Why Spanish farmers are rising up | Economy and business


Enrique Sánchez cultivates vines on 18 hectares of land. Although he has not yet completely given up hope, he is close. A few days ago, a colleague from the nearby village of Novelda, one of the seven municipalities that make up the Vinalopó valley in the Spanish province of Alicante, cut all his vines with a chainsaw. “And there will be more cases, because things are going very badly,” said Sánchez, 37.

As the son and grandson of farmers and also the head of the Union of Local Producers, the Unió de Llauradors, Sánchez has an explanation of why things are so bad in the countryside.

All we have to do is get out our tractors and claim our rights in the streets

Enrique Sánchez, head of the local producers’ union

“The minimum wage has increased and this grape requires a lot of work. Agricultural insurance premiums have also increased, as have the price of fertilizers and diesel, â€he says.

“We sell the grapes at prices that were 20 to 25 years ago,†he adds. “If I have to give everything I earn and have nothing left, it’s impossible to make a living. If governments do nothing for us, all we have to do is pull out our tractors and claim our rights in the streets.

Sánchez is not the only one to feel this. After a week of protests in other parts of Spain – Galicia, Extremadura and Andalusia – agricultural organizations plan to step up street actions to continue to draw attention to the precarious conditions of nearly a million people. companies. Other events are planned in the coming days in Murcia, Castile-La Mancha, Cantabria and parts of Andalusia.

The agriculture ministry admitted the sector is going through difficult times and called representatives to a meeting on Monday to seek negotiated solutions.

Spain’s agricultural sector says overall income fell 8.6% in 2019

“We cannot talk about a single problem,†explains Pedro Barato, president of Asaja, an association of young producers. Instead, he says it is a combination of issues, some derived from European Union policies, others from national policies. Other industry leaders have cited US tariffs and the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union as additional hurdles.

“Together they make every day less profitable for the agricultural sector due to low prices: EU environmental requirements, demonization of animal welfare activities, stricter and more expensive legislation on the use of certain fertilizers and health products, renewed threats of less subsidies when the [EU’s] The Common Agricultural Policy is being reviewed … We cannot continue like this. And to top it off, there’s the new minimum wage, which doesn’t seriously affect the entire industry, but it does affect labor-intensive activities, like fruit and vegetables and some vineyards.

Farm leaders agree that raising the minimum wage – from € 750 to € 900 per month – is not what sparked the protests, but that it will have a very negative impact on some activities that require a lot of workers on the job. ground.

Juan Hernández, director of fruit and vegetable producer Paloma, which employs nearly 2,000 people, says the rise in wages affects around 70% of the company’s workers, those doing unskilled work. “This will seriously affect competitiveness in areas such as tomatoes or strawberries, where picking jobs account for over 45% of overall costs,” he says.

The industry also rejects accusations of neglecting animal welfare or the environment, noting that agricultural activities produce only 11.6% of greenhouse gas emissions.

José Diego Garrido, olive grower from Baeza, in the Andalusian province of Jaén, shares the same problems. “I work 35 hectares of traditional irrigated olive groves and my production costs are no less than € 2.50 per kilo, while I earn € 1.70 per kilo.”

Román Santalla, a farmer from Galicia, says things are similar in the milk sector, where prices have also been below costs over the past four years.

It’s crazy what’s going on in the food chain

Lorenzo Ramos, general secretary of the Upa agricultural union

The agricultural sector in Spain, which is mostly made up of medium-sized businesses, reports that overall income fell 8.6% in 2019. With the declines of the previous two years, the loss of income amounts to around $ 26 billion. euros. The decline was felt most severely by producers of fruits, vegetables, wine, oil, milk and grains.

The fall in prices is blamed on a lack of mechanisms to regulate markets, an influx of cheap imported products and pressure from large retail groups, among other reasons.

Lorenzo Ramos, general secretary of the Upa agricultural union, says producers receive only a “minimal share” of what consumers pay for the product. The industry wants regulation to address this issue, along with a loss-making strategy for large chain stores. “It’s crazy what’s going on in the food chain; there should be a mechanism for producers to at least have their production costs covered, â€says Ramos.

In the region of La Ribera, Valencia, many orange growers instead turned to persimmon because the cultivation seemed more profitable. Eduard Esparza was one of the first to take the plunge, more than 20 years ago now. Today, he is faced with the same problem he faced with oranges: “At the supermarket opposite my house, they sell persimmons for € 1.89 per kilo, while the producers receive 15 or 20 cents. Esparza believes that apart from abuse on the distribution side, producers should be better organized.

Miguel Blanco, secretary general of the national COAG coordination group, agrees that the offer should be better organized and that the sector should play a more important role in the sales process.

“The system fails,†says Domingo García, who grows peaches, nectarines and apricots in Llutxent, Valencia. “It would be enough if producers were paid 15 cents more per kilo. They wouldn’t get rich, but at least they would cover the costs.

english version by Susana Urra.


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