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Calls for eco-friendly farming as Berlin hosts Green Week

January 19, 2019

Tens of thousands of critics of industrialized farming have converged on Berlin to renew calls for shifts to eco-sustainable harvests. Visiting Berlin for its annual Green Week expo are 70 agriculture ministers.

Berlin Demonstration für Agrarwende
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger

Calls for ecological farming

Agriculture ministers from around the world and Germany's farming minister Julia Klöckner were handed a protest note Saturday by demonstrators declaring in their slogan of having a "belly full"of industrialized farming.

Protesters called out by some 100 organizations asserted that alleviation of climate change and species depletion required a reorganization of EU farming policy, including subsidies, currently amounting to €60 billion ($68 billion) annually, including €6.3 billion allocated in Germany.

That flowed mainly to larger companies focused on boosting yields, they said, but instead the funds should be distributed better to avert further farmyard closures and rural village die-offs.

Organizers said 35,000 protesters had converged on Berlin via three routes, some using tractors, from the state of Brandenburg which surrounds Germany's capital.

Demonstrators making environmental points during the demonstration
Demonstrators making environmental points during the demonstrationImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger

Call for eco- and animal appropriate reform

Protest spokesperson Saskia Richartz said Germany's 3,300 largest farming concerns  measured by area received €1 billion in subsidies while the smallest 200.000 farmyards received collectively €700 million.

"With over €6 billion that Germany distributes every year as EU farming monies, environmental and animal-appropriate transformation of agriculture must be promoted," she said.

'Generalizations,' claims Klöckner

Klöckner, an advocate of digitalization in farming, warned protesters that they were making generalizations about how to feed the world's growing population, saying: "We won't stay well fed with a partial exit from agricultural production."

Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner pose together with agriculture ministers from 70 nations in Berlin
Merkel and Klöckner among agriculture ministers in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Soeder

Klöckner and Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the conference of 70 agriculture ministers from around the world, an event included in Berlin's annual International Green Week.

Greens party co-leader Robert Habeck urged consumers to act more conscientiously when out shopping: "We have to get away from the day-to-day [habit] of cramming calories into us as quickly as possible, regardless of how they originated."

Central in tackling poverty, climate change

In a position paper coinciding with Green Week, 56 civil organizations warned against industrialization of agriculture at the expense of small-scale farming, saying the latter was more suited to life cycles involving soils, plants and animals.

Ecologically-based farming was a central concept for tackling poverty and adjusting to climate change worldwide, said the study's authors, who include the Catholic and Protestant aid agencies, Misereor and Bread for the World (Brot für die Welt).

Cornelia Füllkurg Witzel heads a Brot für die Welt delegation to Mexico
Cornelia Füllkurg Witzel heads a Brot für die Welt delegation to MexicoImage: Tlachinollan CDHM

Investigative documentary

Previewing the Green Week last Tuesday, public German ARD television in a investigative documentary described the German Farmers' Association (Deutsche Bauernverband, DBV) as "one of the most powerful lobby groups" in Germany.

Although the farming population had shrunk post-war from 25 percent to only 2 percent of the working population, the DVB's 380,000 members, grouped within 300 districts, had a great influence on politics — similar to that of Germany's automobile industry, said the authors.

Formed in 1948 at a time of post-war food shortages, the DBV pressured the then West German conservative governments of the chancellors Ludwig Erhard and then Konrad Adenauer, even threatening to radicalize its members to vote for the far-right.

The DVB solicited federal subsidies for German farmers even before the EU's founding 1957 Treaty of Rome that led to the 1962 Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and Europe's subsequent "butter mountains."

Julia Klöckner at Green Week in Berlin
Julia Klöckner at Green Week in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

Eastern Germany

In eastern Germany, shortly after reunification, small-scale farmers within some 4,000 soviet-style cooperatives were persuaded to sell their land shares to cooperative chairpeople. "Not a few later made careers for themselves in the Association," asserted the documentary's authors.

Vegetables at Green Week
Vegetables at Green WeekImage: Imago/C. Spicker

At the Green Week's opening on Wednesday, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, said CAP reform legislation drafted last year, if adopted, would balance nine aspects, including fair incomes for farmers, climate change action and environmental care, with each nation required to develop a strategic plan that would be subject to Brussels' scrutiny.

ipj/jm (dpa, KNA, epd)

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