Hundreds of farmers and ranchers rallied outside the doors of the Agriculture Ministry in Madrid on Wednesday to protest against the challenges facing Spain’s farming sector. A combination of low prices, the threat of fewer subsidies from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the announced minimum-wage hike, among other issues, has led to a crisis in the sector, with many farmers struggling to stay afloat.
“Our main demand is for a fair price for agri-food products,” said Ivana Martínez, the general secretary of Madrid’s Farmer and Agriculture Organization (COAG). “They should cost what they are meant to cost, and not what they are priced by big distribution and food chains, which always keep the added value.”
In January, the sales price of agricultural products was four times what was paid to farmers, according to Europa Press. The biggest difference was in the cost of potatoes. Farmers were paid €0.17 for a kilo of potatoes that was then sold for €1.25 in stores – more than seven times the original price. Stock-farming products such as meat, eggs and milk were also sold to the public for triple the price paid to farm workers.
The drop in farm gate prices combined with the rise in production costs has significantly narrowed the profit margin of producers. In 2019, farm income dropped 8.6%, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
Demonstrators wave signs and chant outside the Agriculture Ministry. Signs read “No countryside, no life.”
One of the protesters, Álvaro Martínez, a 34-year-old farmer from the Spanish town of Valdelaguna in Madrid region, said that the current situation was unsustainable. “You cannot plan a future with prices that are so unstable and low. If it continues like this, the rural region will die,” he told EL PAÍS.
Protesters called on the Spanish government to take action to address the crisis. “The agriculture sector is defended more in France than in Spain. French farmers are better taken care of,” said David Revuelta, who grows 200 hectares of cereals in the Madrid region.
The Agriculture Ministry announced on Monday a series of measures aimed at alleviating the crisis, including more funding to subsidize the cost of agriculture insurance premiums, reforming the current law on food distribution, and setting up a system to monitor the production costs of the agriculture sector.
In a message via Twitter, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) said on Wednesday that “the government is strongly committed to our countryside, to the future of the agri-food sector, to the families and villages that live from it. We will not look the other way.”
The protest was attended by several political figures including the leader of the far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, whose appearance was criticized by some protesters.
The rally, which cut off all traffic to the Infanta Isabel Avenue in the center of Madrid, near Atocha train station, follows similar street action from the agricultural sector in the regions of Galicia, Extremadura and Andalusia. Another protest is scheduled in the northern region of Navarre for February 19.
English version by Melissa Kitson.