The Land Use Systems of Lemnos Island

By Mediterranean Institute For Nature and Anthropos (MedINA)

Greek islands are characterised as fragile ecosystems, whose character has been historically defined by their limited potential for intensive agricultural production. The sea poses a natural barrier that limits physical interactions and exchange with neighbouring ecosystems, both in natural and socio-economic terms (Vernicos, 1987).

The main characteristics of these ecosystems –restricted access to natural resources, intense fluctuation of rainfall, intense relief variation, limited presence of lowland plains, and the resulting variation of crop yield create an uncertain environment in which islanders had to adapt, by creating complex systems of agro-silvopastoral management. These labour intensive systems, with their further variations in accordance to the
particularities of each island, allowed to exploit every possible resource, while simultaneously ensuring its renewability (Giourga, 1991; Vernicos, 1987).

Spilanis and Kizos describe three basic land management principles in the Atlas of the Greek Islands (2015):  


a) diversification, in terms of different land uses (i.e. a variety of crops, planned to minimise the possibility and impacts of diseases and bad harvest) and spatial dispersion (i.e. a patchwork of small plots in different areas, planned to allow exploitation of all micro-ecologies found across the island);

b) storage, of surplus from years of good crop yield –but mainly of processed products– so that access to food would continue in years of bad harvest and/or during low productivity seasons;

c) redistribution, in terms of trade at the local and supra-local markets –both of which are essential to cover local needs, as well as needs of wider Mediterranean markets.

In accordance with these principles, and aiming to maximise production, the complex agro-silvo-pastoral systems of the islands were based on a variety of practices and land uses. The main agro-pastoral land uses are yearly crops, including cereals; legumes, also used for fodder; fruit trees (mainly olive groves); vines; and grasslands. In some islands with more fertile soils (such as Lemnos), cotton and tobacco have also been introduced for a certain period. Industrialization of agricultural production has led to a loss of agricultural practices that involved more labourintensive, environment-specific, multifunctional and complementary management of the land.

This major change can be described as a shift from a complex land management system which was based on complementarity and combination of land farming and pastoral activities, to a more intensive system where activities are more exclusive, monoculture prevails along with extensive stockbreeding, marginal areas are abandoned or left for free range grazing, and soil degradation and desertification appear (Giourga, 1991; Margaris, 1987). Such practices, as said above, have been developed over time to help farmers cope with the low productivity and scarcity of resources of island landscapes. However, even today, one can record a variety of practices that farmers still use in their holdings, producing different results on the landscape. The most characteristic