Thousands of Spanish farmers marched through central Madrid to the Agriculture Ministry on Saturday to demand government action on the falling prices and rising costs that are threatening to ruin their livelihoods.
REUTERS - Thousands of Spanish farmers thronged central Madrid on Saturday to demand government action to halt a slide in prices which they say is forcing them out of business.
Three leading Spanish farmers' unions said 100,000 members joined the march led by tractors and bands of bagpipers, which forced police to divert traffic as they made their way through the capital's historical centre to the Agriculture Ministry.
Depressed prices have prompted protests by farmers across Europe this year, and a demonstration last month brought traffic to a standstill in Paris for two hours.
The rally in Madrid followed a strike on Friday in which unions say hundreds of thousands of farmers downed tools across the country to block roads, line streets with tractors or sell produce at cost.
Higinio Mougan made the 600-kilometre journey from his dairy farm in the northwestern region of Galicia, because he said he cannot afford to sell milk at 0.27 euro ($0.401) a litre when it costs him 0.34 to produce it.
"We are here to demand much clearer and more concrete support from the government for farmers, because we face abuse by agro-industry and retail chains who are leaving us without any margin," he said.
Many farmers waved banners saying: "They ruin us and charge you more." Mougan estimated farmers had been making a loss for the past eight or nine months, and would stop producing altogether if this were to continue.
"Farms are very indebted, there are a lot of problems with credit and farms are totally unprofitable," he added, surrounded by farmers ringing cow bells and toting inflatable cows.
Costs up, income down
The ASAJA, COAG and UPA unions say official figures show farmers suffered a 26-percent drop in real income between 2003 and 2008, while their costs rose by 34 percent and added 124,000 to Spain's long and growing dole queues.
Unions say an additional fall in farm gate prices over the past year has forced producers of grain, dairy and horticultural produce, olive oil, citrus fruit, wine and meat into the red.
They warn that Spain could end up importing many products like olive oil, a staple in the mediterranean diet for thousands of years and in which it is by far the world's biggest producer.
Among other measures, unions want guaranteed minimum farm-gate prices to cover production costs, more transparent charges for fertilisers, fuel and pesticides.
They also urged Spain to lobby the European Union for continuing support to farmers in the next reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2013.
Date created : 2009-11-21