Putting counseling and business plan development into practice
by Danae Bersi, Content Creator, New Agriculture for a New Generation

Without a doubt Maria Spilioti has a very impressive academic profile. She is a graduate of the Department of Animal Production and Aquaculture Science at the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA), holds a master’s degree in Farm Business Management and Advisory Services for Rural Development from AUA and is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, at the same university. But apart from that, by talking to her, I realized that another great asset she has is her love for nature and the people who work on it, as well as her unending desire to provide her knowledge and experiences to enhance and upgrade the agri-food sector, in every way possible.

She was born and currently lives in Piraeus, while her family comes from the beautiful town of Nafplio. There, her family had a small piece of land that she used to visit every now and then. "Although I am a city child, ever since I remember myself, I wanted to become an agronomist! I really love nature as well as animals and everything that surrounds it" she told me as we started our conversation.

Maria strongly believes in the importance of consulting and the need to develop business plans, especially in the agri-food sector. Thus, it seems that her role as 'Coordinator of Business Plans Development and Counseling' in two training programs of the “New Agriculture for a New Generation” Program is ideal. The educational programs she works on are the “Livestock Farming and Dairy Technology” program and the “Aromatic and Medicinal plants” program.

She learned about the “New Agriculture for a New Generation” program through AUA, which is a strategic partner of the program from the beginning. She told me that as soon as she heard about the program, she immediately realized she wanted to participate as her interests matched perfectly with what she wanted to offer.

Throughout our conversation, we had a chance to talk in detail about business plans and she explained to me the importance of consulting. As far as the Livestock Farming and Dairy Technology program is concerned, she explained that the business plans they create are mainly related to the establishment of new livestock businesses, their modernization and expansion and of course the increase of livestock. In fact, in 2018, which was the first year that the training program ran, 24 such business plans were made, 16 in 2019, and in 2020 she and her team intend to carry out 6 more. Of course, the most important thing seems to be that these projects help to maintain or even increase the human capital employed in the sector, thus helping to combat unemployment while at the same time improving their agricultural income.

When it comes to the Aromatic and Medicinal plants sector, they have managed to form groups of beneficiaries in 5 regions of Greece: Volos, Trikala, Grammatiko, Larissa and Farsala. Each of the teams has produced innovative products. Imagine nespresso style capsules filled with medicinal and aromatic herbs from Greece, insecticides exclusively from aromatic and medicinal by-products, candies made from industrial cannabis or even a mouthwash from medicinal plants! At the same time, they have installed a native plantation to produce Greek guaranteed propagating chamomile material in Farsala, wild rose, beeswax and mountain tea in Trikala and specifically in South Pindos. "What sets us apart from other commercially available products is the locality, that is, the plants are Greek, their chemotype (they have been analyzed to determine the chemical characteristics) and the fact that our products have been produced through a viable crop system ", Maria adds.

"All teams from both educational programs attend counseling and we are constantly on their side to help them implement their business plans effectively. There are already Social Cooperative Enterprises that are being set up" Maria says. The previous phase of product design and creation was a pilot one. Now, with the support of the consulting and business plan team, teams are called upon to create a comprehensive marketing plan for their products, using specific promotion tools and with the primary goal of marketing them as premium products.

I could see the excitement in her eyes when she said "I would like to see these products out in the market. And for example, after 5 years, I would like to see them do well and create even more products. Another reason we decided that this year we will take entrepreneurship courses at a more advanced level was that we want beneficiaries to be able to manage their own business effectively."


Of course, she stresses once again the importance of counseling and business consulting. "I think that through counseling, we can make a link between knowledge and universities and the rural sector. This way, we come closer, we keep in touch with these people and adapt to their needs. By practicing counseling, you learn to listen to the other, to hear his needs, and to give him a solution to his problem. Unfortunately, this usually doesn't happen, we aren’t used to listen to each other. Here, counseling is an essential communication.”

Although Maria loves to help and support the program’s beneficiaries, she also feels that she herself has been helped through her collaboration with the New Agriculture for a New Generation program. "Only the fact that you get into primary production and get in touch with people who live all year in the field of agriculture is very important, you have a lot to take from them. You go completely out of theory, you get into practice” she says, adding that “The primary sector is one that has a lot to offer in Greece. For me it is a challenge. I think something unique is happening here, something you don't have the opportunity to do every day. You get in touch with new people as the program is mainly aimed at the country’s most dynamic part, young people. "

Shortly before we bid farewell, she tells me that her vision is a dynamic agricultural sector in Greece that will produce value-added products but at the same time respect the environment while preserving the available natural resources. Thus, she believes that through the "New Agriculture for a New Generation" program she can help so that her vision becomes reality. “I believe that we always learn throughout our lives, no matter how old we get and the things we think we know. And always, we have things to give to one another. Here in the program, we are now moving away from the old ways, which may not have always been so appropriate and moving forward, we are modernizing. We can combine tradition with modernization and new technologies with the ultimate goal of revitalizing the agricultural sector and its people. "