Leasing of agricultural land and pastures
Payment and Control Agency for Guidance and Guarantee Community Aid

The Problem

The process of leasing public agricultural land has been implemented for many years at a regional level. The competent departments of the Regional Units (former Prefectures) were managing the available farming land within the geographical limits of their jurisdiction, without keeping them in a digital database. Citizens submitted a written application to local services in order to express their interest for leasing available public property. All of these applications, with the relevant supporting documents were evaluated manually by the competent authorities of the Prefectures. The allocation of available land per prefecture took place by the Governor‘s decision, based on the recommendation of the above mentioned services. The possibility of leasing public land concerned physical and legal entities already bestirred themselves in agriculture and the purpose of the lease should also fall within the activities of this sector.
The change in the economic and social conditions of the country (economic crisis, rapid increase of unemployment etc.) revealed the need for a more rational and coordinated use of the available public land. For this reason, arose the need of managing and coordinating the leasing process first at the central level and subsequently at a regional level, aiming at a more efficient use of land for the benefit not only of those already employed in the primary sector but also for the entire society and particularly for certain vulnerable social groups and at a fairer distribution. The distribution had to be expanded among several social groups so as to give the opportunity of employment in agriculture and livestock to people who were not involved before, or even to provide an incentive for existing farmers to increase their holdings and thus their agricultural income. The existing process excluded many social groups such as the unemployed and young people. In addition, what was really needed to be done was the selection criteria of potential beneficiaries to become more precise and objective and to establish a transparent and uniform throughout the country selection process, which would help reduce the suffering of the citizens and the workload of the already burdened with multiple tasks regional authorities.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The solution involved firstly the adjustment of the existing legal framework (amendment of the ministerial decision) and secondly the creation of a central electronic database for agricultural areas and a web-based system for the submission and evaluation of applications for the lease of public agricultural land.
The first part resolved the expansion of the beneficiaries categories for leasing public agricultural land and pastures and established the procedure for the selection of the beneficiaries (ranking based on points) with clear and objective criteria, contributing to the alleviation of social problems (e.g. unemployment, aging of rural population) and to enhancement of transparency in the selection procedure.
Through the second part, the information regarding available public agricultural land was gathered into a single database, which contributes to a more efficient and coordinated use of such areas by regional unit, a crucial element for the increase in the production of the necessary for the food chain agricultural products and for the improvement of the competitiveness in this sector. Furthermore, through the easily accessible internet platform (by creating a single user account with no cost), the citizen has the possibility of choosing the parcels he/she would like to lease (for example, he/she may choose a parcel neighboring to an existing one that he/she already cultivates), has full and immediate information for his rating at the time he submits the application as well as for his ranking among all the candidates interested for a particular parcel.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The initiative stemmed from the Ministry of Rural Development and Food in collaboration with the senior executives of OPEKEPE. The identification, evaluation, registration and classification of the available public agricultural land at a regional level into a single database was done by the topographical services of the above mentioned public services in cooperation with the regional directorates of OPEKEPE and the competent services of the Regional Units. The design and implementation of the online platform was carried out by OPEKEPE, combining the available technological resources and expertise in creating web-based applications. Regarding the implementation of the main procedure, the involved services include on the one hand OPEKEPE for the continuous support of the web-based application and the provision of help-desk services to the potential beneficiaries and on the other hand the competent services of the Regional Units for the administrative checks and the completion of the procedure’s final stage.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The main objectives of the initiative are: the support to various social groups (unemployed, young farmers, agronomists) in order to join the production process of the agro-food sector, to improve the sustainability of the agricultural and livestock holdings and consequently to increase the competitiveness in the this sector, to increase food and feed production as determined by the strategic planning of each region, to enhance the transparency provided by the public services, to reduce the bureaucracy and administrative burden of the involved government services.
The above mentioned objectives could only be achieved by maximizing the utilization of public agricultural land and pastures and ensuring that they will be used for the actual increase of the food and feed production and for promoting crops with local features or geographical indications. For this reason, it was decided to record and categorize the agricultural land according to its use at a regional level in a single electronic database and was created the proper IT system to manage the submitted applications, perform adequate controls and produce the final lease contracts.
The objectives of the initiative were set centrally from the leadership of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food whilst the strategy that was followed was jointly designed by this leadership and the senior executives of OPEKEPE.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The key steps followed for both the design and the implementation of the leasing process are as follows:
 Modification of the existing legal framework (ministerial decision) in collaboration with the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, which defined the categories of beneficiaries, the rating and other details that either were not fixed by the existing regulatory framework or were dealt otherwise in it (August-September 2011).
 Identification, review, on-the-spot checking, recording and classification of use of all available public agricultural land into a single database for the whole country. This is done by the topographical services of OPEKEPE and of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food in collaboration with the competent departments in each region (starting in September 2011, with continuous updating). More analytically, the disposed public plots were derived from the cross-check of three digital files, namely the reparcelling distributions archive of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, the parcel identification system (LPIS) of OPEKEPE and the database of the Integrated Administration and Control (IACS) applications of2009 & 2010 for the EU agricultural aids.
 Design of the web-based platform for the electronic submission of applications and for the import of the results of administrative controls and its testing in the test environment (August-September 2011).
 Launch of the process by posting the web-based application on 25/10/2011. The posting of available parcels is done every Thursday and for each post the closing date of submission of the respective applications is announced; this period is usually determined in one month from the date of the post. The posting of available land is a dynamic and continuous process.
 After the deadline for submission of applications for each post, the administrative controls of supporting documents by a three-member committee of the Regional Unit, based on the classification that has been done through the online application, follow. This committee after the prementioned checks, submits to the regional governor a written suggestion including the name of the lessee, the lease period and the leasing plots. The process ends with the signing of the lease by the beneficiary and the regional governor and its transmission to OPEKEPE and the competent Tax Office.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
One of the main problems encountered was related to the cooperation between the stakeholders in the central and regional administration. Also, the current fiscal situation and the limited resources required a cost-effective solution without compromising the objectives of the initiative. A third difficulty was the lack of a single digital database of the available land for lease at a national level, which made this venture technically difficult. Generally, the problems were overcome by defining the above mentioned key development and implementation steps and with good central coordination.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The human resources used for the development, full operation and maintenance of the application include approximately thirty (30) full-time employees of OPEKEPE (IT Directorate, Directorate of Technical Controls, Office of Citizen Service, Regional Directorates). Additionally, it requires about three hundreds and fifty (350) employees of the Regional Units to perform the relevant tasks as mentioned in the current ministerial decision.
Regarding the technical resources, the already existing equipment (hardware) was used, which was available in OPEKEPE. Moreover, the need for software for the implementation of the application was covered by open source tools (PHP programming language and Yii framework, database mySQL).

