The Prime Minister’s announcements were not enough to stem the exasperation of the farmers, the causes of which are deep. Example in Occitania, among wine growers. More ambitious responses are to be found at national and European levels.
The agricultural crisis seen from Aude
Wearing their Young Farmers’ union caps, he and his comrades from the Pays d’Oc are preparing a new demonstration and filling their bins with vines. Wood which will serve to “light an ember for the merguez”, but above all to “symbolize the distress of the Aude vineyard” in the face of poor harvests, the decline in wine consumption in France and constantly falling prices. by Spanish competition.
In their struggle, wine growers can count on the support of local elected officials but also of the Church. In recent months, Mgr Bruno Valentin, the bishop of Carcassonne, often joins them in the processions. “In Occitania, the vine is existential, it represents 100,000 jobs. It’s not corporatism but a society that is fighting not to die,” he says in front of the Saint-Paul church in Narbonne.
Water or drink from the tap
That day, from 9 a.m., hundreds of tractors crossed the southern Narbonne toll to the cheers of thousands of demonstrators. An hour later, they block the intersection of the A61 and A9 motorways, in the direction of Toulouse and Perpignan, and tables stand up on the asphalt. The snack begins: pâté and glass of red “from Languedoc of course”, says Loïc, with a smile on his lips. Very quickly, discussions began around everyone’s cash flow woes – aid has still not been paid since the poor harvests of 2023 – and growing environmental requirements.
In recent years, tensions have increased between farmers and agents of the French Biodiversity Office, culminating on January 19 in Carcassonne with the explosion claimed by the Wine Action Committee (1), ‘a building of the State service responsible for piloting environmental policies.
“Vines represent 70% of the agricultural area of the department and the winegrowers’ union is campaigning to irrigate more due to the drought,” explains Francis Morlon, vice-president of the departmental council responsible for ecological transition. We find ourselves deciding between watering the grapes and water from the tap. »
But this time, the vineyard is not alone. Amidst the smoke from tires and barbecues, the breeders of the Montagne Noire and the Corbières massif are also present to “hold the siege”, as they say. Georges, 53, is participating in his first demonstration and, by all accounts, his presence means a lot. “As soon as we raise cows in the Pyrenees, we know that we are not there for the money. But now, it’s different, it doesn’t work anymore, really anymore…” His throat tightens.
Two sips of wine later, he corrects himself: “When I sell an animal, I only put 300 balls in my pocket. No need to work sixty hours a week to earn less than an RSA. » The precariousness described by this Gascon cow breeder concerns one in five people in the region. With a poverty rate of 20.2% (2), Aude is the third poorest department in mainland France.
Behind him, at the end of a blue string, Poupette, a sheep from Roussillon walks among the demonstrators. At the end of this makeshift leash, shepherd’s staff in hand, Véronique parades. Why is Poupette also demonstrating? To “shut down the ignorant people who accuse farmers of mistreating their animals,” shouts the 41-year-old breeder with a strong Pyrenean accent. She explains that she is there for her 11-year-old daughter: “She dreams of becoming the fifth generation of farmers in the family, so I fight to ensure that her future is dignified. The contempt is over. »
At meal time, the crowd observed a minute of silence for the farmer and her daughter who died in an accident at a road block in Pamiers (Ariège), on January 23. The emotion is palpable. In the process, a troop of tractors rushes down the highway ramp towards the city. Thirty minutes later, the phones vibrate and images flood in: the premises of the Mutualité sociale agricole de Narbonne are on fire. “What had to happen happened,” slips an elder, with a resigned expression. Here, the feeling of abandonment is gaining ground and everyone seems determined to stop putting water in their wine.
Rémi Barbet, special envoy to Narbonne
(1) Association to defend the wine interests of Languedoc and Roussillon, having committed several violent actions since its creation in 1907. (2) Insee, 2019.
The agricultural crisis seen from Paris
“In France, the anger of the agricultural world has come from the South-West which is crystallizing problems. On the one hand, it has some of the poorest farmers in France, and on the other, it is at the forefront of climate change, with repeated droughts and floods.
It also sees a succession of trying epizootics for breeders such as avian flu or epizootic hemorrhagic disease. (for cattle, Editor’s note) . Added to this crisis is the ideological fight of those who refuse the European Green Deal (Green Deal) .
How can we therefore respond to the multifaceted suffering of the agricultural world? By simplifying and humanizing on the ground the application of environmental standards felt to be too cumbersome and complex. But without unraveling them, because they are the life insurance of the peasant world and our societies.
They exist to prevent the destruction of living things. Alive on which the very possibility of continuing to produce to feed ourselves rests. The adversary is not standards, but deregulation and liberalism. The Egalim law (which aims to rebalance commercial relations in the agricultural sector, Editor’s note) must be truly applied to fairly share the added value.
Based on the fair trade model, multi-year tripartite contracts must be signed between distributors, processors and producer organizations. It is also essential to initiate a massive plan to support the agro-ecological transition, by redirecting part of the current CAP aid towards this objective.
Finally, we will not be able to respond in the long term to the anger of the agricultural world without fighting against unfair competition with importing countries which have lower social and environmental criteria than in Europe. To avoid the entry of “unfair” products, I propose reversing the burden of proof and creating a certifying body for agricultural products entering the EU. »
Comments collected by Véronique Badets
The agricultural crisis seen from Brussels
“It is a fundamental malaise which results from the convergence of several phenomena. First, the loss of competitiveness of French agriculture which handicaps farmers. While trade in agricultural products is experiencing strong growth globally, France has slipped to sixth place. In Europe, Germany and the Netherlands have moved ahead of us.
Then, there is the societal and moral opprobrium from which the agricultural world suffers, from the incomprehension of neo-rurals to the moralizing and stigmatizing discourse of urban elites. The French bureaucracy contributes to this disconnection through the “overtransposition” of European standards: France adds a layer even when Brussels does not ask for it!
Fixing the dropout
Faced with this inflation of rules, administrations, at the level of local authorities and the State in the territories, do not support farmers, either through lack of expertise or through activism. Since the years when Dominique Voynet (The Greens) was Minister of Regional Planning and the Environment (1997-2001), departmental directorates have recruited activists from the associative world. Result: elected officials are constantly contacted by farmers faced with unbearable headaches and administrative dysfunctions!
To remedy this disconnect, the European strategy must be corrected. Under pressure from the former Dutch socialist commissioner Frans Timmermans, the Commission pushed for a decline in agricultural production (reduction of cultivated land, very rapid ban on pesticides with no alternative, etc.).
The promoters of ecology have been maximalist and radical, without a desire for compromise. In the European Parliament, our group obtained the rejection of the text on pesticides and watered down the one on “restoration of nature”. In France, the administration must move away from its punitive logic and be more collaborative. And the regions gain in expertise. In Burgundy-Franche-Comté, hundreds of thousands of euros of European funds available to help young farmers set up are not distributed. »
Comments collected by Jean-Michel Demetz