Farmers man the barricades

Swiss farmers earn on average SFr3,300 per month Keystone

Around 10,000 Swiss farmers have demonstrated in Bern to protest against sinking prices, reduced subsidies and plans to cut import tariffs.

This content was published on November 17, 2005 - 12:22

They are opposed to a government reform programme designed to increase competitiveness and liberalise the sector.

"There are 400,000 Swiss affected by the 2011 reforms [known as AP 2011]," Jacques Bourgeois, head of the Swiss Farmers' Association, told swissinfo. He added that not only farmers would be hurt, but everyone working in the food sector.

The demonstrators are also opposed to the Swiss government's plans to sign a free-trade agreement with the United States, and wanted to show their displeasure at attempts to lower trade barriers. These will be discussed at next month's World Trade Organization summit.

The goal of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong is to put the finishing touches to the Doha round of trade talks on reducing tariffs, but the negotiations have been bogged down over agricultural policy.

According to their association, farmers will see their income drop by more than 20 per cent if the reforms are implemented.

Fewer subsidies

As part of the government's plans, farm subsidies will be reduced by SFr600 million ($454 million) from SFr14.1 billion to SFr13.5 billion over the three-year period beginning in 2008.

"The importance of agriculture for society in terms of the protection it provides the environment has not diminished, so subsidies should not be cut," said Bourgeois.

"A third of what we produce now is on the line during the [WTO] negotiations.

"We are not against turning some of the subsidies into direct payments as outlined in the reform plans, but in return we do not want to implement them faster than recommended by the WTO."

But economics commentator Beat Kappeler, who is a former union boss, told swissinfo the government's reform plans do not go far enough.

"The plans still support small farm holdings," he said, "but subsidies should only go to large farms with growth potential."

"The European Union has already introduced radical agricultural reforms, and they have borne fruit," he added. "Farms in the EU have become sustainable."

"The farmers' association has yet to present an exit plan for small- and medium-sized farms," he said, explaining that the farmers simply want to maintain the status quo.


Key facts

On average, five Swiss farms disappear every day.
There are 65,000 farms in the country today, a drop of 15,000 over the past 15 years.
The average farmer's salary is SFr3,300 per month, making it among the lowest on Swiss pay scale.

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