October 23, 2020

The Spanish countryside revolts | Economy


Olivareros de Granada and Jaén cut the A-44 as a protest against prices last Thursday. On video, the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, summons the agrarian organizations to a dialogue table.



Enrique Sánchez greets with the secateurs in his hand while removing the branches from the vines. It produces grapes packed in 18 hectares of vineyards. Although he hasn’t lost hope yet, he doesn’t have much left. A few days ago, near here, in Novelda, one of the seven villages of the Vinalopó Valley (Alicante), another farmer cut the logs of his farm with a chainsaw. “There will be more cases,” says Sánchez, “because the thing is very bad.”

Son and grandson of farmers and responsible for the Unió de Llauradors in the area, Sanchez, 37, gives some clues to the shake that lives the countryside. “The minimum wage has been raised and this grape needs a lot of labor. It has also increased agricultural insurance, fertilizers, diesel … We are selling grapes at prices of 20 or 25 years ago. If everything I earn I have to give and there is nothing left for me, it is impossible to stay. If governments do nothing for us, we have no choice but to take the tractors to the street and claim our rights, ”he says.

Enrique Sánchez in his vineyard in Novelda (Alicante).


Enrique Sánchez in his vineyard in Novelda (Alicante).

Sanchez is not alone in his complaints. After a week of protests in the communities In Galicia, Extremadura and Andalusia, agrarian organizations will continue trying to make visible the precariousness of a good part of the almost one million farms and livestock, of which only 350,000 are considered professionals. The mobilizations will continue the next days in Murcia, Castilla-La Mancha, Cantabria and other Andalusian provinces. Agriculture recognizes the difficulties of the sector and has convened a dialogue table starting next monday to look for answers

“You can’t talk about a single problem,” says Asaja president Pedro Barato. These are many factors, some derived from EU policies and others with national origin. “Together, they make less and less profitable agricultural activity due to low prices: community requirements in matters such as the environment, the demonization of activity for animal welfare, tougher and more expensive regulations for the use of some fertilizers and products phyto or animal health, new threats of less aid in the next CAP reform [Política Agrícola Común]… That way you can’t resist. And, to top it off, the new minimum wage (SMI) that, although it does not seriously affect the entire sector, it does so to activities that require a lot of labor, such as fruits and vegetables and a part of olive groves and vineyards, ”he concludes.

Controversy for the minimum wage

There is a coincidence between those responsible for the organizations in the field in which the rise in the minimum wage has not been the axis of the mobilizations, but it will have a very negative effect in sectors such as fruit and vegetables, part of the olive grove or the vineyard, where labor is important. Juan Hernández, one of those responsible for the Paloma fruit and vegetable group, with almost 2,000 workers, estimates that the increase affects 70% of its workforce, the unskilled. He says that it involves loading the collective agreement, in addition to generating a chain-up effect for the other categories. “It will affect very seriously the competitiveness against third parties of the productions such as tomato or strawberry, where the collection represents more than 45% of its cost.”

The sector also rejects with its mobilizations the accusations of not respecting animal welfare and of being the cause of polluting emissions, when the whole agricultural activity in Spain only produces 11.6% of greenhouse gas emissions. The absorptions associated with this sector are estimated at 38.3 million tons of CO2, but if the absorptions due to farmland are taken into account, the net emissions of the agricultural sector would be reduced to 35.9 million, according to data managed by Upa

José Diego Garrido, olive grower from Baeza (Jaén), is one of those affected by this perfect storm. “I work 35 hectares of traditional irrigated olive groves and my production costs do not fall by 2.5 euros per kilo, while I am charging 1.7 euros. I work with losses, but it is what I have. ” Román Santalla, Galician farmer, denounces prices below costs also in the milk sector, between 0.30 and 0.32 euros per liter they have received for four years.

The agrarian protest is a call to shout that the field exists. The sector, composed mainly of medium-sized entrepreneurs, denounces the drop in income of the activity by 8.6% in 2019 which, added to the rebates of the previous two years, has placed it at 26,000 million, the same figure as in 2003 in current currency. This fall has been recorded in the most important productions – fruits, vegetables, wine, oil, citrus fruits, stone fruit, milk or cereals – due to the drop in prices at the source due to the lack of mechanisms to regulate markets, the avalanche of Imported products at a low price, the pressure of the large distribution and the rise in production costs, among other reasons. The lack of sufficient funds for agricultural insurance in recent times has also triggered premiums to be paid by farmers.

Lorenzo Ramos, general secretary of Upa, confirms that eThe farmer only perceives a “minimum part” of what the consumer pays for the product. For this reason, the sector demands to put an end to the unequal distribution of value and the strategy of sales at the loss of large stores. “It is crazy what is happening in the food chain; It would be necessary to look for a mechanism for the producer to perceive at least his production costs ”, ditch.

In the region of La Ribera, in Valencia, the lack of profitability of orange trees pushed many farmers to abandon them and move on to persimmon. One of the first to do so, more than 20 years ago, was Eduard Esparza, who now has the same problem in the new crop: “In the supermarket in front of my house they sell a kilo for 1.89 euros, and the farmer is He pays 15 or 20 cents. ” In his opinion, in addition to the abuse of distribution, the organization of the producers fails.

Miguel Blanco, General Secretary of Coag, details that production costs have come to represent almost 50% of the final value compared to the third part they assumed a few years ago, but agrees that a greater organization of the offer and the demand from below and that the sector be more protagonist in the buying and selling processes.

Faced with a scenario in which all the challenges are concatenated, both the Government and the EU have ended up in the disparadero. Farmers and ranchers regret that Brussels’s policy is slow to enter new markets and avoid tariffs, but it opens the borders to low-priced imported products that require lower phytosanitary or phytosanitary standards. They add the renegotiation of the CAP, which predicts a cut in funds, US tariffs, fictitious barriers from third countries for reasons of food security and Brexit, which worries producers of fruits, vegetables, wines and oil.

“The problem is not the stone fruit, citrus or oil, the system fails,” says Domingo García, who produces peaches, nectarines and apricots in Llutxent (Valencia) and works as an agricultural technician at the local cooperative. “It would be enough for the farmer to be paid 15 cents more per kilo. He wouldn’t get rich, but he would cover the costs. ”

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