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Current experience has shown that this initiative can be sustainable in the future since additional resources were not required (financial, human, technical) for its design and full implementation, apart from those who had already been available by the current public administration. Besides, the acceptance by the public (submission of 4.583 applications until 15/12/2011) demonstrates not only the viability but also the need for continuation of the venture for the benefit of both the citizens and the public services. Finally, a further "regulatory" strengthening of the initiative is anticipated through the adoption of a state law concerning a detailed description of the settlement for the public land.
This initiative has not yet been replicated or disseminated to other services of the public sector. However, the dissemination is possible to the services that manage public and private land, such as KTIMATOLOGIO S.A. (Hellenic Cadastre). Among the immediate goals is to present this initiative to other Member States of the European Union in the context of exchange expertise and best practices.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Experience so far has shown that political will and support was essential for the initiation of the process. Furthermore, the definition and implementation of a strict timetable, without major deviations, leads to the accomplishment of the objectives and the success of the initiative. The collaboration between the stakeholders has also contributed to the program's success since each stage of the process demands simultaneous production of results by different government services. Additionally, the targets could not have been achieved unless there was knowledge of new technologies not only by the government services but also by the citizens. Finally, the interest and positive response of the citizens to the new venture are those who gave feedback and boost daily the continuation and improvement of the whole process. Citizen’s information is enhanced by the continuous promotion of the initiative through the media, counting so far at least fifteen (15) press conferences at a central level and approximately a hundred (100) publications in nationwide newspapers.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Payment and Control Agency for Guidance and Guarantee Community Aid
Institution Type:   Public Agency  
Contact Person:   Athanasia Georgopoulou
Title:   Mrs  
Telephone/ Fax:   (+30)2108802785/(+30)2108823968
Institution's / Project's Website:   http://www.opekepe.gr/agrotemaxia.asp
E-mail:   athanasia.georgopoulou@opekepe.gr  
Address:   5 Domokou str.
Postal Code:   104.45
City:   Athens
Country:   Greece

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