Farmers angry at agri-bashing by environmentalists

Updated 19 Jan 2020

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Berlin: Protesters demonstrate at the start of the International Green Week on Saturday.—Photo by author
Berlin: Protesters demonstrate at the start of the International Green Week on Saturday.—Photo by author

BERLIN (Germany): The tension between environmentalists and farmers once again raised its ugly head on the sidelines of the 85th International Green Week (Jan 17 to 26), the largest agricultural event in Europe, being held in Berlin, attended by more than 1,800 exhibitors from 72 countries.

Despite the cold and amidst dance, song, music, even banging pots and chanting, thousands of young and old, even babies in prams, were out on the streets of Berlin, on Saturday, demanding environment-friendly and animal-friendly agriculture. This was the tenth year in a row for this traditional “We’ve had enough” demonstration.

A day earlier, hundreds of farmers on tractors had descended from across Germany, rallying against the tightening regulations and agriculture reform which will include food labeling, reduction and judicious disposal pesticide, fertliser and liquid manure. In addition, they said, the demand for cheap food was making it impossible to make a living.

Berlin: Protesters demonstrate at the start of the International Green Week on Saturday.—Photo by author
Berlin: Protesters demonstrate at the start of the International Green Week on Saturday.—Photo by author

Dr Peter H. Feindt, head of agriculture and food policy group at Berlin’s Humboldt University, viewed the demonstration as the “single one political issue” that has been attracting most protesters over the last ten years.

“The organisers aim to keep up the pressure on agricultural policy-makers for ecologically oriented reforms and have built visible public support for a farm policy that is not dominated by status quo interests,” he told this reporter and added: “This year is particularly interesting because since September the country has seen a sequence of protests by farmers claiming that they are not listened to and that ecological reforms have gone too far. At some of these protests, speakers refused to accept scientific evidence about negative environmental impacts.”

Dr Simon W. Schulter, spokesperson for the German Farmers’ Association, said: “Farmers are stressed by so many demands and so much criticism,” adding they were not the villains they had been made out to be.

This was Nathalie Schlehzilla’s fifth time to have come out in support of the environmentalists. “I’m against the use of weed killer glyphosate in the fields as it not good for the food that I eat; I want them to treat the animals with compassion and not to kill the male chickens,” she said, adding that big farmers need to change the way they do farming.

At the opening of the Green Week Germany’s agriculture minister, Julia Klockner, urged both sides to do away with “alarmism” and “hysteria” and to look for “new solutions” as “we cannot develop if we are in a constant state of emergency”. She said consumers keep expecting high quality food but are unwilling to pay more for it.

But Benedikt Haerlin, spokesperson for the Foundation on Future Farming, saw this annual demonstration as more than that. “It is an opening of a broad debate,” he said, talking to this reporter, terming it a “movement” bringing consumers and small farmers closer through direct marketing and breaking the “price dictatorship” and find ways to adapt to the challenges ahead “without losing a single farmer”.

According to Dr Feindt, the “current agricultural policy” which lacked a “forward looking strategy or vision” was part of the problem and causing much anxiety and anger.

“We need to reinvent the Common Agricultural Policy,” he said, adding that agriculture in Germany was vulnerable to various challenges that included short term shocks like trade conflicts, food scandals, extreme weather and plant and animal diseases, and long-terms stress including loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and demographic change.

Miriam Winzer, 25, who had come with her group of friends at the Saturday demo also echoed Dr Feindt’s views when she said: “If you ask me, the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy needs to be tweaked as the current one isn’t working.” While in favour of environmental regulations, she said, it would be better if the solutions could be found by talking to farmers.

Alongside the exhibitions and food stalls, there will be discussion and debate on climate change, sustainability, conserving natural resources.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2020