Why the French back their striking farmers

Visitors to France may have cursed the striking French farmers who recently blocked towns and tourists attractions with piles of manure, but the French public are 100 percent behind them. Well almost.

Why the French back their striking farmers
A farmer passes by the main entrance of the DDT (Direction Departementale des territoires) with manure stacked outside during a protest. Photo: AFP

Their tractors blockaded the Normandy town of Caen for days. They also dumped manure on the main roads leading into Lyon and into the country’s second most-visited tourist attraction in Mont Saint-Michel.

Their militant action caused motorists to be stuck for hours in tailbacks around the country and forced tourists to walk to Mont Saint-Michel with their luggage.

They emptied supermarket fridges of foreign meat products and stopped trucks carrying milk from big producers and handed it out to motorists.

Nevertheless, despite the stink the farmers literally kicked up, the French public remain right behind them, far more than is the case with other social movements.

An opinion poll published on Tuesday revealed 86 percent of French people asked support the protests of the farmers, whose livelihoods are threatened by falling prices and changes in dietary habits.

(Farmers throw milk and fruit on the ground in July, in Lyon. Photo: AFP)

Only five percent of the population believe the radical protests by farmers were “unjustified”.

The result of the poll is perhaps not surprising given that previous social movements by farmers have also won the support of the public.

Jerôme Fourquet from France’s polling agency Ifop said there are various reasons why the French are prepared to put up with so much manure from their agriculturists.

The main reason is the French public recognizes and appreciates all the hard work they put in, and are aware of the hardship they are suffering.

“In a society that still values work, the profession of farming is perceived as worthy,” the pollster told Le Figaro.

“Farmers are perceived as people who work, who make an effort, who don’t cheat and who deserve their income.”

In short they represent the quintessential image of “the France that wakes early”, Fourquet said, choosing an expression coined by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

A farmer is a symbol not just of a hard-working France but the country itself.

French leaders should be more like French parents

“The farmer represents the part of the national identity of a country whose roots are rural and peasant,” says Fouquet.

“In the last three generations every French person or almost, had at least one member of the family who was a peasant,” he added.

In addition, the cause of the farmers is an honourable one for the French. They are not Air France pilots demanding their highly-paid jobs be protected, or unpopular taxi drivers fighting against competition.

“The French do not forget that it is the farmers who feed the population,” said David Lacrepinière from the Chamber of Agriculture in the Ain département.

Another factor that helps is that the French — perhaps more than people from other nations — are loyal to “Made in France” products and believe local farmers make high quality produce.

They are also proud of the French rural life which wouldn’t quite be the same without its farmers,” Lacrepinière told Le Figaro.

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