In the documentary film “Bauer unser” by Robert Schabus from Austria, it is about agriculture, farmers, and the constraints they face in the globalised agriculture. Fattening farms for cattle are shown, fully automated dairy farming where the cows go autonomously to the milking machine, pig farms, poultry farms, all of huge proportions.
The interviewed farmers explain that the farms must become big and bigger in order to compete on the market. The prices for agricultural land became already partly unaffordable. The farmers must invest and automate, otherwise their products are too expensive for the market and they are forced to give up. They emphasize that they keep their animals according to the animal protection act. This may be correct. However, the animals do not have a good, dignified life. Thousands of laying hens that never see the sun in a hall. Floor management it is called, because the animals can move freely in the barn. So, they flutter under neon light above and below with each other, they sit close side by side or one upon another, until they end “animal-friendly disposed” after a short life, in which they produced their quota of eggs, in the best case in the soup pot. The bovine animals and swine are not better off: fully automated barns with automated feeding and dung disposal – and after a short life fully automated slaughter.
And how are the farmers? I was under the impression that they are under tremendous economic pressure. The food prices that we consumers pay at the supermarket are much too low to generate the costs for the production.
In the film, an expert of the World Agriculture Report has a say. He explains that the food costs are kept artificially low, so that the consumers have the bigger part of their budget for the acquisition of new smart phones, cars and other consumer goods. That’s why the peasants can survive only with state subsidies. An organic farmer with dairy farming describes that 70% of his revenue are subsidies. He does not want that, but he cannot do otherwise. Milk prices do not bring so much that he could live with it and run his business. Also these subsidies are not enough to allow the peasants’ survival at normal farm size and healthy amount of work. A pig farmer who recently expanded and modernised his business for a lot of money says that he still loses money on each pig. How do we do that? So, no entrepreneur can last long. The farm must become either greater – the motto “Grow or go” – or even more mechanised. In addition, one needs to contract more debts, or he must leave. And what comes then? The debts are left and often they are huge. Do we still wonder, why we find the highest suicide rate among farmers? This is a shame. Those who feed us, can’t live from their work.
The expert of the World Agriculture Report indicates that studies by well-known scientists show that the world’s population could be fed best with small-scale agriculture. Garden farming is the most effective form of food production. Our today’s agriculture is totally contrary to that. In the film, it becomes clear that the EU controls this kind of agriculture.
José Bové1, French farmer, politician, critic of globalisation and environmental activist explains further consequences. Because of the subsidies, our agricultural products are so cheap that African markets are flooded with our surpluses. The local farmers cannot compete with these cheap goods – for example poultry parts. They will have to give up, will be unemployed and end up as immigrants in our countries. This way we create their misery, the decline of the countries seeking development and earn problems with displaced homeless persons.
But the film also shows approaches to alternatives. A peasant couple who operates circular economy: They have goats and sheep to get manure for their vegetable and fruit plants. They grow healthy, diverse vegetables and fruit. They sell both mainly in direct selling to consumers who appreciate regional, organic, healthy products and are willing to pay a little more than in the supermarket. The couple clip, milk, and slaughter their animals by hand on the farm. Stress hormones may hardly arise. The woman says they have better economic times and times, when it is hard to make ends meet, they are living modestly, but they would live better than in a big company, they prefer to work and live this way. Another example of a cooperative of young farmers is encouraging: They produce organically and are looking for new distribution channels, for example, they send vegetable crates with seasonal products.
The film does certainly not show final, fully comprehensive answers to the question, how agriculture can work, in order to be human, animal-friendly and natural and how our economy must be arranged, so that such agriculture has its place and the farmers find a healthy living. But it raises questions, makes clear what is going wrong and shows the absurdity of the situation today. It indicates approaches in which direction our considerations should have to go.
“Bauer unser” is a film worth seeing. It works only with interviews, shows the companies and lets the people have a chance to speak. Avoiding each comment, it does not get excited, does not preach but immerses into reality, gives the audience the possibility to get a clear picture, to see the issues more clearly and to think ahead. Hopefully, it will get many viewers as well in Germany as in Switzerland, because despite all the differences, the problems on the whole are the same. •
1 Joseph «José» Bové (*1953 in Talence, Gironde) is a French farmer, politician and syndicalist, member of the alter-globalisation movement and environmental activist. He is founding member and a leading figure of the Confédération paysanne, a French farmers’ association founded in the eighties as a leftish-alternative counterpart to the established farmers’ association Fédération nationale des syndicats d‘exploitants agricoles (FNSEA). Since 2009, Bové is a member of the European Parliament.
mk. On a travel through South Tyrol, one will notice how far reaching the agricultural land is still taken care of. Every steep slope carries vineyards or apple trees, the meadows are trimmed and mown, everywhere there are wonderfully cultivated vegetable and flower gardens. In the hot season, refined irrigation systems sprinkle water over fields. Thus, it is not surprising that the South Tyrolean Association of Farmers keeps a close eye on developments in the agricultural sector. The International Farmer’s Day on 1 June 2017 is taken as an opportunity to point to the fact that although agriculture produces food which no one can do without and furthermore, performs a number of existential tasks, the achievements of farmers are often underestimated.
“For the International Farmer’s Day on 1 June, our concern is to draw attention to the importance of agriculture,” says the Chairman of the Association of Farmers, Leo Tiefenthaler. In the fight against global hunger, particular attention should be paid to small-scale family farms. “It is them, who bear the main responsibility and not the big agricultural industry.” He urges local consumers to support South Tyrolean agriculture: “The best appreciation is to buy local food,” says Tiefenthaler. This is the only way to ensure extensive cultivation. In addition, the association is calling for fair pay for the farmers, not only in South Tyrol, but in the whole world. This was only possible with fair prices for food. Hiltrud Eschbacher, a woman farmer, explains: “We woman farmers are in particular sensitive to this issue and we know how much work is behind the production of goods. Moreover, we would like to support the small farmers in other parts of the world and so contribute on a small but important level to make the world a bit more just. Everyone in the world should be able to live and work with what is already available. “
Source: “Bedeutung der Landwirtschaft anerkennen”. (To acknowledge the importance of agriculture)
In: “Südtiroler Bauernbund” from 30.5.2017
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