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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Alimentation. À la Bastille, fruits et légumes n’étaient plus un privilège

by Aurélien Soucheyre with Simon Mauger and Léa Almayrac

Bastille solidarity market shows fruit and vegetables don’t have to be a privilege

Translated Wednesday 23 August 2017, by Tom Gil

The hundred solidarity markets organized on Thursday by the PCF and the Modef were a total success. They proved that a "just price" for both consumers and producers is possible, on the condition that one attack the profit margins of the major distributors.

Photo: Patrick Gély. At the solidarity market at the Bastille, 17 August, in Paris.

Jacques brings his nose to the melon, smiles and then winks. "It smells good! I’ll take four", he says. Without a second thought, the communist party activist prepares his bag. "3 euros for two is a very good price. I’ll take plums and pears too. Vegetables are less my thing," Jacques continues, as he prepares the change. All around him, the ’solidarity sale’ of fruit and vegetables organized by the French Community party (PCF) and the Modef (Movement for the Defence of Family Farmers) is in full swing at the Place de la Bastille in Paris. On Thursday, as in numerous previous years, more than 1,000 activists have organised a hundred points of sale "at the right price" in the Île-de-France, both for the consumer and for the producer.

"I come every year,” appreciates Soraya, a bag of potatoes of 5 kilos under the arm, for which she paid 4 euros. “It is always a pleasure to buy directly from the farmer beautiful products at affordable prices. Everyone is a winner because he too is better paid, instead of being robbed by the supermarkets.” While crates are passed from hand to hand, the tomatoes at 9 euros for 6 kilos selling like hot cakes, several consumers chat with the peasants who have transported 17 tons of food from Lot-et-Garonne in South West France during the night. "With nearly half of the farmers earning less than 350 euros per month, I do not know how they manage", Sylvie said. Even when the farm is paid for, when they are eating their own produce and bartering between themselves, the equation seems impossible".

"There is still a little self-sufficiency left, but it’s disappearing," explains Florian, from Modef. With Joël, who brought some delicious plums from Lot-et-Garonne, he discussed the growing difficulties encountered by those who worked the land. "Since 2010, 30,000 farms are closing every year. There are only 475,000 farmers left in France," he said. "In Lot-et-Garonne, there were 125 new farms in 2000, compared to 25 in 2016, but many more departures. The small farms die. The trend is for larger farms," says Joël, who sells his plums at 1.70 euro per kilo during this solidarity sale; the supermarkets buy them from him at 70 cents per kilo...

In the midst of the effervescence of the ephemeral market, Gilles walks away gently, with a wicker basket that over-flows with a beautiful green salad. "Sometimes when the market near home is about the finish, I can find salad for cheaper than 1 euro a piece. But it’s not as fresh. And here, we help farmers. We know that they work like crazy and they do not even receive the minimum wage. They must be helped. We cannot continue like this," he insists. A few steps away, Raymond Girardi, vice President of Modef, says: "This is an awareness-raising operation and a demonstration that we can have reasonable prices for consumers, who suffer too often from prohibitive food prices, while having decent wages for the farmers, currently underpaid by the [supermarkets’] purchasing centers".

Proposals for containing the profits of large retailers

This situation has been going on for decades, the trade unionist says. "In twenty-five years, France has lost half of its fruit and vegetable producers. We now import 40% of what we consume, and soon it will be 50%. This is a real issue of food sovereignty, but also a health issue. Many fruits and vegetables arriving from abroad are treated with pesticides banned in France. It is also a question of social dumping because, abroad, farmers are paid even less than those who work in France", he notes.

His words moved Miroslav and Machiko. "We pay too much for our fruit. They spoil very fast and have no taste. We must multiply initiatives such as these today and the direct links between farmers and citizens. We are all ripped off by large retailers, which buys at low and sell at very expensive prices", they say. The Modef, which argues that "we are plundered, you are racketeered", pleads for a reinstatement of the multiplier, which disappeared in 1984, that linked purchase and selling price, and effectively capped the profits of the supermarkets.

It also calls for a ban on selling at a loss in the sector, the control of abusive imports including products treated with pesticides banned in France; and the obligation for agro-businesses and large-scale retailers which benefit from the Cice [tax credit] to source its agricultural products from France.

These demands are supported by the French Communist Party (PCF). The initiative of solidarity of Thursday did not go unnoticed, since a delegation of Communist and the Modef leaders was received by the Matignon, the prime minister’s office. "We put several proposals on the table, including an immediate financial, fiscal and social moratorium to give some oxygen to farmers," says Olivier Dartigolles, spokesman for the PCF. “We have also proposed a bill to regulate the profits and practices of mass retailing."

Xavier Compain, in charge of agriculture on the PCF’s national council, added that also discussed was “an annual conference on the state of prices, to negotiate and discuss each year in the presence of agricultural unions and consumer associations. We also want France, a major agricultural country, to defend food sovereignty and ecological transition, and put an end to pesticides and medicated feeds.”

Matignon seemed to listen “with attention" and was especially "attracted by the project of a food hall in Paris", say the communists. This project, which has been carried out since 2014 by PCF elected officials in the capital, is expected to materialize in October with the opening of a 170 square meter fair dedicated to "fair prices".

Located in rue Bichat, in the 10th arrondissement, this project is supported and partly financed by the municipality and must ensure "equal access to food, given that products are 10% more expensive in the capital, promote direct sales, traceability and education about food”, says PCF MPs Nicolas Bonnet-Oulaldj and Didier Le Reste. "This is a public intervention on a real popular issue, which can spread in all the boroughs and beyond".

Finally, the delegation to the Matignon also opposed Ceta, the free trade agreement with Canada that could be fatal to French agriculture, with an annihilation of social, health and environmental standards, threat to registered designations of origin and a phenomenal increase in imports (60 000 tonnes of beef per year, for example).

Proof that the struggle mounted on Thursday, in what was a very convivial day, is expected to strengthen.

Solidarity markets, throughout the Île-de-France region, and in particular in many working-class neighbourhoods (see the Internet), will return to France on September 1 and 2, and then on September 22, 23 and 24.

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