French farmers have been protesting in the streets for days and just yesterday there was a tractor-trailer in Brussels, the place where the EU’s agricultural and environmental policy is decided. Also in Germany, Poland and Romania the agricultural sector is in turmoil; They are demonstrating because of cuts, because of environmental policies and an excess of bureaucracy that is suffocating them, they say, and because of the increase in production costs. And what happens in Spain? At least for now, it seems that the flame of the street has not yet been lit, but the field is mobilizing, tired of feeling abandoned and “of being left to die.” This was stated by those attending the forum “Consequences of harassment in the countryside: fresh food only for the rich” that was held in La Razón and which included the participation of Natalia Corbalán, general spokesperson for the SOS Rural platform; Adolfo García Albaladejo, general director of Camposeven, and Jorge Jordana Butticaz, director of the Agri-Food Area of the Lafer Foundation.
The debate began with an analysis of the situation of food prices (in two years, the shopping basket in Spain has increased by 27%) and the situation in the countryside. The attendees agreed in their concern for small family farms and in considering that the main thing to reverse the situation is to listen to the countryside, see the reality of work and production costs and design a legislative framework in consensus with they. «In France the fuse has been lit, and the fact that phrases like “we want Paris to go hungry” have been said is very serious and shows where we are. Spain suffers from very similar problems to those of the rest of the EU. Livestock farmers are forced to sacrifice their livestock due to animal protection regulations that make it impossible to maintain farms; Environmental demands liquidate agriculture and agricultural activity is criminalized. The situation in the countryside is something that has to worry civil society because food is the most precious good we have in a society,” said Natalia Corbalán, representative of SOS Rural, a movement that, as they themselves recalled, was born in 2023 as part of civil society to combat the atomization of the Spanish agricultural sector.
And the lack of unity is one of the characteristics of the sector. This is how Jorge Jordana explained it: «The problem of the Spanish primary sector is its lack of union. The largest dairy cooperative in the world is a union between a Dutch company and a Swedish company. In France there is one agrarian organization, in Spain, three… Furthermore, the agrarian organizations are all subsidized by the State, and whoever pays, rules,” he said. The director of the Agri-Food area of the Lafer Foundation also insisted on another of the problems that concerns the sector, the enormous bureaucracy and European green policies: «There are four axes in agriculture: producing enough food, at an affordable price, protecting the environment environment and that generates enough wealth to be sustainable. It is difficult for them to be the same, but that is why we must create a long-term program together that combines agriculture and the environment. Not like the current green agenda that was put on the table without being discussed. There is a sociological environmentalism throughout Europe that leads to the policies that are being implemented in the primary sector being suffocating. These measures fundamentally seek to produce less at an affordable price and that is impossible. The organic product reduces production by 30%. That means that prices will have to be increased by 30% whether we like it or not.
Adolfo García, an organic farmer, joined these words, considering that the time and energy dedicated to filling out paperwork would be more useful if it were invested in R&D: «We have the bureaucracy of European legislation, then Spanish legislation and regional legislation… Logically, the largest department is the quality department due to all the standards and the amount of documentation that a farmer has to prepare. All this does nothing more than increase costs, but the most serious thing is that costs can be lowered, but research and innovation are needed and that field technicians are in the field.
Agriculture and environment
The question was in the air: has anyone wanted to turn agriculture into the enemy of ecology? For Adolfo García the problem is that “there is a total and absolute lack of knowledge of the field. How cultivation techniques have changed in the last 50 years. I am no longer talking about organic farming, but even conventional, and the consequences are obvious for all Spaniards: the alarming rise in the prices of fresh products in supermarkets, which are becoming luxury items. In fact, their consumption in Spain is decreasing rapidly and they are being replaced by ultra-processed foods. I’m going to take a phrase that a good friend of mine told me recently: You cannot produce in green with red numbers. The costs of organic production are higher and prices have to rise.
