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FARMING

French farmer transforms wheat field into gigantic ‘HELP’ plea to candidates

A French farmer has mown the word "HELP" in giant letters into his wheat field, hoping to push presidential candidates to address the crisis in France's agricultural sector.

French farmer transforms wheat field into gigantic 'HELP' plea to candidates
All photos: AFP
“Political leaders do not listen to us,” the 63-year-old farmer, Jacques Fortin, 63, told AFP on Thursday. “They're deaf to our anger. I hope they're not blind and will read this message of despair.”
   
In Europe's top agricultural power, the government has admitted that more than a tenth of France's 400,000 farms are in a “situation of extreme urgency”.    
 
Last year, half of French farmers earned less than €350 ($372) a month, far below the national poverty threshold of €800.    
 
The crisis has torn at the fabric of rural life, and as farmers see their livelihoods evaporate, more and more are giving up, with an alarming spike in suicides over recent years.
 
   
“I live in a world where I have the responsibilities of a chief executive and I live below the poverty threshold,” Fortin said. “It's not normal to live with 350 euros a month when you work every day… Some break down. Others commit suicide.”
   
Fortin, whose farm is in Athee-sur-Cher near the central town of Tours, fashioned his message in capital letters in his five-hectare (12-acre) wheatfield, with the bright green letters standing stark against the tan crops.
   
“When they pass overhead, airliners start to descend to Orly (Paris' southern airport). Passengers can see my SOS,” said Fortin, whose letters measure 100 metres (328 feet) long by 48 metres wide.
   
“In fact, it was the pilot of a small plane who sent me the first photo by email.”
   
Besides wheat, Fortin grows corn, sunflowers, clover, flaxseed and sorghum.
   
He said his message was a “collective SOS, expressed on behalf of all farmers”.
 
   
“We have had successive years of bad weather conditions in the past four years. Farmers are at the end of their rope. They are fed up,” he said.
   
Farmers predominated in the countryside in the 1970s, but they now make up just two percent of France's overall population of 66 million, according to political scientist Jean-Yves Camus.
   
Last month, around 20 farmers drove their tractors to a gathering in the town of Brest with conservative candidate Francois Fillon to highlight their distress ahead of the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.
   
“We need support and proposals from the candidates, because so far we haven't had much of either,” dairy farmer Julien Hindre told AFP at the time.

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FARMING

French hunter kills bear that bit him

A 70-year-old hunter killed a bear in southwest France Saturday after it attacked and seriously wounded him, local officials said.

A brown bear is pictured in the semi-wildlife animal park of Les Angles, southwestern France.
Brown bears had nearly disappeared in France until the country began a reintroduction programme, importing them from Slovenia. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG

The female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, bit him as he was hunting in the Seix region of Ariege, a source close to the case said.

Rescued by the local gendarmerie, he was transported to the intensive care unit of a hospital in Toulouse with a wound to his leg at the level of his femoral artery, officials at the prefecture in Ariege said.

One source close to the case said he was in a serious condition.

The hunter told local officials he had been out with a group of other hunters on the trail of a boar, when the female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, attacked him.

After being wounded, the hunter shot the bear twice, killing it.

The local gendarme unit was called out to rescue him at around 3:30 pm (1430 GMT). They discovered the body of the bear a few metres from where they had found the hunter.

An investigation has been opened into the incident, the prefecture in Ariege said.

One local official told AFP on Saturday: “This is really what we feared.”

“Today, you can really see that cohabitation is complicated,” said Christine Tequi, president of the Ariege department council.

The brown bear had nearly disappeared in this part of the world when France began a programme of reintroducing them, importing them from Slovenia.

Today, there are around sixty of them in the Pyrenees range, leading to increasing tensions with local farmers, because of the threat they pose to their livestock.

In 2020, three bears were illegally killed in the Pyrenees: two of them in Spain and one in France. The French government has committed to replacing any bear killed by a man.

READ ALSO: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears
READ ALSO: What are the most dangerous animals in France?

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