Experiences from other European States: Open Letter from the Farmworkers’ Confederation (France)

The Farmworkers’ Confederation is a French agricultural trade union whose purpose is to defend all kinds of farmworkers. The union, which has a national regional and local presence in the country, is a founder member of the European section of Via Campesina.  In this period of crisis for the whole farming sector caused by Covid19, on 20 March the union published a letter with the unambiguous title: «Coronavirus: The need to reinvent our farming and food systems».

The letter is highly significant and the analysis it puts forward enables us to reflect profoundly on our future, and not just in farming. We reproduce some important passages below.

The coronavirus crisis has shown that many areas of our daily lives must be removed from the logic of global competition, the search for profit at any cost, the financialization of the real economy and the specialization of land use.

If we continue to pillage natural resources, and to consider the earth, its fertility and its workforce like any other product, to produce food as if it were a standardized industrial product that can be traded all over the world, how are we going to live in the face of the collapse of biodiversity, and the health and agronomic impacts of climate change? […]

If we continue to patent living things and hand over the production of seeds to multinationals, what will happen in times of crisis if we don’t have control over the basis of our food supplies?

If we continue to build internationalized supply chains, where the smallest economic, health and climatic shock generates catastrophic market volatility, how can we guarantee fair, stable and secure prices for the farmworkers who supply our food here and elsewhere?

If we continue to support the expansion and industrialization of our agricultural structures and by doing so encourage the disappearance of our farming activities and those who work in the agrifood sector, what will we do when we need large numbers of farmworkers to deal with the challenges of the climate, biodiversity or the health crisis that we are facing or will face?

If we continue to specialize land use, to segment sectors, to send farm and food products all the way across the world, what are we going to do when we realize that France produces only half the fruit and vegetables consumed by its population? What will we do if our international customers no longer want our veal, goats, milk or grain?  If we continue to base our food production model on the consumption of fossil fuels, the destruction of natural cycles, and the constant use of technology, we will not be able to deal with the reactions of the living world and our planet. It is a delusion to believe in total control over nature by human societies through increased artificialization and technologization of our lifestyles. We must be able to count on the know-how of farmers and their understanding of ecosystems in all their complexity.

The distribution and sales mechanisms on which tens of thousands of farmworkers rely and which concern millions of citizens are under pressure. Concrete, innovative and sustainable solutions must be found for all farmworkers because they depend on the globalized system, on contracts with the restaurant industry, on open-air markets whose reopening date is uncertain. 

This is not a question of responding to globalization and the capitalist financial system with a retreat into autarky or self-isolation; rather, what is needed is to put the question of autonomy at the heart of political debate.

We hope that the current situation will enable everyone to understand the value of agricultural work and the importance of the autonomy of farmworkers in maintaining the resilience of our food supply systems.

 Let’s think again about how we organize our sectors, our consumption, our food. Let’s rethink our systems for giving everyone access to quality food. Let’s rethink them in a way that’s based on increased, ambitious and long-lasting protection for farmworkers. This protection does not mean a lack of development, but rather strong support from public policy for agriculture in a way that creates high-quality, well-paid jobs, that produces varied food, that is resilient to shocks, respectful of the environment and living things, relocalized and anchored in the local land. A type of agriculture that is capable of forming the basis for a social security of food, which will be the next important step on the path to social progress in this century.