Minister of Agriculture: There will be no shortage of grain for human consumption

"In general, for strategic stocks there is at least three months' supply"

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Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Petros Xenophontos expressed the assurance that there will not be a shortage of grain for human consumption because the Government will take care before this happens, announcing at the same time that in the coming days a meeting will be arranged with grain importers "to examine whether and in what way the state needs to keep reserves for human use".

"We are here to solve and we are solving the problems", emphasized the Minister, who was speaking at an extraordinary session of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture which mainly discussed the issue related to the strategic grain reserves that arise after the market of state maize reserves based on the recent Decree on the Disposal of Stocks of Feed Raw Materials.

The Agriculture Committee examined the issue following a proposal by MPs Giannakis Gavriil, Andreas Pasiourtidis, Valentinos Fakontis, Christos Orphanidis and Christos Senekis. The committee was attended by representatives of agricultural organizations, Shepherds, Goats, Goats, Sheep, Cattle, Poultry, breeders and feed importers.

The Minister of Agriculture said that as soon as it came to the attention of the Ministry that there is a problem of maize sufficiency in the market "within one day we ensured that a quantity (7.000 tons of maize from the strategic reserves) was released so as to satisfy the needs of our farmers".

"The Ministry of Agriculture, acting within the framework of existing legislation, released 7.000 tons of maize (until August 31) so as to meet the needs of the market," he said, noting that this decision was taken after the Advisory Committee's session on August 17 which unanimously decided to release up to 7.000 tons for the needs of livestock farmers.

He also said that on August 17 the relevant decree was published and "therefore we consider that the problem has been resolved" and added that "all the agricultural organizations have welcomed and are fully satisfied with the Ministry's actions".

In particular, regarding the strategic stocks of grain for animals, Mr. Xenophontos said that there are strategic stocks based on the decree issued on animal feed.

In relation to the strategic stocks of grains for human use, the Director General of the Ministry Andreas Grigoriou clarified that "the Ministry evaluated the stocks of grains for human use and found that it was not necessary to maintain other stocks because the stocks that existed (for commercial purposes) it was enough to satisfy the needs of the entire population for two to three months."

The General Director of the Ministry, Andreas Grigoriou, assured that the legislation was implemented and no problem was created in the sufficiency of grain, while in relation to the decree provided by the law for its issuance by March 31 annually to ensure the sufficiency of up to 15 days concerning the 4% of the amount of grain imported in the previous year, reported that the first decree of 2022 was challenged in court by grain importers.

He also said that more than 80% of grain is imported for both animal feed and human use and "despite these difficulties there was no problem, the animal population and milk productivity increased".

The representative of the Legal Service said that the law (articles 5,1 and 7,2) gives the Minister the possibility to issue a decree but he is not obliged to do so if he deems it unnecessary.

He said that the Minister issued a new decree in March 2023, which was published in the official gazette on March 31, 2023, and the case was withdrawn from court in relation to the 2022 decree because it was moot.

Representatives of the agricultural organizations as well as the Goat and Sheep breeders, Livestock breeders and Shepherds referred to the meeting that will be held with the Minister and stated among other things that there was no problem with the strategic grain stocks and that there is a need to maintain strategic stocks, while they welcomed the Government's decision to release stocks of maize because in this way the quantities requested by the breeders were quickly given.

It was also stated that if there was a problem it was due to the downward trend in prices and the decision to wait for prices to fall further.

Furthermore, it was reported that out of the 7.000 tonnes of stocks released by the state, only 1.000 tonnes have so far been allocated, citing the fact that only a few days have passed since the decree was issued, which was issued amid summer vacations.

Also, the proposal to create a Stock Management Authority was heard and the risk that ships carrying grain to Cyprus from the Black Sea, the only grain import destination for the island, would be affected by Russia was noted.

Speaking after the session, the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee Giannakis Gavriel said that in recent days he received many phone calls that there is no fodder to feed the animals and called on the Ministry to conduct investigations into whether strategic stocks (in private silos) are being kept, adding that "Investigations last Friday revealed that not all importers who were required to maintain strategic stocks were in compliance, hence the complaints."

