Farmers Protest European Agricultural Policies in Madrid

The protestors demand exceptions for European environmental regulations that they argue make their products less competitive on the global market.
(Photo: Joaquín Terán for the Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers)
By Ofeoritse Daibo
Apr. 10, 2024 01:04 UTC

Thousands of Spanish farm­ers took to the streets in March for the sec­ond time in as many months to demand changes to European agri­cul­tural pol­icy and an end to the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 envi­ron­men­tal pro­gram.

According to Luis Cortés, coor­di­na­tor of the Union of Unions of Farmers and Ranchers, which orga­nized the protest, there were about 150 trac­tors and 2,000 pro­test­ers” present.

Farmers have been fac­ing a myr­iad of strug­gles: falling sales prices, ris­ing costs, heavy reg­u­la­tion, pow­er­ful and dom­i­neer­ing retail­ers, and the dif­fi­culty of com­pet­ing with cheaper imports from out­side the E.U.- Gonzalo Urcolo, CEO, CrowdFarming

Tractors lined the streets of Madrid, tak­ing the route from Paseo del Prado, past the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge and north­wards through Paseo de la Castellana to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The protest was peace­ful.

Families and chil­dren par­tic­i­pated, get­ting into the trac­tors. It was a fes­tive day,” Cortés said. Our objec­tive was to win this war with the admin­is­tra­tions that do not under­stand us and don’t want to. We also need sup­port from cit­i­zens who are also con­sumers.”

See Also:Agricultural Groups Call on Spanish Government to Step Up Climate Change Response

We wanted them to know that to con­sume qual­ity prod­ucts, it is essen­tial that they sup­port the Spanish coun­try­side and farm­ers,” he added. Our way of life is in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing due to unaligned poli­cies, and we risk import­ing prod­ucts from other coun­tries.”

Farmers con­tinue to demand more flex­i­bil­ity, less strin­gent envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, and lighter bureau­cracy from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which decides on the require­ments for farm­ers’ sub­si­dies.

The farmer protests have high­lighted core issues in the agri-food sup­ply chain and indus­try,” said Gonzalo Urcolo, the co-founder and chief exec­u­tive of CrowdFarming, a plat­form that con­nects con­sumers directly to organic farm­ers.

Farmers are not only frus­trated because the E.U. is impos­ing restric­tive mea­sures on agri­cul­ture,” he added. They are frus­trated because pol­i­tics only reg­u­lates part of the sup­ply chain.”

European gov­ern­ments are cre­at­ing a sys­tem that reg­u­lates how farm­ers should grow, but not where and at what price the big super­mar­kets should buy,” Urcolo con­tin­ued. As a result, Europe is less and less able to sup­ply its cit­i­zens from its pro­duc­tion.”

Farmers’ frus­tra­tion has been boil­ing over for months, with sim­i­lar protests in France, Germany and Brussels, the admin­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal of the E.U.

Farmers have been fac­ing a myr­iad of strug­gles: falling sales prices, ris­ing costs, heavy reg­u­la­tion, pow­er­ful and dom­i­neer­ing retail­ers, and the dif­fi­culty of com­pet­ing with cheaper imports from out­side the E.U., all while fac­ing a chang­ing and unpre­dictable cli­mate,” Urcolo said.

The protests are show­ing the world that things need to change, and we need to rethink each stakeholder’s respon­si­bil­ity in this trans­for­ma­tion and the place of farm­ers in our soci­ety,” he added.

Urcolo said that he founded CrowdFarming as part of the solu­tion, allow­ing organic farm­ers to cut out the inter­me­di­aries and sell directly to con­sumers who share their val­ues.

He added that many of the 280 farm­ers using the plat­form have sim­i­lar com­plaints to those protest­ing in Madrid.

Due to the dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, more and more farm­ers are show­ing an inter­est in alter­na­tive sales chan­nels,” Urcolo said.

While he dis­agrees with efforts to roll back the sus­tain­abil­ity require­ments enshrined in the lat­est iter­a­tion of the CAP, Urcolo believes the tran­si­tion could be han­dled dif­fer­ently.


We are not against E.U. rules; on the con­trary, most farm­ers at CrowdFarming are either organic or in the process of con­vert­ing to organic and, there­fore, are aligned with a tran­si­tion towards a more sus­tain­able agri-food sys­tem,” he said.

If done well, they can be very help­ful in encour­ag­ing a green tran­si­tion,” he added. We just need to ensure that they are incen­tiviz­ing farm­ers instead of suf­fo­cat­ing them and pro­vid­ing them with the sup­port they need to ensure that we are mov­ing in the right direc­tion.”

Urcolo believes that part of this sup­port must come from struc­tur­ing free trade deals with third-party coun­tries that do not dis­ad­van­tage European farm­ers.

If it is cheaper to pro­duce out­side Europe, then we need to con­tinue import­ing our prod­ucts from third coun­tries so that lower-income fam­i­lies in Europe do not lose pur­chas­ing power and can afford to buy food,” he said.

However, pro­tes­tors at demon­stra­tions in Ireland and France voiced their con­cern that European reg­u­la­tions drive up pro­duc­tion costs for goods that, as a result, are then cheaper to import from else­where.

They specif­i­cally protested the pro­posed E.U.-Mercosur free trade deal, which would remove tar­iffs on agri­cul­tural exports from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to the E.U. and vice versa.

European farm­ers argue that they fol­low stricter envi­ron­men­tal con­trols than their South American com­peti­tors and are specif­i­cally wor­ried about an influx of cheaper beef, dairy and soy.

We need to start devel­op­ing envi­ron­ment-cen­tric mea­sures to co-exist with the finan­cial ones,” Urcolo said.

He cited the need for European rules to favor European pro­duc­ers when cer­tain fruits or veg­eta­bles are in sea­son, even if cheaper imports could come from abroad.

It could be cheaper in the short term, but it has a huge envi­ron­men­tal impact, not just because of the long-dis­tance trans­porta­tion and food waste dur­ing trans­port, but also the waste of the E.U. pro­duce that would not be har­vested,” Urcolo said.

He added that trade deals should also con­sider E.U. pro­hi­bi­tions on cer­tain types of phy­tosan­i­tary prod­ucts, argu­ing that if they are not allowed in the bloc, then exporters to Europe should also be pro­hib­ited from using them.

Climate-cen­tric deci­sions should be aligned with mon­e­tary-cen­tric deci­sions because the neg­a­tive effects of cli­mate change will inevitably impact the finan­cial world as well,” he said.

Urcolo pointed to olive oil as a prime exam­ple. After con­sec­u­tive poor har­vests fueled by extreme weather and per­sis­tent drought in the Mediterranean basin, olive oil prices have reached his­tor­i­cally high lev­els. While some of this is nat­ural mar­ket behav­ior, Urcolo warned that spec­u­la­tion was increas­ingly occur­ring.

Olive oil pro­duc­tion has seen some tough chal­lenges in the last few years,” he said. At CrowdFarming, together with our farm­ers, we had to adapt to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, in which olive oil pro­duc­tion was heav­ily reduced and mar­ket prices sky­rock­eted. The indus­try has started to become increas­ingly spec­u­la­tive, los­ing some of its true value.”


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