thousands of demonstrators oppose a project…

A day of “festive and educational” demonstration: several thousand opponents of the construction of “the two largest megabasins in France” mobilized without incident on Saturday in Puy-de-Dôme.

“A day of calm, serenity and firmness”, summarizes Ludovic Landais, spokesperson for the Confédération paysanne 63, one of the organizers of the demonstration, while the procession of walkers dressed in blue, to defend water “ common good”, spread around 4:00 p.m.

“Whether we are listened to by the agro-industrial model, I’m not sure,” he says.

Between 4,000 demonstrators, according to the prefecture, 6,500 according to the organizers, hiked in the fields, in a good-natured atmosphere, to denounce two planned water reserves, one of 14 hectares, the other of 18 hectares, intended for irrigate 800 hectares in the Limagne plain, where Limagrain, the 4th largest seed company in the world, is located.

Under the sun, it’s sunscreen, hats and blue paint, and a few masked faces. On the banners and signs, the categorical refusal of “useless” projects: “We must turn back”, “Death to tarpaulins”… “And who owns the water? Ours”, asks a sign .

Opponents of a “megabassins” project, controversial agricultural irrigation reserves, demonstrate on May 11, 2024 near Billom, in central France

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK – AFP

Blue outfits, disguises and wigs put water in the spotlight, at the request of the organizers, including Extinction Rebellion and the Earth Uprisings. The crowd on foot, on bikes or in strollers, with their children or their dogs, all generations combined, walked to the site planned for the water reservoirs for agricultural purposes.

To the sound of drums, the crowd formed a human chain to materialize the route of one of the two reservoirs, planned according to the collective to “privatize more than 2.3 million m3 of water for 36 farms, most of them linked to Limagrain “.

Shoots and seeds of beech, oak and hazel were planted to “recreate a hedge”, in the old-fashioned way.

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Opponents of a “megabassins” project, controversial agricultural irrigation reserves, demonstrate on May 11, 2024 near Billom, in central France

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK – AFP

Around 5 p.m., a few hundred demonstrators met in Billom, in a parking lot, at the conclusion of the march that had left a few hours earlier from Vertaizon, about ten kilometers away.

“It’s a wonderful success, locally we’re scoring points,” says Chantal, a 67-year-old retired farmer, who worked for Limagrain and wishes to remain anonymous.

The authorities deployed 400 elements assisted by a helicopter, reinforced security measures due to the sensitive nature of this mobilization after the violent clashes that occurred in Sainte-Soline (Deux Sèvres) last year.

– “Balance of power” –

The Bassines non merci collective denounces “gigabassines” which “will be filled directly by pumping” in Allier, “an area classified Natura 2000 which locally supports the drinking water supply of more than 200,000 inhabitants”.

Elected officials came in support, such as the national secretary of environmentalists Marine Tondelier, or the LFI deputy Clémence Guetté. The latter, which introduced a moratorium bill on mega-basins, denounces “the government’s intention to support agribusiness to the detriment of small farmers”.

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Opponents of a “megabassins” project, controversial agricultural irrigation reserves, demonstrate on May 11, 2024 near Billom, in central France

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK – AFP

For its part, Limagrain explains that “it is essential that farmers can continue to produce quality crops in sufficient quantity” and therefore “irrigate when necessary”, in the name of “food security” in times of climate change. .

The two water reservoirs supported by the Association Syndicale Libre des Turleuros (which brings together 36 farmers, including the president of the Limagrain cooperative) have not yet made a formal request for authorization, and their opponents hope to obtain a moratorium. The anti-basins accuse Limagrain of wanting to “secure its production of seed corn intended for export”.

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Opponents of a “megabassins” project, controversial agricultural irrigation reserves, demonstrate on May 11, 2024 near Billom, in central France

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK – AFP

According to the agricultural cooperative, the reservoirs would be filled by sampling in Allier between November 1 and March 31, respecting the authorized flow rate of 45.7 m3/second.

“When we started the first demonstrations, the majority of people did not know what a basin was. Today the balance of power on this subject against the privatization of water has increased considerably,” notes Adèle Planchard, from Uprisings of the Earth.

The agricultural bill currently being examined in Parliament, drawn up by the government in response to this winter’s crisis and the demands of agricultural unions, plans to facilitate the construction of irrigation works such as basins. The text aims to “accelerate litigation” in the event of appeals against water storage projects.

By Manon BILLING / Billom (France) (AFP) / © 2024 AFP

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