Rural Economy & Entrepreneurship – Greece

1. Agriculture

The Greek agricultural sector is well known to be a significant contributor in the country’s economic development, as it produces many and varied agricultural products and is one of the major exporters worldwide. At the same time, the agricultural sector is the main supplier of food processing, which is now one of the most important development sectors in the country.

It is noted that the agricultural sector is a major supplier of a range of products and services, of particular importance to the food and beverage industry, which constitutes the driving force behind manufacturing, covering the largest portion of enterprises (21,2% in 2012), employees (25,2%) and gross value. 

According to the results of the Greek Business Innovation Survey, in the three-year period 2010-2012, 52.3% of Greek businesses appear to be innovative in at least one of the following types of innovation. The majority of businesses are innovative in marketing (36.8%) and business organization (30.2%). Innovative processes develop 25.6% of businesses, while 19.5% develop innovations in products, whether goods or services. Developing innovations in processes and / or products (innovations sometimes referred to as “technological innovation”) requires significant investment.

2. Livestock

Sheep and goat breeding (small ruminants) is traditionally one of the most dynamic sectors in Greece, contributing approximately to 18% of the total agricultural income. Goat and sheep meat and milk are two major product categories of great economic importance and constitute the main sources of agricultural income for the inhabitants of mountainous and less-advantaged areas.

Indicatively, it is reported that 95% of the animals in Greece are milked. Sheep and goat farming is largely practiced (85% of the animals and about 80% of the farms) in the mountainous and less-advantaged areas of the country that make up 85% of the total area.

The excellent quality of raw materials that are carefully chosen gives quality features to the products which make their tasting a unique tasting experience.

3. Employment

The primary sector also involves a large size of workforce in farms, reaching the level of 13,5% in 2014. It is noted that the employment in the primary sector in 2014 experienced a relatively small decline (-2,2%), compared to the significantly higher decline in the sectors of construction (-10,3%), manufacturing (-5,7%) and trade (-2,8%). Apart from that, the primary sector employment accounted the largest share in 2014, followed by the sectors of trade (17,7%), manufacturing (8,9%), tourism (8,4%) and construction (4,3%).

However, in recent years there has been a growing interest in agricultural production, mainly from young people seeking a way out of unemployment and the financial crisis. In a survey by the Ministry of Rural Development, 19.3% of respondents said they had taken concrete steps to move from urban centers (Athens – Thessaloniki) to the province.

43.5% of those planning to leave Athens and Thessaloniki have a university degree, 25.9% have a master’s degree and 4.1% have a doctorate. About half (47.6%) of those planning their departure from the city would like to work in the agricultural sector, but not only at the level of production but also across the chain, in packaging and product distribution.

4. Quality

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

‘Designation of origin’ is a name which identifies a product:

  • originating in a specific place, region or, in exceptional cases, a country;
  • whose quality or characteristics are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors; and
  • the production steps of which all take place in the defined geographical area.


Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)

‘Geographical indication’ is a name which identifies a product:

  • originating in a specific place, region or country;
  • whose given quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin; and
  • at least one of the production steps of which take place in the defined geographical area


Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG)

A name shall be eligible for registration as a ‘traditional specialty guaranteed’ where it describes a specific product or foodstuff that:

  • results from a mode of production, processing or composition corresponding to traditional practice for that product or foodstuff; or
  • is produced from raw materials or ingredients that are those traditionally used.

5. Fishery

Greek aquaculture is dominated by the farming of marine finfish in offshore cages, specifically of gilthead sea bream and European sea bass with the combined production capacity of about 110.000 tonnes in 2015. This is followed by the culture of Mediterranean mussels with an annual production capacity up to 35–40.000 tonnes in 2015. In 2019, with a fish farming production of 127.055 tons and a value of 553,4 million euros, Greece ranked 2nd in volume and in value among the EU28 in fish farming (following the UK).

The aquaculture industry in Greece is also highly export oriented as approximately 80% of the production is sold in the EU and third countries. When it comes to sea bream (“tsipoura”) and sea bass (“lavraki”), Greece supplied 59% of both species sold in the EU and 22.2% sold worldwide, with a production of 120,500 tons. After several crises mainly as a result of imbalance between supply and demand, the marine fish sector has been restructured, with the aim of doubling its production by 2030.  Marine fish is the top Greek exported animal product and contributes about 11% of the total national agricultural exports (which together account for 19% of the total Greek exports).

Modern aquaculture in Greece is dominated by Mediterranean marine species such as European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) and Mediterranean mussels (Mytilus galloprovinicalis). Marine fish farming was established in the early 1980s with strong European Union (EU) support in establishing pilot-scale farms, and through the transfer of cage technology and knowledge from salmon industries, especially those in Scotland, and rearing technology from France and Spain. In the early 1990s, mass production was achieved after the major zoo-technical problems for rearing these species had been solved. As a consequence, there was exponential growth in the industry, with several crisis periods (1999–2002 and 2007–2008) inducing extended periods of low prices mainly as a result of uncontrolled production, which reached 140.000 tonnes at the beginning of the Greek financial crisis (2008), and the lack of adequate efficient marketing support. As of 2015, the industry entered a phase of restructuring and consolidation.

The main species farmed today are shown below, in order of importance in terms of tonnage produced:

  • Gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata)
  • European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax)
  • Mediterranean mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis)
  • Rainbow trout (Onchorynchus mykiss)
  • Red porgy (Pagrus pagrus)
  • Meagre (Argyrosomus regius)
  • Sharpsnout seabream (Diplodus puntazzo)
  • European eel (Anguilla anguilla)
  • Flathead grey mullet (Mugil cephalus).

The top three farmed species (seabream, seabass, and mussels) are the success story of Greek aquaculture, representing up to 97% of the production volume.

6. Research

The research about the agricultural sector can be identified domestically in public research institutions in Greece and on a European level in participating in EU research programs.

Public Research Institutions in Greece
The Greek Universities include a variety of departments, whose specialties are directly or indirectly related to the food sector:

  • Agricultural University {Departments of Plant Production and Animal Production, Agricultural Biotechnology, Agricultural Economics and Development, Science and Technology and Food Science and Technology}
  • Harokopio University {the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition Science}
  • University of Thessaloniki {the Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Engineering}
  • University of Thessaly {Department of Agriculture, Animal Production and Aquatic Environment, and Agriculture Crop Production and Rural Environment}
  • University of Thrace {Departments of Rural Development and Forestry and the Environment and Natural Resources Management}
  • University of Ioannina {the Department of Business Administration of Food and Agricultural Products}.

There is also the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) which has developed a very important aquaculture and fisheries infrastructure and receives high funding from the country’s competitive and national programs. The activity of the Institution has also contributed in the development of aquaculture in the country, as it has always been the research center that provided support and innovative ideas.

Participation in the EU Research programs
Participation in European R&D projects (such as the 7th Framework Program and HORIZON) is a great opportunity to gain expertise and use new technologies, supported by European resources.