Stars turn out to help farmers transform image
National football coach Köbi Kuhn, tennis ace Patti Schnyder and television star Michelle Hunziker are supporting an initiative to boost the image of Swiss farmers.
The trio of stars, together with business leaders, appeared in Zurich on Monday to launch a campaign that dispels negative stereotypes by showcasing farmers as entrepreneurs and ecologists.
Their faces will help the urban Swiss identify more with the farming community during the ongoing campaign, organisers said.
The farming sector has been on the decline in Switzerland in recent years and has even been blamed in some quarters for blocking trade initiatives that would benefit the country's economy.
But farmers are suffering from a substantial decline in incomes against increasing price pressures that is forcing many smallholdings to disappear, according to Agricultural Information Centre managing director Markus Rediger.
The average annual earnings of farmers has dropped from about SFr80,000 ($63,000) to SFr60,000 in the last decade, Rediger said. The number of smallholdings has also declined dramatically to some 63,000 today, with the number falling still further by about five a day.
"People want cheap food and we are concerned that there is a feeling that Swiss agriculture is too expensive and not worth the price," Rediger told swissinfo.
"We want to show people that farmers are not just sitting around in their farms waiting for subsidies, but that they offer many things to society.
"They look after the countryside which is good for the ecology and for tourism. And they are innovative at business, introducing new products such as llamas and buffalo to Switzerland."
Football coach Kuhn said people do not need to have a direct connection to the countryside to appreciate the positive impact of the farming community. In his speech, Kuhn likened farmers to footballers, who have to be multi-skilled and hard working to succeed.
"This is something that affects us all in daily life, because at the end of the day we all want to eat healthy vegetables and meat," Kuhn later told swissinfo.
"I couldn't imagine Switzerland importing everything from abroad. We must look after our farming industry.
"It is clear that the city folk have different interests to country people, but I think there is a good coexistence between the two."
Otto Ineichen, founding owner of Otto's supermarkets, praised the entrepreneurial spirit of farmers, highlighting their contribution to the Swiss economy.
And Patti Schnyder told the conference that Swiss farming produce is better than anywhere in the world.
"I travel all over the world to a lot of different countries, but Swiss meat tastes better than anywhere else," she said.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich
In 2003, agriculture accounted for 1.4% of Switzerland's GDP
The government paid out SFr3.9 billion in agricultural subsidies in 2004, of which SFr1.15 billion were direct payments
The government will spend SFr14.092 billion on farming between 2003-7 and plans to lower this figure to SFr13.4 billion between 2008-11
Earlier this year, a free trade agreement between Switzerland and the US broke down mainly due to differences over agriculture
The average farmers' income is around SFr60,000 a year, about 20% lower than 10 years ago
The number of smallholdings has fallen from 80,000 in 1990 to 63,500 this year. Around five farms are lost in Switzerland every day
In 2001 about 4.1% of the population was employed in agriculture
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