Another hot point of the debate was the entry of products from third countries. «According to the forecasts of the European Union, tomato production will decrease by 21% in Spain and by 2035 our country will be a net importer of tomatoes. That is to say, our salads are going to be in the hands of the king of Morocco. “When only he can sell us the tomato, at what price do you think Morocco is going to charge for the tomato?” stated Natalia Corbalán. In this sense, EU foreign trade data demonstrate how Moroccan tomato imports to the European market have increased by 52% from 2013 to 2022. «What is really frustrating is that it is the EU itself that finances the creation of new farmland in Morocco to outsource production, while the Spanish and European rural world is dying,” Corbalán clarified. «The EU commits a crime when it does not protect fair competition and equal trade rules for all as written in the Treaties, by giving uncontrolled entry to products from, for example, Morocco. How is it that no one has yet taken the institutions before the European Court for infringement of competition? Jorge Jordana forcefully stated.
Another issue that worries the sector, plagued by an increasingly difficult situation, is the lack of generational change, because if the countryside is not attractive to young people, there is a risk that the land will end up in the hands of large investment funds. investment. «Agricultural production and rural land suffer speculative movements that force farmers to see how their land is replaced by industries that do not contribute to the objective of food security, such as the massive installation of solar panels on farmland, an expropriation of fact of the land,” it was said during the debate.
Adolfo García Albadalejo knows well what is happening because he has spent 50 years in the fields. In that time he has seen young people flee rural areas and, over the years, return trained to take charge of family farms. However, now, he says, he is witnessing the decline and flight once again of young people “due to all these bureaucratic measures, etc., that we are talking about.” “I don’t know if the intention is that in the end production will be left in the hands of a few and that the little ones will abandon it, some out of boredom and others because we can’t live in the countryside.”
The spokesperson for SOS Rural (which also includes the issue of generational change among its concerns) recalled that in Spain 86% of agricultural farms are managed by people over 45 years of age. «I think they are very relevant data, who is going to be responsible for food production and what is going to happen to the small and medium producers, the true support of the rural world because they are the ones that generate wealth? “The rural world needs the same services so that people can live on equal terms with those in the city and it is attractive to young people,” she said. Jorge Jordana agreed with this analysis by pointing out that “when we talk about emptied Spain, we forget that these rural areas do not have the same services that a city has, so it is normal for population to be lost. If there is no rural Spain with pharmacy services, doctors, internet, it will never be attractive, who will want to live like this in rural areas? With each person who leaves a town, economic activity and the rural world shrink.
One of the conclusions reached at the table is the need to listen to the countryside, to dialogue between sectors and reach policies that are also agreed on water issues, one of the great challenges in Spain. “This time of more drought and climate change deserves a general and common reflection and that a new national plan for hydraulic works be undertaken,” said Jorge Jordana during one of his interventions.
But to be heard, the speakers considered, the union of the sector and “valid representation” is necessary, which carries the voice of the rural world wherever decisions are made. “There is neither in Spain nor in Europe a valid political representation that defends the primary sector,” Jordana exclaimed during the debate. Corbalán picked up the baton to highlight the work that the platform for which he is spokesperson wants to carry out: «we have an enormous task. I believe that now the countryside has woken up and it is a good time to raise awareness of the important work that farmers and ranchers do for our society. “A forceful and unitary political response from the Spanish countryside is needed to avoid its collapse.” Corbalán also advanced his coordination with the European platforms that are already mobilized in France, Germany, Italy and Romania through a citizen initiative that he has just presented in Brussels. We must not forget that elections to the European Parliament are also being held that year.
“I don’t know if the intention is for production to remain in the hands of a few and for the little ones to abandon it.”
Adolfo G. Albadalejo, Camposeven
«This time of drought and climate change deserves a general and common reflection on water»
Jorge Jordana, Lafer Foundation
«The countryside has woken up and it is a good time to raise awareness about the work it does»
Natalia Corbalán, SOS Rural