. Strict penalties will be imposed on infringements related to the protection of the environment and human health.
Besides, our vision is to successfully manage the protected sites in Cyprus maintaining natural areas free of pollution. This includes funding for cleaning up various natural areas of the island, and awareness-raising activities, intending to change the public behaviour and prevent any future waste disposal incidents in natural areas.
Speaking of the marine environment, Cyprus has been implementing respective monitoring programmes for several years. While environmental monitoring of coastal waters has reached a high level of competency, there’s more work to be done in addressing the marine environment and the water quality environmental parameters. To this end, we have also initiated the development of regional cooperation. We pursued partnerships with Greece, Israel, and Egypt and we intensify our endeavours to expand cooperation with all neighbouring countries to enhance monitoring of, response to, and combating potential pollution incidents that pose a threat to the marine ecosystem. I am confident that our strategic roadmap can address the complexity of environmental issues and ensure the protection of the marine environment against pollution.
There has been a number of measures to protect turtles and other wild species in Cyprus. What are the priorities here for 2021?
Cyprus has been very active in protecting the emblematic marine turtles. All marine turtle nesting beaches in Cyprus are protected by law and most of them are included in the Natura 2000 network. Data collected over the years have shown a constant increase in the number of nests recorded, which means a growing population. The presence of such priority species as the two sea turtles, Caretta caretta and the green turtle Chelonia mydas, is a clear proof that our marine environment is of high quality, ecology-wise.
We believe that for the conservation measures to be more effective, they have to be supported by local communities. Therefore, for the first time in 2020, we successfully initiated a training programme for members of the communities adjacent to the turtle nesting areas, and this will be continued in 2021. The goal is to promote both awareness and understanding of the great value of protecting turtle nesting areas in the local communities, and keeping the latter actively involved as our valuable partners.
Another important marine species, for which there are designated Marine Protected Areas, is the endangered monk seal (Monachus monachus). A monitoring programme was established back in 2009 to evaluate the status of the species. Field surveys have recorded an increasing number of seal sightings. This, along with the birth of several pups, indicate the permanent presence of the species in the island’s vicinity. This is the first recorded re-establishment of the Mediterranean monk seal population in an area of its former range following near eradication. The monitoring programme and the implementation of protection measures of this important endangered species will continue to be implemented.
What are the new projects and initiatives in which our readers could take part, to help Cyprus to be better in all respects (agriculture, animals, nature)?
This is a very good question. I do believe that increasing awareness and engaging the public in supporting our efforts is imperative in the conservation and protection of our environment. We would be tremendously happy to see all residents of Cyprus, including those of Russian origin, to actively engage in campaigns, such as awareness campaigns, special days, beach clean-ups, and any event, which raises both awareness and appreciation of safeguarding our ecological inheritance. Your readers could get familiar with the Natura 2000 network in Cyprus and help spread awareness of the importance of protected areas. An information campaign will be soon launched and several awareness-raising activities will be implemented.
The readers could also assist by voluntarily participating in programmes or initiatives aimed at supporting animal welfare, announced by our Ministry.
We are also in need of new farmers with new ideas that are ready to embrace the goals of the new Common Agricultural Policy. We need highly devoted young people to respond to the environmental and climate change challenges of the future. Organic farming, traditional farming techniques, and environmentally friendly farming must be expanded in all areas.
As I have mentioned earlier, in 2021, the ‘Pay-as-you-throw’ systems will be implemented all over Cyprus. It is going to be a big change and we will need the support of all your readers to make this new policy successful.
Finally, very soon we intend to initiate a big campaign to clean areas that have been polluted by waste dumping. For this purpose, groups of volunteers will be created with the support of our Commissioner for Volunteerism and Non-Governmental Organisations. The participation of your readers in these groups is more than welcome.