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‘We do honest work’: French farmer pleads for new reservoir to be built following violent clashes

Farmer Emmanuel Villeneuve talks emotionally about the protests
Farmer Emmanuel Villeneuve talks emotionally about the protests Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Euronews Green with Reuters
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A giant reservoir in Sainte-Soline has become a flashpoint in France’s debate over water resources.

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A French farmer has spoken up about the impact that violent protests over water scarcity have had on his industry.

Scores of environmental activists and police were injured in the demonstration at Sainte-Soline in western France last month, where an irrigation reservoir is currently under construction.

The Sainte-Soline basin is one of 16 giant reservoirs that are being built to help farmers cope with drought after France suffered its worst dry spell on record last year.

But critics say it is a water grab for the benefit of a few farms while climate change threatens access to water.

Emmanuel Villeneuve, who grows crops over 150 hectares, is one of the farmers who will have access to the reservoir in the Deux-Sèvres region. Speaking to Reuters, he was shaken by the events of 25 March, when thousands of protesters descended on the rural community.

Am I going to destroy my neighbour's house because I disagree with him?

“It’s very painful to see one’s equipment – we do honest work – to see people come to destroy them and to justify that, supposedly for the reason that this is how it should be,” he said.

“That's not how it should be, it should be around a table to discuss as we are, not by destroying other people's tools. Am I going to destroy my neighbour's house because I disagree with him?"

As well as reports of damage to farm equipment by protestors, some used acid to attack the steel gates of the future basin according to Franceinfo.

Why is the French reservoir so controversial?

France is the EU’s biggest agricultural producer - around 58 per cent of the country’s water is diverted towards this industry.

Another dry winter has left farmers in a precarious position, with reservoirs 80 per cent below normal levels at the beginning of March.

French authorities argue that giant irrigation reservoirs are necessary for farmers to continue growing food crops but opponents see the project as an attempt by agribusiness to monopolise water supplies.

How will the irrigation reservoir be used?

"This water reserve allows us to plant spring crops that alternate with winter crops because these spring crops will need a minimum of water in the summer to be able to develop, to allow some profitability of the crop,” explains Villeneuve.

“If we don't have access to water, we can't secure the yield since we're on land that dries up in the summer. And we absolutely need this irrigation, however moderate, to at least push our crops to the end of their vegetation cycle."

Farmers are currently subject to bans in the summer when water reserves get too low, he adds.

“With the reserve, we know the volume of water that we will have to have from the start, and we can manage it as well as possible in the cycle of cultivation."

Watch the video above to learn more about why reservoirs have become a flashpoint in France’s debate over water resources.

Video editor • Hannah Brown

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