World farm voices, France: Industrial agriculture is “not efficient at all.”

by: Natasha Chart

Third in a series of interviews with farmers affiliated with La Via Campesina, an alliance of international peasant farmer organizations.

Michel David’s father was a farm worker, and in 1991, he gave up his own job as a social worker to start farming himself. He now runs a 40 hectare (around 100 acres) organic farm on woody, hillside land where he raises 20 cows among his apples and chestnuts, and came to Copenhagen representing the Confederation Paysanne.

Every year, David says competition from abroad and EU policies that reward large farms close about one farm a day in France, or about 300-400 farms per year. He said the land goes either to bigger farms or to tourist venues and “it’s hard for small farms to resist.”

David added that international competition could be very unequal, pitting small farms like his against Brazilian ranches with 20,000-100,000 cows, or small sheep farms against 20,000 animal operations in New Zealand.

Of course, David said, there was industrial agriculture in France, as well. He said animals there were often fed genetically modified soy from Brazil or the US, importing 4.5 million tons per year from large industrial farms that hurt small farms in their regions and take protein away from the global South.

I asked David if it wouldn’t be better for industrial agriculture to replace all these small farms, if it would be more efficient. He said industrial agriculture “is not efficient at all,” that it takes up too much petrol and outside resources. A small farm like his, he said, used up very few resources, ensured the animals were treated well and was “better for the health of the people and the food.” He said organically managed soils also captured more carbon and this is better for the climate.

Farming ecologically and encouraging farmers to first feed the people of their own country should be normal, David said. “We have enough to feed the people of each country,” he said, and that it wasn’t necessary to pit farmers in different countries against each other.

For all that it seems unusual for someone to leave the office for the farm, David enjoys his work very much, responding when I asked about it with an enthusiastic, “Yes, of course!” He said that sometimes he’d like more money, but added, “I like to know the people I feed and I like to feed them properly.”