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World Locked down Greek fir tree farmers wait for Christmas miracle

14:30  01 december  2020
14:30  01 december  2020 Source:   reuters.com

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TAXIARCHIS, Greece (Reuters) - Locked down by coronavirus at their busiest time of year, fir tree farmers in Greece are hoping for a Christmas miracle to salvage a season all but lost.

a man in a garden: Workers gather fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki © Reuters/ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS Workers gather fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki a man standing next to a truck: Workers gather fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki © Reuters/ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS Workers gather fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki

A nationwide lockdown has meant thousands of Christmas trees may not get to market in time in a blow to farmers in an area of northern Greece where fir tree sales are their only livelihood.

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a group of bushes with a mountain in the background: View of fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees, at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki © Reuters/ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS View of fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees, at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki

"It will be a huge catastrophe," said Christos Bitsios, a fir farmer in Taxiarchis, a mountainous village in Greece's Chalkidiki region.

Greece has extended to Dec. 7 a nationwide lockdown it imposed in November, its second since the coronavirus pandemic began, after a surge in COVID-19 cases. Northern Greece has been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

This time last year, Christmas trees were up for sale, Bitsios said. The annual crop requires up to 15 years of labour and the trees must be cut annually or they dry out as they are densely planted, he said.

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In addition, the traditional hill farming of the Lake District has effects on the landscape. Grazing sheep (G) _ the grass short and eat other vegetation, including young saplings. The difficulty faced now is how to preserve the beauty of this area without lowering the enjoyment of visitors or impairing

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Authorities say easing the restrictions would require a significant drop in COVID-19 cases which would ease pressure on the health system.

a cactus in front of a tree: Fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki © Reuters/ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS Fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki

Greece registered 1,044 cases on Monday, bringing the total to 105,271 infections since the pandemic began.

Bitsios is optimistic that 2020 could be a year of high demand, if restrictions are eased, as people were more likely to stay home for Christmas.

"If they allow us, if they open the retail sector, we may fare better than other years because people want to decorate a tree. We've received many calls, many orders," he said.

a man standing next to a tree: Farmer Christos Bitsios and a worker holding a chainsaw gather fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees, at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki © Reuters/ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS Farmer Christos Bitsios and a worker holding a chainsaw gather fir trees, grown to be sold as Christmas trees, at a farm in the village of Taxiarchis, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the region of Chalkidiki

If not, the loss for the village is estimated at 300,000 euros ($360,000). Asked what he wants from Santa Claus this year, Bitsios said: "Better luck next year".

(Reporting by Alexandros Avramidis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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