The struggle of the countryside to survive



They are cutting off the roots of the field without needing to set foot on it. The agricultural tradition in Spain is wounded to death and farmers are not willing to mourn their loss. «This is no longer a challenge for farmers, but for the entire society. We have opened the ban and will go to more », warns Juan Antonio Álvarez Lázaro, farmer from Extremadura. The sanitary cordon imposed by the protests of the farmers tries to prevent that the policies that are poisoning the crops end up extending to all the Spanish economy. «A town is a chain. If the farmer does not win, they do not get stuck, the builders do not do works because there is no money to make houses, agricultural machinery is not sold because they cannot buy them and the bars do not put drinks because first you have to eat, ”explains Montse González Herrojo, technical director of Apag Extremadura in Don Benito (Badajoz), where police charges against agricultural protesters occurred.

"If it were not for the hardships, I would be the happiest man in the world with the countryside," says Agapito De Paz Coronado with a crooked gesture. Embarrado until the pimples, this farmer reveals with a single image the hardness of the situation. On the right, a bare land that rests until its owner decides if it is worth continuing to cultivate it. On the left, an intensive wheat field that entails less labor, the alternative to which farmers are turning to avoid losses. Not to knead great fortunes, but to dodge ruin. Diversifying crops is worthless. «All sectors are wrong», notes Juan Antonio. The current situation can only resemble the years of drought. “The problem is that in two years, labor costs have risen by 30%. If before our profitability was fair, now the expenses could exceed the income », Agapito has the consensus of his colleagues. The peace of the countryside has been disturbed by psychosis and stress. If he minimum salary continues its upward trend until 1,200 in 2023, «Nobody will work, we will close all and we will not be able to employ»laments Juan Antonio. "In the end nothing will be paid because there will be no work," he adds. Simply with the rise of 2019 to 900 euros a lot of fruit and a lot of vegetables remained on the ground, since the cost of collection exceeded the benefit received, they confirm from Apag. This measure not only does not adapt to the agricultural sector and the standard of living of communities far from the Spanish capital, but also ends up benefiting those against whom the social-communist coalition claims to fight: oligopolies. «Small businesses will disappear and crops will fall into the hands of large companies», says Agapito. In fact, in the area of ​​Vegas High the small fruit growers are already disappearing.

«The day laborer deserves to earn money. It is his effort », defends Agapito. This is not a war, they are not bosses against peasants, they affirm against the accusations of Pepe Álvarez, general secretary of UGT, who described the farmers as "landowner right and carca". These supposed cortijeros have mortgaged their future for their land, "for Extremadura." They work the field, they plow it, they sow it and heal it, and in spite of it, everything they have fought for can go «to the badge». «Farmers are going bankrupt, banks are keeping the farm and the land of many of them»says Juan Antonio. By way of psychologists, associations try to mitigate the unease of farmers who, if they could go back, would choose another path. This asphyxiating situation to which thousands of families are subjected has its origin in a legislation that comes from high spheres that do not know the reality of the field. «That they step on a farm, that they get up with them in the morning, that they ride on the tractor, that they eat with a pan the cold food, that they run out of coffee in the afternoon because they have to stay there and when it is done Night, come home. When they see that, they will legislate differently, ”says the technical director of Apag. At the moment, on Monday the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, will meet with the agrarian representatives at a dialogue table.

Farmers are traveling in time. The prices at which the kilo of their products are paid are identical to those of 30 years ago. The difference is that the risk they run now is much higher. The extension of the exploitation of an agricultural owner must double or triple that of 1990 to aspire to a certain profitability. While In any large distributor the kilo of fruit is around two or three euros, the farmer receives for that same amount about 20 cents. Without even knowing how much they will receive for it, due to the impossibility of setting prices, many are forced to go through the hoop, accepting ridiculous payments, "since it is preferable that they pay you something and late to not be paid nothing, ”explains Montse. Juan Antonio points directly to unfair competition. All legislation that protects workers and the health of consumers is of little value, since, in the end, products from third countries that do not follow European health standards are being consumed, which are produced without the costs of Spain, and with much more benevolent measures. This is the big problem, which now has added other obstacles such as excessive bureaucracy, the share of freelancers and the lack of European protection.

Who wants to work in the field?

«I don't feel like my children get in the field. When my work life ends, my field will also end». Agapito does not wish for his children a future of sacrifices without rewards. Young people avoid agricultural work. Thus, there is no generational relay. Specifically, agriculture was the only sector that destroyed employment last year (-31,700), according to the latest Active Population Survey (EPA). The number of unemployed increased by 11,000 people compared to 2018 and agricultural income suffered its biggest decline since the crisis (-9.5%). The only ones that are incorporated is by tradition, by roots in the land. However, 90% of young people who decide to embark on this sector without family support end up drowned by debt.

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