Why this story matters:
-- by Kami Rice
This story first attracted my attention when my train between Marseille and Toulouse halted at Arles, and then returned to Marseille. Farmers were blocking road and train transportation around Toulouse, France’s fourth largest city.
In a search for more details, I found zero information on France’s major news outlets.
In many ways, this story represents the distance between Paris and the rest of France. When farmers staged a similar protest in Paris in 2015, images of tractors converging on the City of Light were prominently featured by French and international media. But when it is “only” regional farmers shutting down transportation in a southwestern city, the protests are ignored.
As I talked with fellow passengers in our rescheduled train, I mostly heard sympathy for the plight of farmers. Someone noted, for example, how expensive farm equipment is and how challenging it is for young farmers to make a living.
One must sometimes make a big fuss in order to be heard here, especially to be heard calling from rural fields and communes to get the attention of Paris’s lawmakers and journalists.
Details from the story:
- In 2013 the European Union passed rules limiting to 10 percent the amount of a country’s land that can be classified as disadvantaged zones, leaving it to countries themselves to decide the criteria for this classification.
- Since 2016, France has been working to establish its new criteria for these zones. The minister of agriculture was scheduled to meet with a working group to establish a revised map of disadvantaged zones to present to the French president in mid-February.
- Once approved in France, the new criteria must be approved by the European Commission.
- The proposed reduction in the number of communities qualifying for subsidies is significant, as many as several hundred fewer communes.
- Farmers in southwestern France, particularly in the regions of Occitanie and Nouvelle-Aquitaine, are slated to be hardest-hit by the reductions, so they have been staging protests, culminating in a Wednesday, February 7 blockade of highways, roads, and train tracks surrounding Toulouse and other nearby towns.
- They were awaiting news from their representatives who were given a meeting with the Stéphane Travert, the minister of agriculture.
- Sophie Maniago, a farmer and leader of a local group of an agriculture union, said that in these disadvantaged zones, farmers have lower yields and higher costs. She said that it will be the death of farming, since farmers would lose 8,000 to 10,000 euros. She added that areas will be abandoned and villages will die.
**Kami Rice is a freelance journalist and editor whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Telegraph, The Tennessean, and numerous magazines and online publications. Based in France since 2012, she travels widely and is particularly interested in the on-the-ground experiences of the world’s people. She also serves as editor of Culture Keeper (www.culture-keeper.com).**