The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has announced a grant of nearly $27.5 million to Rutgers University in support of a three-year initiative aimed at revitalizing Greece's agricultural sector by training and developing a new generation of farmers and food entrepreneurs.
Spearheaded by the New Jersey-based university, in partnership with the Agricultural University of Athens and the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, the project is focused on creating job opportunities for youth in agriculture, Greece's second-largest employer; preparing young workers for jobs at food-related businesses and family farms; and helping young people with an interest in food and agriculture start their own businesses.
The largest foundation grant ever received by Rutgers is part of SNF's $136 million Recharging the Youth initiative, which was launched at the height of Greece's socioeconomic crisis in 2013 with the aim of creating meaningful employment opportunities for thousands of unemployed young Greeks. In 2015, SNF awarded Rutgers and its partners $2.1 million to begin planning a multiyear project. In the project's first phase, Rutgers conducted twenty studies on a range of sectors — including alternative fruit crops, incubators, agro-tourism, wine and spirits, technology, and aquaculture — with the goal of determining the current state of each sector, their growth potential, and their potential to employ Greek youth. The next phase of the project will focus on agricultural and food system sectors that are considered to be the most promising in terms of job creation for youth, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and business development.
Roughly a third of the grant will support the development of a network of farm incubators and regional food innovation centers, with the incubators to be supplemented by other training sites, including existing farms and businesses.
"The starting point of this landmark initiative was our desire to help as many young people as possible with employment opportunities within Greece's agricultural and food sectors, [which] have unlimited growth potential," said SNF co-president Andreas C. Dracopoulos. "But the grant is so much more than just an employment vehicle. It has the potential, we hope, to jump-start one of the country's most important and strategic assets with unlimited growth potential, agriculture. We are not seeking to reinvent the wheel through this major grant. We are just trying to help boost its chances to become the growth and development engine that it should be."
(Photo credit: American Farm University, Thessaloniki, Greece)