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Farming reforms sow discontent

Reforms in agriculture are worrying many farmers

(Keystone Archive)

Farmers, ecologists and the rightwing Swiss People's Party have sharply criticised government plans to reform the agriculture sector from 2011.

But the centre-left Social Democrats and the centre-right Christian Democrats say they in principle support the moves, which are aimed at improving competitiveness.

The People's Party, which traditionally supports farmers in Switzerland, maintains that the reforms were intended as an opportunity to correct the errors of the past. But it said the opposite would be the case if cuts in subsidies were made and there was no market support.

The party called on the cabinet to rework the plans to provide a medium- and long-term productive and independent future for agriculture in a Switzerland outside the European Union.

Survival

In its rejection of the plans, the Swiss Farmers' Association said they threatened the survival of agriculture in Switzerland.

It argued that if they were put in place, they would result in a 25 per cent cut in revenues and cause serious economic damage to the agriculture sector.

Farmers are also dissatisfied with the way government money would be distributed. They are calling for the maintenance of current support measures and the authorisation of parallel imports.

Another demand is for the current definition of what constitutes a farm to be maintained.

Action

The Farmers' Association says it now wants the government to go back to the drawing board. It pointed to November's demonstration by 10,000 farmers in the capital, Bern, as proof of the depth of feeling among its members.

The Social Democrats say they support in principle the planned reforms because structural change would take place gradually and direct payments would be made to farmers. But they too called for parallel imports to lower farmers' production costs.

The cantons believe the plans are a step in the right direction and they agree on the need to make agriculture more professional through direct payments.

But they are divided on the pace of structural change and on the definition of what constitutes a farm.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There are about 65,000 farms across Switzerland compared with 80,000 in 1990.
The number of farms goes down by five every day.
The average income of a farm last year was SFr76,115.
In 2001, 4.1 per cent of the population was working in agriculture.

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In brief

Between 2003 and 2007, the government will spend SFr14,092,000 on supporting agriculture. The percentage of agricultural spending has fallen from 8.5 per cent of the government's total budget in 1990 to 7.1 per cent in 2006.

The reform plans for 2011 are aimed at improving the competitiveness of Switzerland's agricultural sector.

The main thrust is to make direct payments to farmers instead of giving market support.

Cabinet wants to pay subsidies of SFr13.4 billion ($10.4 billion) from 2008 to 2011, which is SFr638 million less than for the current four-year period.

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