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Why are Spanish farmers protesting against low prices?

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Why are Spanish farmers protesting against low prices?
Copyright  Jose Jordan / AFP
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Farmers blocked roads with tractors in southwestern Spain on Tuesday in the latest series of mass protests over plummeting incomes in the country's agriculture sector.

The protests are mainly organised in the Extremadura region near the Portuguese border. Trade unions demand political action to guarantee retail prices for fruit and vegetables that farmers can make a living from.

These protests have been happening for at least a week in this region and elsewhere in Spain.

Farmers are angry at the combination of high agricultural production costs and the low prices they receive for their produce.

EU policy requirement creates an 'unfair' market - claim

The price of production for a kilo of oranges is around €0,20 to €0,22, the general secretary of the Agricultural Association of Young Farmers in Valencia (AVA ASAJA) Juan Salvador Torres, told Euronews.

Yet the same kilo of oranges only earns the farmer around €0,18 to €0,20 -- which means they're losing money.

  • 'We are forced to compete at a disadvantage': Watch our report on the plight of Spanish farmers in the video player above.
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"We depend on the market," Torres says. "It forces us to compete at a disadvantage with third countries that do not meet our production requirements. There can be no same market in which you demand a lot more from your farmers and much less from those outside it. That is not fair, that is not reciprocity, these are not equal conditions for the same market."

As the EU is currently discussing cutting agricultural subsidies, the bloc is blamed for setting requirements that mean farmers can't compete with cheaper produce from outside the EU.

The movement comes as a test for Spain's Socialist-led coalition government, which will have to face the EU on its plans for the future of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Supermarkets chains slash prices

Both the unions and the government are also blaming supermarket chains for slashing the price of fruit and vegetables, which is driving farmers to sell their produce for less or risk going out of business.

Jorge Garcia Luna, a farmer who produces almonds and olives, says that with big grocery chains trying to maximise their profits, the farmer becomes "the weakest link in the chain".

"We are in a situation that you can't afford to abandon farming but you can't afford to keep going," Garcia Luna told The Associated Press ahead of the protest.

In 2019, overall farm income dropped by 9%, Spanish media reported.

Tobacco cooperative manager Jose Maria Ramos says with export losses expected from Britain's departure from the EU and a proposed 14% cut in EU farm subsidies, farmers have no choice but to protest.

"This is going to make it even more difficult to continue with the cultivation of tobacco," said Ramos. "People just can't go on, they go into the streets and show their anger."

Officials from Spain's main agricultural organizations met with members of three political parties in parliament on Tuesday and were to have more talks later with the Labor Ministry.

The unions met with the government last week but continued their protests as no farm support agreement was reached.

It isn't just Spanish farmers who are rebelling. French and German farmers have also held protests in recent months, citing similar reasons.