Regarding grains for human consumption, Mr. Gabriel said that “while the 2022 decree provided for the sole responsibility of importers to have strategic stocks for 14 days, the Ministry decided that there is no need to include them in strategic stocks because they have commercial stocks, as the Minister said".

"The commercial stocks that are for the importers' own use are one thing, and the strategic stocks that the state must safeguard are another," he added.

He further said that compared to the decree of 2022 it is clear that whatever the importer had the obligation to keep for strategic stocks in the new decree (of 2023) their obligations have been removed and we are waiting for the meeting of the Minister with the importers to "clarify whether or not we have strategic reserves of grain for human use'.

"The Ministry says it has, the importers say they don't," he said and added that "AKEL was warning that the closure of the Grain Commission and the disengagement of the state from the grain sector would bring all these issues."

Noting that maintaining strategic reserves entails costs for the state and asked if he has tabled any proposal, Mr. Gavriel said that the options of the executive branch are one, the legislative branch exercises control and sometimes even makes proposals for law,” adding that the Parliament does not have the possibility to determine with a proposal of law how the executive power will protect the grain for human use.

"However, the law passed in 2021 provides for ways to solve this problem, giving three options" and "it is up to the executive power how to manage the issue", he added.

DISY MP Nikos Sykas said that in an imposed emergency session of the Committee in the presence of the Minister of Agriculture "a valuable discussion took place in a spirit of mutual understanding and responsibility" and DISY is pleased with the explanations given by the responsible Minister and will follow the developments, adding that for DISY the maintenance of strategic reserves is a national need.

"Listening today from the perspective of the competent Ministry of the actions it has taken in relation to the 2021 legislation as well as the decree of March 2023, it seems that in the part of the strategic stocks of animal feed there is the well-established tactic of both the observance of the quantities and the monitoring and control," he added.

Mr. Sykas expressed satisfaction that checks are being carried out and "some have been fined due to non-compliance with their legal obligation" and added that what remains "is to see the management of strategic stocks for human use".

Despite the fact that we live in a free economy and market, the retention of quantities – be they called strategic or non-strategic – remains, he said, adding that "it would be better through legislation to define what we say is a stock for personal use" .

He also said that strategic stocks should always be monitored and added that if we take into account "both the geopolitical situations and the fact that Ukraine and Russia are main pillar importers of our feed and grain, we should always have our ears open and to have quick reflexes".

Besides, during the session, DIKO MP Christos Orfanidis described the discussion as good in terms of information about where we are and requested that the period of maintaining strategic stocks be increased, beyond 26 days, while he mentioned that DIKO had strong objections to the dissolution of the Grain Commission.

He stated that "the then Minister, seeing that the desire to dissolve the Grains Committee was led not to be voted on in his written letter on March 11, 2021, committed to the agricultural organizations that the strategic reserves would be ensured."

In addition, Mr. Orfanidis expressed concern about the price increase and added that "small livestock units have closed and sold their sheep", asking the Ministry to inform how it intends to deal with the situation, especially after Russia's decision to do not allow Ukraine to ship the grain.

Speaking after the session, EDEK MP Ilias Myrianthous expressed satisfaction with the Minister's assurances that "there is no concern in general regarding grain stocks for both animal and human consumption".

He said that "generally for strategic stocks there is a sufficiency of at least three months and this is ensured through the decree that has been issued", but he added that "the fact that there are commercial stocks" as grain importers keep quantities to cover domestic consumption for human use, this resulted in the Ministry assessing that "there is no need to maintain strategic stocks".

He stated that the EDEK recommends that in the next discussion of the Advisory Committee with the Ministry of Agriculture, the possibility of maintaining strategic reserves to cover human consumption should also be considered, due to the fluid situation that prevails in the global grain market.

He said that the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining strategic stocks for human use should be considered so as to “ensure the adequacy of the market and not burden the tax-paying citizen unnecessarily.

Mr. Myrianthous also said that the increase in grain prices after Russia's decision is creating huge problems in the market and called on the Ministry to consider ways to further support livestock farmers to cope with difficult times.

He said that "within the development of halloumi we will find these problems in front of us" and added that the fact that livestock farms are closing should also be addressed.