Demonstrators came from all over Germany, France, Greece, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, braving the Berlin cold to express Wir haben es satt, or that they’ve had enough of the industrialisation of farming practices. 70 tractors led the way for the protesters pounding pans with wooden spoons, rocking decibel levels, as they paraded in front of the Ministry of Agriculture and the European Commission’s permanent representation in Berlin. The procession ended at the Chancellery where participants posted their demands written on small pieces of pink paper.
The indictment is long and growing: food scandals, GMOs, single crop farming, atrocious working conditions in the slaughterhouses, the financial sector’s stronghold on the agricultural land of the former GDR, the increasing dependence of farmers on seed manufacturers. The protest showed the size of the movement in Germany that is growing, slowly but surely. In fact, some 250 citizen initiatives have prevented the construction of industrial slaughterhouses and farms. Eckehard Niemann, a farmer and representative of the network, said it well when he took the microphone: “Farms, not Factories!” Citizen initiatives are as numerous as they are discreet and are gaining traction. Niemann went on to say, “The representatives of these actions are often subsequently elected to regional and municipal counsels.”
The farming sector split
Considering the increasing political and social clout of the movement, it is no surprise that the new Minister of Agriculture, Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU, Bavarian branch of the conservatives) dares not offend. Just a few hours after the protest he stated, “All of the arguments put forth (by the protesters) play an important role in our discussion and are relevant.” Conscience of the sensitivity of the issue at hand, the minister is being very diplomatic when he says, “everyone wants high quality sustainable agricultural production. Nonetheless, there are several ways of achieving that.” This exercise in rhetoric is simply a way to cover up the widening gap between those that support conventional agricultural policy and those that want an overhaul of the farming sector.
The president of the German Farmer’s Association, Joachim Rukwied, responded to heightened criticism and showed his weariness when in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he complained (that the protesters are), “ideologues that are constantly and figuratively pouring manure on honest family farmers for the simple purpose of spreading false information and inciting fear.” The protest movement immediately responded sharply via Christoph Bautz “Obviously, our dear President of farmers – correction – of industrial farming, is unnerved.”
Reestablishing the farmer – consumer connection
“Farmers are no longer producers, they’ve become processors. They depend on central purchasing platforms and banks, which has meant that they’ve lost any decision making power”, laments Denis Baulier a farmer from Brittany who’s been working in organic agriculture since 1982. He founded Manufacture de l’écolo-réaliste, or Ecological-Realistic Manufacturing, an organisation that, for the purposes of exchanging best practices, takes stock of all the work being done in the area of organic and sustainable development in France. Baulier came to Berlin especially for the demonstration and shares the demands of his German colleagues who advocate for closer relations between consumers and farmers. “Farmers and consumers need to be put into direct contact again. The industrialisation of agriculture has undermined that contact.” According to Bernd Schmitz, a milk producer from the region of Bonn “The production side has become anonymous, routine.” He goes on to say, “farm policy is social policy, which is in turn an essential part of any successful reform of agriculture.”
This article was originally published on Novethic.