Minister: Digitisation of agriculture at the core of post-bailout Greece

Nikos Pappas: "Smart agriculture, where it has been piloted, has led to a cost reduction for farmers up to 45%. There is no reason for our country, now that is out of the bailouts, not to have the primary sector it deserves." [Shutterstock]

The digitisation of the agricultural sector will be at the heart of Greece’s growth following the exit from austerity-driven bailouts, Greek minister Nikos Pappas told EURACTIV.com in a recent interview.

Pappas is Greece’s minister for digital policy, media and telecommunications. He spoke with EURACTIV.com’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

You have announced the implementation of the “Digital transformation of the agricultural sector” project. What are its main features? Has agriculture a role to play in the country’s post-bailout era? What is the practical added value for Greek farmers?

Our government has set as a primary objective: the transition of the Greek economy, including the Greek agricultural sector and agricultural production, from traditional cultivation to modern methods, by way of new technologies.

We stand ready to honour the warm welcome recently made by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan about this project, which is at the heart of European interest.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, we are proceeding at a rapid pace. Within the month we will announce the project and very soon the program will belong to 450,000 farmers.

According to the plan, 6,500 earth stations will “track” crops on 15 million acres, collect data on soil, air and water, which we will then use to provide tailor-made advice to each field. The farmer will now be able to receive, with a simple message on his mobile phone, updates on extreme weather events and irrigation advice as well as protection of his production. The data will be open for academic purposes and some kind of cooperation for the private sector as well.

Smart agriculture, where it has been piloted, has led to a cost reduction for farmers of up to 45%. There is no reason for our country, now that is out of the bailouts, not to have the primary sector it deserves.

The program provides for close collaboration among ministries, research and academia as well as farmers. Is this holistic approach possible? How will you ensure its continuity?

The digital transformation of the agricultural sector is a one-way street, which we all have to follow. The state, the academic community, agricultural enterprises, rural cooperatives, start-ups and, of course, farmers, both old and young, will collaborate in order to create the country’s prospects for agricultural growth towards the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The project’s stakeholders themselves will be the ones that will ensure its continuity, as it will provide them with solutions in everyday problems.

How far developed are micro-satellites in Greece? Will this be combined with the Copernicus program?

Greece is re-emerging in the field of space. We believe that this sector acts as a pillar, through which we will support our entire economy. That is why we are implementing the Single National Space Strategy, and, among other things, we are developing the infrastructure and array of micro-satellites.

Nowadays, the development of micro-satellites in Greece is limited to the launching of micro-satellites by the Universities of Patras, Aegean, Democritus and Peloponnese, universities that have participated in real and successful space missions of micro-satellites through NASA and ESA.

The micro-satellite project we have launched is in the final stage of approval and includes 11 micro-satellites that will be built entirely in Greece and their usage will be for exclusive technologies for the citizens of the country mainly in downstream applications from space.

The Space Program for Earth Observation, Copernicus, has as its main field of action the agricultural sector. The use of its data by users active in agricultural production is becoming more and more efficient, thanks to the new possibilities offered by “smart” agriculture applications.

You often say that in 2019 the country’s public administration will be fully digitised. At what stage is the electronic circulation of documents in the public sector?

We are currently at the stage exactly after the examination of the technical specifications of the tender. In a few days we will open the offers, and in November, we will have the contract signed with the contractor.

The project for digital document circulation across the public sector will be completed in 2019. It covers 21,000 public agencies and is combined with the provision of 150,000 digital signatures to civil servants.

At the moment, our ministry is fully digitised. This means that the 600 people who work there are signing and circulating every document through our computer or our mobile phone. According to studies, with the expansion of the project across the public sector, we will be saving €400 million per year.

Our goal is to attach this work to the Single Digital Gateway, a single portal through which EU citizens can manage their interactions with public administrations.

At the same time, you are promoting a series of measures that enhance transparency in public life. Among them, the application of a barcode to the press.

Indeed. It is a project that aims to enhance transparency and credibility in the press, as well as the distribution of public advertising in the printed press.

We are now in the process of finalising the evaluation of technical offers and by the end of December, we will have the contract with the contractor.

The State is doing its duty. Currently, we do not have a clear picture of the actual sales of printed newspapers and this has a direct effect on public advertising share as well as the private one.

For instance, one can declare 20,000 sales while the actual sales are 10,000. This increases the share of public advertising but does not reflect the reality.

Through this project, we basically want to avoid these “virtual sales” and make it clear that reforms are progressing at all levels.

What do you say to those who accuse you of delays in the digital field?

With the opposition, we have a different perception of things. In the days of the previous government, Greece was lagging behind in digital developments and risking losing substantial EU funds for projects in this category.

Today, this situation has been reversed. With the tools provided by the European Commission as well as national resources, Greece not only manages to make a difference with specific projects but also achieves fair digital growth. It ensures the equal participation of all in the new era. Something that should be a basic objective of the entire European family.

You recently visited Tallinn, a city regarded a one of the most ‘digitised’ in the EU. What was the outcome of your meetings there?

Together with my Estonian counterpart, we decided to intensify the cooperation of our countries so that Greece and Estonia become a model for cooperation in digital upgrade of cutting-edge fields.

Surely, Greece has a long way to reach Estonia’s level, but our country lacks neither the bright minds nor the opportunities, nor the political will to close the digital gap that we have with many EU countries. These gaps were created by the distorted policies of the past.

Minister Rene Tammist accepted our invitation and will soon visit Athens, together with his team, to set the foundations of our future cooperation.

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