Message from Mgr Xavier Malle to Christian farmers

Message from Mgr Xavier Malle to Christian farmers
Message from Mgr Xavier Malle to Christian farmers

Dear farmer friends, dear faithful Upper Alpine Catholics,

This message, on the occasion of the traditional Rogation processions, is intended to be support for farmers, and to share with all the faithful what our farming neighbors, near and far, are experiencing. The celebration of the Rogations (1) is again offered by certain parishes or monasteries. These processions in the fields are traditionally held during the three days preceding Ascension, this year Thursday May 9, i.e. Monday 6, Tuesday 7 or Wednesday May 8.

Many of our farmers left their farms last January and February, not to work in the fields but on the roads, to voice the issues that cause them great suffering. (2).

I then hesitated to speak. I told myself that this would not bring anything new and that it could be interpreted as wanting to pull the rug over oneself. In addition, some farmers already know my attention to them because I meet them during pastoral visits to parishes and during diocesan events dedicated to them.

Indeed, after asking Christians to pray for rain in the fall of 2017, I got into the habit of bringing together Christian farmers (whose priests gave me the contact), both for lunch at the bishopric once a year and at a diocesan day of Christian farmers.

Little by little, a friendly group was formed. It also covers the entire union spectrum of this profession, and also the main agricultural activities in our mountains: sheep, cattle, pig farming, market gardening, arboriculture.

Friday April 5, 2024, we met at the bishopric for lunch, around ten farmers and two members of the episcopal council. We started with the rereading that everyone could do of the agricultural movement of fall 2023. That’s when the intuition came to share with you some strong words (3) pronounced on this occasion and which seemed to me to be able to enlighten all Christians on this agricultural social movement.

A hoped-for movement but with an uncertain outcome

I was first surprised by their regained dignity upon seeing the scale of the movement. “It was necessary”, “I’m happy that things are moving”, but also a great disappointment regarding its ending considered too quick and the questions about the sequels. Will this have served any purpose? There is such a “system inertia”. The farmers I met are happy with the movement but disillusioned. They no longer believe in the promises of politicians.

Certainly the government has committed to 62 proposals (4) and an agriculture bill was introduced. But in reality, the farmers respond, “there are different types of agriculture; agribusiness has nothing to do with our small mountain farms.” For example, this will not solve the wolf problem. Deep down, farmers fear being abandoned. Will there still be farmers in the future? It’s a question that haunts them.

What is the root of the problem?

“When we talk about the price of products, we are really only talking about cents. », “It is not a question of increasing the price for consumers who are subject to inflation, but of better distributing it between producers, processors and sellers. » Tending a few cents to producers would allow them to earn a living.

Because THE problem in agriculture is the price paid to producers. “If we have a correct price we will happily do without CAP aid. We prefer to be profitable than on a drip. »

The deep root is the financialization of the liberal economy and free trade between different and competing agricultures around the world.

“We end up buying what we cannot produce in France. » Take the example of apples coming from another European country; they are now the majority in Rungis (the large “wholesale” market in the Paris region), because they are 2 to 3 times cheaper since the cost of labor is much lower there, and European phytosanitary rules do not are not transcribed as quickly, therefore produced with more pesticides… even though we cannot produce them like this at home (5).

Another example, the majority French model of small farms with one, two or three farmers, some in GAEC or CUMA, is not competitive compared to the huge farms in Latin America or the rest of Europe. Do we also want these huge farms?

Especially since the CAP, with its aid paid per hectare, favors very large farms. Everyone agrees, whatever union they belong to, that it is necessary to reconsider the terms of this aid.

Why such a movement now?

“This should have happened 40 years ago. » “It’s a fire that’s been smoldering for a long time. » Let’s try to see how it hatched and then emerged, with images of our snow-capped mountains.

The increase in suicides (6) of farmers which affects all regions, including the Hautes-Alpes should have made it clear that “it was no longer possible to collect. » The bottom was reached by too many people. The mountain is moving.

The action (7) of Young Farmers to return municipal entrance signs, since mid-November 2023, to signify that we are walking on our heads, constituted a good underlay before a heavy snowfall.

Then “maybe there was too much that broke the camel’s back.” » Like the delays in payment of CAP aid and the multiplication of controls and administrative hassles. A big return from the East!

The expected increase (8) of the taxation of GNR (non-road, agricultural and forestry diesel and public works equipment, bulldozers, excavators, snow plows) was perhaps the detonator that triggered the avalanche, because its price had already increased by 50 % due to energy inflation (9).

It was enough for a farmer in Occitania to launch the movement for it to quickly spread throughout France and even other European countries. The avalanche covered the entire mountain.

Are there already positive impacts?

This has put the cursor back in the right place with regard to ecology.

They can no longer stand being accused of all the wrongs by certain political ecologists. “Yet we know that farmers are the first victims for their health (10). » And they are aware of the issues for the planet, even if they believe that the farts of their cows (11) are not primarily responsible. Especially since in the mountains we use organic or sustainable agriculture very naturally; we fertilize our fields with our flock.

But in the ecological balance sheet everything must be taken into account. Import apples from far away or produce them locally? Food sovereignty must also be taken into account and it is fortunate that politicians are tackling this issue.

This put farmers back in the hearts of the French.

In previous years, they often expressed to me their great suffering at feeling unloved by French society. They work hard but are considered the worst polluters.

Following the social movement, I also thought that the progress hoped for in administrative simplification was likely to improve their quality of life. Their response surprised me: “We know that human nature is sinful and that controls and paperwork are necessary. But there it overflows. » “We are monitored by satellite, and if a check is negative, when we manage to prove our good faith, it takes months to receive the aid to which we were entitled. »

“So we are not always against controls, but we would like to earn enough of our living to hire administrative staff (like you, Monsignor, you have an assistant at the bishopric – sic!). » In short, we are overwhelmed by paperwork and controls because we have to do everything ourselves and that is not the heart of our job.

Dear farmer friends, I was happy with this meeting and I hope to have correctly transcribed the thoughts and words heard.

From my outside vantage point, I see two major challenges facing agriculture:

  • Transfer your farm (in France, a third of farmers will be able to retire within ten years). You clearly say that it will depend on the outcome of this peasant mobilization.
  • Prepare for climate change the first effects of which are concrete and perhaps more palpable in the mountains. This adaptation to the climate affects all activities in our mountains and therefore twice for a multi-active family: agriculture and skiing.

The dignity of farmers is to feed people well and care for the earth.

For this beautiful mission that you have expressed, I want to thank you on behalf of the Christians of Hautes-Alpes. You are not alone; the Christian community, of which you are members, wants to support you. And this message expresses broader support for all farmers in our department.

To you, dear faithful Catholics, I would like to say that we must understand the vital necessity of peasant life in its beautiful model of mountain farms, a necessity which goes well beyond food. “Everything is linked” says the Pope in Laudato Si’. Agriculture, environment, social justice, peace, etc…

Let us stay connected to each other through prayer. In this month of Mary, may God bless you and may Our Lady of Laus keep you.

Mgr Xavier Malle, bishop of Gap-Embrun

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