When French farmers descended on Paris in tractors last month to protest against falling grain prices, they drove from as far away as Marseilles to deliver their message loud and clear. As summarized in a slogan printed on one of these tractors, they wanted to remind the public that: ‘we can’t live on love and water’.
France, considered the ‘bread basket’ of Europe, produces more cereal than any other European country and is second to the US in exports. However, its cereal farmers are in crisis, with a predicted net revenue of negative 80 euros per hectare in 2010 following a drop in income of 51% in 2009, according to Dominique Barrau, secretary general of the FRSEA farmers’ union.
The same message has been coming from farmers all over Europe. Last September more than 60,000 European dairy farmers stopped or reduced their production in what was termed ‘the milk crisis’, in protest against a drop in prices and a plan to get rid of production quotas. The dairy farmers felt so strongly about this injustice that they dumped 350 liters of milk, causing an increase in spot prices.
France’s cereal farmers say the commodities markets, the government and the EU are to blame for the crisis, as happened with the milk crisis of last year. The EU had already provided heavy subsidies to the dairy farmers but by July 2009 milk prices had fallen 25% from the previous year.
Farmers are essential in providing important commodities, like wheat and milk but there is a sense within the agricultural community that they are powerless to make much needed changes. Many farmers lack the financial means to make changes to how they farm and simply don’t have the power at a political level to influence the systematic changes that they see are necessary.
ICTSD (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development)