“The suicide of farmers is a warning”

by Olivier Delacrétaz, Lausanne

In February 2016 a report of the “suicide observatory” informed that in France farmers had the highest suicide rate of all professions.
During the last months several cases concerned the Canton of Vaud. It was talked a lot about it in the media. Especially mentioned was the back-breaking burden which goes along with the administration of an agricultural enterprise, but also the modest income, the considerable investments required by smallest modernisations, the chicaneries of and the daily paper-warfare with the authorities, the indifference of politicians from left to right and at last the difficulty to find a wife who is ready to share these stresses and strains. It is left to be added that the farmer doesn’t receive any more credit for his original vocation to feed the population. It is comprehensible that all this evokes in quite a few the feeling of having no place in modern society. The most heavily burdened or most sensitive draw a desperate conclusion out of this.
From the mere neoliberal point of view the agricultural production of Switzerland is nonsense. The enterprises are too small to be profitable, even if three or four of them would be merged. The topography of Switzerland is mountainous and often very steep. The weather is uncertain. Despite minimal peasant income the prices are extremely high – compared with those of the Third World. From a pure market economy perspective Swiss agriculture had no future as main source for food supply of the country– it shouldn’t even have a past.
The international market for agricultural products is extremely distorted. On the one hand due to international obligations the government affords only minimal tariff protection to their farmers with reference to the free market. On the other hand a rest of survival instinct reminds them that national defence makes little sense without a high degree of food sovereignty. Therefore, unlike the most elementary laws of the free market, our government supports agriculture artificially with direct payments.
This schizophrenic practice is mostly argued out at the expense of the peasantry which is driven in dangerous economic and human bottlenecks. These are heightened by humiliating relief payments which would not be necessary if the Swiss people would pay a fair price for their food.
As to the internationalisation of trade, the socialists basically agree with the neoliberalists, even if their motives are rather moral than economical: You have to open, to be solidary, you don’t have to isolate yourselves. Only the wish for food sovereignty which implicitly refers to a future war reveals an egoism and pessimism which is not compatible with the ideals of the left.
There is also a fundamental incompatibility between all trends of the leftists and the peasantry. The peasant is a proprietor and chief. He is dynastic, because he stands for the maintenance of a strain. He “governs” his enterprise. Briefly speaking: he is fundamentally conservative. Even his openness against technical innovations only pursues the goal to insure the maintenance of his enterprise.
Every single one of these motives is sufficient to let him looking suspicious in the eyes of a leftist who constantly creates and expands new laws about regional development and nature protection and much more. This certainly concerns a lot of people but especially the peasants.
From a philosophical point of view the deficiency of the peasant lies in the fact that every day he represents the submission of man under the will of sky and earth – in spite of mechanisation, chemistry, biology, genetically modified organisms and informatics. He dares to remind us of the limits of man’s will and namely to a society which lives from the left to the right with the delusion of total control. And nobody is willing to accept just this fact today.
Under the pressure of the environmentalists the tendency to state interventionism has once more severely intensified. They worry about the future of our planet, alarmed by the warming of the oceans and the global warming, the demographic explosion, the risks of military and civil atomic power, the continuing extinction of various species. They want to block the further technical evolution of the world at all costs and stay constantly on the brake. On the political level the legal constraint seems to be the only means to react to the severity of the problems and the dramatic of the situation. Thereby they hardly care about the resulting collateral damage in the domain of individual freedom and property – even if this is familial and not speculative.
They join the blind faith that socialists show for laws and administration. They refuse to acknowledge that the best idea – not to mention the bad ones – is totally changed if packaged in a constitutional article, a law, a decree and at last in directives. By that the lively idea degenerates to a lifeless procedure which decays in the channels of bureaucracy. Totally detached from its original sense it exists only as an end in itself and can hardly be reformed once gotten out of political control.
The never verbalized idea which underlies this development includes that the peasant should stop to try to supply us with food because you can find always cheaper food elsewhere in the world. He should for once be content with landscape preservation! A status, comparable with that of an employee for parks and gardens would surely fit him very well.
The suicide of farmers is a warning. It indicates a possible death of a modernity which lives and grows in a Hors-sol1- world rejecting all those who don’t want to join it there.    •

1    soil less cultivation

Source: “La Nation” No 2059 from  9 December 2016

(Translation Current Concerns)