Agricultural crisis: causes and possible solutions in France, Germany and Greece


While thousands of farmers have been protesting for weeks on the streets across Europe, the Heinrich Böll Foundation –the Paris Office in collaboration with the Thessaloniki Office – organised on 12 February 2024 a timely online discussion on the causes and possible solutions to the agricultural crisis. Representatives of farmers and researchers from France, Germany and Greece outlined the situation in their countries, illustrated their demands and contributed with suggestions.

The participants included Aurélie Catallo, Director for Agriculture France at IDDRI, Gesine Langlotz, Spokesperson AbL Smallholders’ Association – Germany, Mathieu Courgeau, Farmer, President of Collectif Nourrir – France, and Panagiotis Kalfountzos, President of Farmers’ Cooperative of Thessaly ThesGi – Greece.

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The piled-up problems in the agricultural sector have pushed this winter Europe's farmers to a widespread mobilisation – and while countries like Greece are familiar with this kind of protests, Germany, France, or even more so Brussels, have seen a huge mobilisation of farmers the likes of which they have not experienced for a long time. It goes without saying that the problems vary from country to country, but the basic issues seem to be common across the continent, structural and long-standing, and they are likely to have incalculable consequences in the future, since they are causing the agri-food sector to shrink enormously – it is estimated that half of the French farmers, when retired, will not be succeeded by anyone else.

As the discussion highlighted, the main challenges for the agri-food sector today are both economic and social but also environmental.

Economic challenges

The major economic problem is undoubtedly the production cost. Specifically, the high cost of production due to the increased oil prices- farmers are asking for a reduction or even exemption from taxes- the cost of electricity and the prices of supplies, material and equipment, which are constantly rising. In contrast to the rising cost of production, the selling prices of products are either stable or even falling.

As a result, many agricultural holdings are no longer viable all over Europe. Farmers’ incomes are constantly falling - for example, it was mentioned that 15% of French farmers are below the poverty line, while impoverishment also threatens German farmers and especially pensioners, who receive the lowest pension compared to any other sector of the economy. Thus, European farmers are totally dependent on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Another issue that emerged during the discussion is unfair competition, as Europe’s market is flooded with cheap products from third countries, which are not subject to strict European environmental rules that increase production costs. At the same time, due to bilateral transnational agreements, many products circulate duty-free.

Finally, a special note was made on the speculation issue, as all the way from production to consumption there are many intermediaries who manipulate prices and make huge profits, to the detriment of both producers and consumers.

Social challenges

The farmers feel deprived, marginalised and after several crises – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine – particularly vulnerable. As it has been pointed out, the farmers’ protests in the EU actually mean that the decision-making centres do not take them into account, they do not get into dialogue with them, something that was highlighted as a lack of democracy in this field.

The most important social problem is that farmers in Europe are decreasing in number and increasing in age, as the cost of land is particularly high, especially for young farmers. Indeed, farmers are leaving not only the agri-food sector but also the countryside, which is contributing to its depopulation. It is estimated that 50% of French farmers have no one to take over their units when they retire, which adds  a trans-generational dimension to the issue.

Another growing problem is the strong inequalities within the agri-food sector in Europe, as there is a rapid decline of small-family farms in parallel with an increasing concentration of agricultural land in the hands of a few large producers.

Environmental challenges

The reduction of carbon emissions as well as other environmental challenges such as water management are in large part driven by the agri-food sector. The so-called Green Deal, the EU’s plan to make Europe climate neutral by 2050, was said not to address the agricultural sector in an inclusive way. Through laws and directives, and of course through the Common Agricultural Policy, an attempt is made to achieve environmental goals, but no care is taken to ensure the economic viability of the farmers at the same time.

This becomes very clear in the case of organic farms, where the balance of costs and income is to the detriment of the producer. Moreover, many environmental measures, such as the inclusion of agricultural holdings in so-called ‘eco-schemes’ or the restriction of pesticides, despite their positive nature, are seen as being implemented hastily, abruptly and without preparation.

The green transition, at least for the time being, does not take account of the new circumstances (pandemic, war crisis, increased production costs) and, above all, is not combined with the guarantee of a stable and adequate income for farmers, who are called upon to bear the full burden of the transformation.

20 proposals from the farmers

As we are in the midst of the protests, the discussion focused on the demands of the farmers and their proposals. The first thing underlined was that the response so far from the governments has been less than satisfactory – the discussion took place the day before the Greek Prime Minister’s meeting with farmers’ representatives. The measures proposed to farmers were commented as sketchy and just emergency actions, as they only try to mitigate the economic deadlocks and the impact of the crises, but do not address the problems with a structured policy, for which, of course, an open dialogue with farmers is necessary.

Apart from the obvious proposals to improve farmers’ income through the downsizing of production costs, some of the remarks that were heard and relate to the whole range of agricultural problems are the following:

  1. Regulating trade, reducing intermediaries and capping their profits.
  2. Strengthening the position of agricultural enterprises in the market.
  3. More say to cooperatives and producers in price setting.
  4. Special care to balance the income of organic producers.
  5. Combining environmental measures with income protection.
  6. Finding ways of repayment for indebted companies.
  7. Autonomy and independence for farmers in order to strengthen and improve local production.
  8. Emphasis on local issues and local specificities, which should be taken into account by the CAP.
  9. Reviewing legislation where amendments are required.
  10. Spending part of the money flowing into the agricultural economy on structures that protect the environment.
  11. Reducing bureaucracy and simplifying procedures.
  12. Systematic consulting to farmers, especially on long-term planning and the most appropriate investments.
  13. Long-term effort on land property policy.
  14. Proper and systematic, future-oriented training of farmers.
  15. No dependence of farmers on the CAP.
  16. Measures to address the risks of climate change, as manifested in huge disasters such as in Thessaly, Greece last September.
  17. Access to technology through adequate funding.
  18. NGOs of the ecological sector shall aim to bring the economic issues to the forefront.
  19. Combating inequalities in the distribution of land, water, and subsidies.
  20. Just access to food for all, through fighting inequalities across society.

In any case, as it was underlined in the concluding remarks, one should always start from the local producers in order to achieve a European policy in Brussels, and not start from Brussels to end up with the producers.


Αγροτική κρίση εκδήλωση πάνελ
The discussion panel. Above (from left): Mathieu Courgeau, Farmer, President of Collectif Nourrir – France, Gesine Langlotz, Spokesperson AbL Smallholders’ Association – Germany, Aurélie Catallo, Director for Agriculture France at IDDRI. Below: Panagiotis Kalfountzos, President of Farmers’ Cooperative of Thessaly ThesGi – Greece, Sarah Champagne, coordinator of the Energy, Ecological and Social Transition Programme at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Paris Office, moderator of the discussion.


Watch the video with the full discussion:

Αγροτική κρίση: αιτίες και πιθανές λύσεις σε Γαλλία, Γερμανία και Ελλάδα / Agricultural crisis... - Heinrich Boell Foundation - Office Thessaloniki

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